Dear June: Dealing With a Passive-Aggressive Husband

March 8, 2021 Updated: March 8, 2021

Dear June,

I need your help on how to feel loving to my passive-aggressive husband. He frequently criticizes me, calls me negative [things], and complains about being underappreciated. He then denies he’s doing these things. When I put a new shrub or flowers in our yard, he will water the grass around it but avoid watering the plant I just put in. This seems crazy to me and makes me want to get out of the marriage and quit wasting my life with someone like this.

Can you advise me?

Kim, Alabama

Dear Kim,

This sounds frustrating and challenging, and indeed something needs to change. But don’t give up hope yet, as this kind of dynamic can be transformed.

As a woman, you probably have much more power than you realize to bring about this transformation. And your kindness, gentleness, and respect for your husband will be key.

I recently heard a true story, from a country with different moral norms, in which a husband had brought his mistress home to live with his wife and four children. The wife was of course very distraught by this and sought advice from someone she trusted. She was told to dress a bit better and to be kind and respectful to both husband and mistress (I know this seems like crazy advice to many). But this woman followed the advice, and eventually, both the husband and mistress realized they were wrong. The latter ended their relationship and the mistress voluntarily moved out.

I tell this story not to suggest that anyone condone infidelity, which can be a reason to end a marriage, but because it shows the magnificent power of kindness and respect.

So if your husband is telling you that he doesn’t feel appreciated, then this would be a very good place to start. It sounds like it may be very hard for you to feel appreciative of him at this time given his behavior, but there must be something to appreciate. If there is nothing you can find currently, then perhaps you can think back to what first attracted you to him. What qualities did you appreciate then? Are they still in evidence in any way?

The marriage guidebook “Fascinating Womanhood” by Helen Andelin says that if a wife doesn’t appreciate her husband, this can make a man difficult to live with:

“Suppose a man is so obnoxious that his own children run from him. He picks arguments, habitually disagrees with you, and in other ways makes life difficult. It’s almost as though he’s taking revenge for some mysterious reason you don’t understand. Look beneath the surface. He may be a man of high caliber who hasn’t been appreciated for his full worth. This can infuriate him. He appreciates himself, but why can’t others? When a man of quality, with a good self-image, is not fully appreciated by his wife, he can become difficult to live with.”

I think most of us ladies were never taught to properly appreciate, respect, and admire the men in our lives. It seems that the pendulum of culture has swung to a place where it is expected that men appreciate, respect, and admire us, or else they aren’t seen as good husbands, but there is no longer such a standard for women. In fact, some don’t see it as wrong to criticize their husbands on an ongoing basis, even openly in front of children and in public. This is very damaging to men and relationships.

So you may be unknowingly hurting your husband, and while he clearly isn’t communicating in a very gentlemanly or direct way, I would set this aside and reflect on whether something you are doing is bringing out this side of him. I do recommend reading “Fascinating Womanhood” for more insight, as it includes an eye-opening list of many ways women sabotage our relationships with men.

Also, it might be helpful to reflect on your respective family lives because negative patterns you noticed in your parents or in his are likely to play out between you. Sometimes even destructive patterns feel natural to us if we grew up with them, and we may not even realize we are harming another person. This could be why he denies he’s hurting you—he may really not be able to see it as a problem if this is how he was brought up.

Know Your Strengths and Let Yin Balance Yang

In traditional Chinese thought, yin and yang were seen as opposite but complementary forces, both of which are necessary for harmony. Yin was associated with femininity and yang qualities with masculinity. This offers a helpful blueprint for understanding that men and women have different strengths and capabilities. When we understand and value these, we find harmony.

For example, one aspect of men that gets too little attention is that while they may be less good at understanding or communicating their feelings—less “emotionally literate,” to use a modern term—this also means that their emotions interfere less in other ways. They may be more able to keep a cool head and make good, fast choices in tense situations, and judge complex situations logically and accurately.

If you own a company, it’s common sense that you will hire someone with good interpersonal skills to do your customer service, while you will hire someone with good technical expertise to build the technology you need. To give these people reverse roles would be very costly and could even ruin the company. Research has found that men and boys generally are attracted to working with things while women and girls prefer people. So in marriage, it’s also important to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and how our partner fills in for some of our shortcomings.

The womanly gift of emotional intelligence, which includes great empathy, understanding, and patience—qualities that allow us to take good care of young children and others—should be appreciated. But so too should a man’s accomplishments and hard work be lauded because he is sacrificing a lot for his accomplishments and to provide for his family; in addition, there is a correlation between accomplishments and certain virtues.

And although marriage has been framed in some circles as a type of bondage for women, from another perspective, it is truly remarkable that most men throughout history have sought it out given how much sacrifice it requires of them. Especially before women worked, men were responsible for taking care of their wives for their whole lives. And many a man has given his blood, sweat, and tears, and worked like a slave, in order to provide for his family. To me, this is no small thing and is a testament to the importance men place on women.

There is a biblical proverb to the effect that it would be better for a man to live in a desert than with a wife who is critical, nagging, contentious, or irritable. This is all to say that it is incumbent on women to set the tone in a relationship. Practically speaking, this means that we need a great deal of patience, the ability to read between the lines, and the willingness to try to understand what he is communicating. We do this naturally with children because we are clear that they aren’t going to be able to express their emotional and physical needs verbally to us, but due to cultural shifts, we’ve stopped doing this for the men in our lives.

Admiration and Love

“Fascinating Womanhood” also emphasizes the importance of wives showing admiration (which is a bit different from appreciation) for their husbands because men need admiration in the same way that women need love.

“Deep in his heart, every mans longs for admiration of his manliness—his masculine skills, abilities, achievements, ideas, dreams, and manly body. He hungers for it as for bread. Just as you need love, he needs admiration. In fact, the center of a woman’s happiness in marriage is to be loved—but the center of a man’s is to be admired,” the book states.

“Although admiration is all-important to a man, it isn’t something he can get for himself. It must be given to him by those who respect and love him. He likes receiving it from any and every source, but especially from the woman he loves. The woman who can pass over his human frailties and discover things to genuinely admire, things which others fail to notice or appreciate, is a woman to be treasured. It is such a woman who wins his deepest and most tender affection. As she gives him admiration, he returns love.”

So perhaps the next time your husband waters the lawn but not your plants, thank him for taking care of this task; or tell him how beautiful the yard looks under his care and how much you appreciate his attention to your home. Then as you water the plant yourself, imagine you are pouring love into his (and your) wounded hearts so that they can heal.

As to whether to leave a marriage, the standard reason in times past was either repeated and unrepentant infidelity or a man’s refusal to support his family despite being able to. There is a lot of gray area though, and especially if children are involved, their needs must be considered and physical separation may be best while issues are sorted out.

I hope for you that it’s the case that you have married a man of high caliber, who perhaps has never been given the benefit of receiving true kindness or appreciation for his accomplishments.

We all have one or two people close to us with whom, although we love them dearly, we have difficult relationships to manage, and yet because of this, they teach us to be better than we currently are.

Sincerely,

June

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Do you have a family or relationship question for our advice columnist, Dear June? Send it to DearJune@EpochTimes.com or Attn: Dear June, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY 10001.

June Kellum is a married mother of two and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.