Question: My wife and I are having serious issues. She says I am angry all the time. I tell her I am not angry, just angry at her. She denies her actions causes issues in our marriage.
1. Every year I asked to go to vegas. She says Vegas seems dirty and doesn't want to go. When I get home from Afghanistan she goes to vegas with her friends. When I get upset she makes me feel like I was being stupid and selfish.
2. When I returned home she would make comments on how it was nice to have the entire bed to herself to stretch out.
3. When we went to counseling I expressed she spends too much time hanging out with her friends. One hour after we get back from counseling she asks if she can hang out with her friends.
4. I asked her to help clean the house. She doesn't clean. I then say if you don't want to clean get a maid. After 4 years I finally got a maid myself.
5. She asked what I want for my birthday. I told her but a year later I am still waiting.
6. The new thing is now she is withholding intimacy.
Response: The above description of the wife's behavior indicates there are serious problems in this relationship. However, the passive-aggressive (PA) behavior deflects the issues onto the husband's anger rather than resolving the problems in the marriage.
The husband wrote that he is having serious issues with his wife who accuses him of being angry all the time. He indicates that he is angry with her behavior, but she denies that her behavior is a problem. This may be classic PA denial which has the effect of creating anger in the victim. However, this is a good example of how it does no good to complain or become angry because the PA person has then "won" the conflict by displacing it onto the victim (husband) and causing him to look unreasonable. It also is not effective to take an article such as this one and tell her to read it because that will only escalate conflict. It is best to address each issue as it occurs, but to address it with a deeper emotion rather than anger. The anger only justifies the PA person's behavior such as the wife's response: "You have an anger problem."
This reader wrote that he wanted to visit Vegas and his wife didn't want to, but then went with her friends. When he became "upset" she made him feel "stupid and selfish." Anger is a protective emotion which is an outer layer emotion. The deeper emotion, or inner layer, is probably hurt or disappointment or fear. So, it would be better to respond with an assertive statement such as "I feel afraid that you don't love me anymore (or you find me boring) when you would rather go to Vegas with your friends than with me." This way he avoids the accusation of being angry and has the opportunity of her responding with something other than "You're angry all the time."
Another example this reader provided was that when he returned home from overseas, she commented about how nice it was to have the entire bed to herself. Again, he could respond assertively by saying, "I feel disappointed that you don't seem happy to share the bed with me." Notice the assertive statements use the "I" statements where you begin with your emotion and then follow it with the problem behavior or feeling. This type of assertive statement gently confronts the comments rather than immediately believing that his assumptions are correct (and becoming angry). For instance, it is possible that the comment wasn't about him but about how the bed is more comfortable when she is alone.
Ideally, it would be nice if the PA person could recognize her problem and try to be more direct about what she is feeling and what the problems are. However, in the case of a denier that is not likely, so he needs to change the angry response. It is possible that if he quits responding to her passive-aggressiveness with anger, they will be able to address the real problems in their relationship especially since they are already receiving therapeutic help.
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