How do I know if I am a passive aggressive (“Nice Guy”) husband?

1. Iceberg syndrome

You talk about your intimate self (doubts, fears, insecurities, resentments) on a “need to know” basis. Why rub it in? You are intimately familiar with all of it, so why fill your partner’s gun with the bullets to shoot you with?

2. You resent

You simply don’t get the praise, sex, admiration, respect that you deserve. And you don’t ask for it in any way that is likely to get you it, either. When your resentment comes out (and you try not to let it, because why give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have “gotten to you”) you express it bitterly, as a personal attack, or covertly.

3. False self

You try to wear a mask to cover up how you actually feel most of the time. Deep down, because you don’t feel good about yourself, you try to project confidence or act helpful or affectionately with your spouse, but it is hard to consistently pull off. When that mask inevitably cracks, you hate the weakness you show them. And you resent your spouse for “driving you” to “break down” in that way. It doesn’t bring you closer to them. It reinforces your belief, no matter how they respond, that you need that mask firmly in place in order to be loved.

4. You take no joy in her pleasure

You find your wife impossible to please, but when you do, somehow you feel she isn’t grateful enough. Yes, it is her birthday, but why do YOU have to make a big deal of it?

The birthday plans are half-hearted and last minute. The gift is perfunctory or with a hidden (insulting) meaning.

If you plan a party for her, the invitations go out late, you forgot to invite important people, you did invite people she didn’t want there, and you got too drunk, putting all of the attention on you.

And to boot, she didn’t show you enough gratitude for all of the work you put into it. (See #2).

5. You drag your heels

If a marriage is a bicycle built for two, you are in back with your toes dragging, instead of pedaling. Why should you pedal? She never goes anywhere you‘d choose (and you don’t WANT to be in front, because she’s ‘never be happy’ where you’d want to go anyway).

You agree to something but “forget.” You do it too late, the wrong way, or half finished. If she isn’t standing over you (which you hate; it is ‘micromanaging you’) it gets put on the back burner. The requests themselves feel ‘unfair’ but you don’t feel entitled to tell her that because “it will just start a fight” (see #1).

6. It feels like a ‘set-up’ to be asked what you want

As a kid, you were taught very early, that no one particularly cared what you wanted. If they asked, and you hadn’t guessed ‘correctly’ what to say (meaning whatever they felt like giving to you...) you’d be slammed, shamed, or hit. You learned how to dodge giving any answer at all, and this is a strategy you now live by. Snarl when asked.

Tell her only what you don’t want.

Complain when she chooses poorly or accept it with half-hearted indifference. Let her know when she fails to guess what you want; what would make you happy.

Living miserably with other people’s choices feels like a small box you are forced to live in. And you resent it (see # 2).

7. Sex Is a Struggle

Let me be candid: you aren’t fun to sleep with. You think of sex as a place to prove yourself to your wife, or a place to finally get the attention and love you’ve been missing. So she either isn’t getting excited enough by your moves, which is irritating (and unarousing!) or she isn’t aroused enough by arousing you, the man at center stage.

Then, to make matters worse, she stops wanting to have sex with you at all. Now you have to either live in a sexless marriage, or “do things” to get her “interested” which feels like a rip-off.

Don’t you already do enough?

Alternatively, she appears to enjoy sex more than you do (of course she does: you do all the ‘work’...) and you lose interest. And you resent her wanting sex from you. Why doesn’t she leave you alone? She does nothing but bitch at you and now she wants you to be interested in her sexually? No way! You’ve done enough for that ungrateful woman!

8. You want two choices but only get One

You are no stranger to wanting two choices but only getting one. You are a smart guy. You know that you are in a bind, you just don’t realize it is one of your own making.

You are the “invisible man” at home. There, but not there. Stuck in a world you never made, you dream of breaking free. Finding someone who would leave you alone and love you selflessly. Where you could get what you wanted without having to ask for it. Where you could just be yourself while hiding who you really are. Where you could feel endlessly competent without exerting any effort.

Where nothing would be asked of you and all would be given.

Break Free

Like any character style, the passive aggressive personality style is what Gottman calls an “internal working model.” I call it “pretzel logic.” It is self-reinforcing and very had to break. But like any change, the first step is to realize it is a distorted world view of yourself and your marriage.

If you see parts of yourself in this post, don’t be lulled into thinking you have solid external reasons to be this way. Recognize how toxic it is to you and your marriage.

Find a skilled therapist who knows how to work with passive aggression and stick with the treatment, even if you feel “unappreciated” or “misunderstood” (or understood too well) by your therapist.

You can break free of these destructive patterns. And have one choice that is the right one for you.

Want your questions answered?

Send us your questions about relationships, sex, intimacy, and couples therapy. If selected, we will post your question (and Dr. K's response) without identifying information. Simply fill out this form to contact us.

Dr. Kathy McMahon


Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

Upgrade your couples therapy

Couples Therapy Inc's free online course to help you upgrade your experience. Whether it is with us or any other couples therapist, your relationship deserves the best.

Leave a Reply:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}