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Because the first step to finding a solution is labeling the other person's behavior
June 4, 2007 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm having difficulty interacting with Mr. Anonymous. I'm looking for a label to describe how he behaves so I can do some reading and work out some strategies for handling our interactions better. There's

Mr. Anonymous frequently finds offense or insult in things I say and do, then retaliates by ignoring me, even though I'm unaware I've done anything to upset him. It's beginning to take a toll. I can give an actual example and a generic description of the dynamic. Would some MeFites care to weigh in and provide a label for either his behavior or our dynamic? At heart I want to improve our relationship, but right now I just need some coping strategies and can't see the forest for the trees. We've been together a little more than 5 years and this is a chronic problem. These events happen about once a week. Here's a real-life example:

Me: Would you handle dealing with the contractor about the exterior and the garage?
Him: Why?
Me: I don't think it makes sense for me to be a go-between on areas you requested work for. Also, I don't think I can watch Toddler Anonymous and meet for two hours with the contractor at the same time, and then spend my free time in the evening filling you in on the meeting.
Him: Fine. [A bit curt. He begins to gather his things to leave for work in a very clipped and efficient way.]
Me: Have I said something to upset you?
Him: No. [Now very curt].
He makes no eye contact with me and says nothing for the next 20min.
Me: You said you're not upset, but when you stop talking to me and start rushing to leave I think you are angry with me.
Him: Is that so? See you later.
He then more or less avoided me for the next two days (while at home he retreated to his office, came to bed later than me, would not start or continue conversations with me, etc.) before I got upset with him and we had a blow-out.

Here's my take on how the dynamic usually plays out in a generic fashion:
Me: Neutral remark or request
Him: Silence and withdrawal for a number of hours. He often doesn't tell me he's upset and, if I don't notice, this can go on for a full day or two.
Me: Noticing and asking if something's wrong. No idea I've done something.
Him: Tells me I offended him and usually claims it was intentional, which justifies his upset. He often has to specify the event because it's so small I cannot identify it.
Me: An apology for offending him (but without taking on the "intentionally malicious" claim) and explanation for my behavior.
Him: Silence, withdrawal, refusing to interact with me for another extended period.
Me: I also begin to ignore him. Eventually I confront him and express upset at being punished disproportionately for my actions.
Him: Or he eventually approaches me saying, more or less, to stop being controlling and ordering him around. Also I should be more polite (say please after requests, wait until a better time, not interrupt him, etc.).
Me: Point out that he could have said no to my request or tried to negotiate a compromise or asked to talk about it later or pointed out why he could not meet the request. When I ask if he could do this rather than ignoring me for hours at a time, he again says some variation of "You meant to offend me" or "No, just because you want me to do it doesn't mean I have to."
Then the full-fledged argument begins.

What's going on here? Is he paranoid, depressed, insecure, a bully, all of the above? No one in my life (including ex's) has had this issue with me and I'm getting tired of the work it takes just to get through small transactions with Mr. Anonymous.

Context: We've been in therapy for other issues but stopped for some scheduling reasons and never resumed. (I don't think our counselor was very adept. Every time we came up against a hard issue she'd say "we'll save it for next time" and ask us not to talk about it during the week, but then we'd never re-address it. I called her on this a few times and she basically said some people just get along better if they avoid issues. I said I wasn't one of them. So I never rescheduled after a missed meeting.) Yes, therapy might work but in this case I'm looking for other suggestions and specifically a concise label for his or our dynamic that will help me find some strategies for dealing with it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (66 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Passive-aggressive. As loathe as I am to toss that label around given its overuse, Mr. Anon sounds like he's there with bells on.
posted by jamaro at 6:13 PM on June 4, 2007


Finding a label to apply to him is exactly the wrong thing to do. He's obviously unhappy about something. He may feel you are pushing him too much. I'd suggest another counselor.
posted by DarkForest at 6:18 PM on June 4, 2007


Huh. That sounds like stonewalling. And not truly admitting when he is angry. Those are some signs of verbal abuse.

The labels that you seek should come from a whaddayacallit ... a therapist. Looking for randoms on the internet to correlate anecdotal evidence into something useful just ain't gonna be all that useful.

Find a new couples therapist and try it out in there.

Good luck.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 6:19 PM on June 4, 2007


one possible thing to consider:

You can't change him, and finding a label for his behavior won't help.

You can change yourself. Sometimes, even when someone else is wrong, this is the only option. Two changes you might make are altering your approach to him, and altering your response.

You feel that your first requests are neutral. Clearly, he doesn't. Think about how you can put your request in the way that will inspire the least defensive response. For example, in your contractor conversation you could have said, "I know you're really busy right now at work (or whatever he is stressed about right now), but I'm wondering if you'd talk to the contractor. I don't really know what to say to him, and I'll be trying to watch toddler anonymous. I'm afraid I won't cover everything you want me to."

The other thing you can do, (and I know this is super hard), is to just not engage when he gets shut down and defensive. He ignores you? Ignore his response. Let him have some time to withdraw, and then approach him a few hours later as if everything is fine. If he's upset, it's his job to tell you.

I highly recommend the work of John Gottman on all relationship issues - found at gottman.com.
posted by serazin at 6:20 PM on June 4, 2007


I'm no kind of a doctor, but what you describe is pretty much the definition of passive-aggressive behaviour as I understand it. As a layman's observation, there's likely to be something lying behind this - perhaps he feels trapped or unsatisfied with his life, or he has some particular issue that makes him want to vindicate himself, and/or punish you, at every small opportunity and at the cost of gracious manners - but he isn't prepared to confront or admit it directly.

He may not see any problem with his behaviour, so excercise caution in calling him out on it. He may also try and turn the accusation around on you, and accuse you of making up and applying mental problems to him. Try and make it clear that you have to bring up these issues for the sake of the health of your relationship and yourselves, and you're not trying to hurt or control him.

As far as solutions, about the best I can suggest is to go to a therapist or counsellor for more advice. This issue certainly doesn't seem to be something that it's healthy to let fester.
posted by Drexen at 6:31 PM on June 4, 2007


It's pretty clear that he doesn't feel it's 'safe' to talk to you openly; that open conversation may lead him into more difficulty than not. He may feel unappreciated or that you are bullying him. Where is the power in this relationship and how has his life been going? Are his concerns being met? Or are you only pushing for your own?
posted by DarkForest at 6:32 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I tend to agree with the others, but would recommend Difficult Conversations, which suggests strategies for having conversations that don't devolve into hurt feelings.

Your conversational gambit is something like "Here's a super-logical reason why you're wrong" which doesn't allow for his or your emotion nor or acknowledgement of what you are feeling. That would (and has) completely shut me down in former relationships.

Off the top of my head, the book suggests mutually identifying what happened, acknowledging that both of you contributed to that, acknowledging how you felt about what happened, and going from there. I think I found it via a recommendation on AskMefi.
posted by idb at 6:34 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, in my lay opinion, it sounds like your husband is completely withdrawing from you. That provokes you to pursue him; this provokes him to further withdraw, and round and round goes the negative feedback loop. Not healthy at all, and I speak from personal experience.

I agree with others wholeheartedly - find another therapist, particularly because you have a toddler and s/he is likely absorbing all of the negativity between the two of you. I would imagine that if things don't change one way or the other, you may well be dealing in a few years with a problem kid who acts out to get your attention in addition to a rocky marriage.

Also, serazin speaks wisely on the subject.

Good luck. I know this is painful.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:36 PM on June 4, 2007


I'm not saying this to be critical (although it is) because I understand and sympathize with where you are coming from. Please try to take what I have to say in the most constructive manner possible.

By engaging in the semantics of deliberately trying to pigeonhole Mr. A's behavior with a diagnostic label, you appear to me (from my minimal expertise as irrational human with psychology degree from top-tier university and no professional experience as such) to be engaging in a rhetorical device that you, if subconsciously or against your better judgment, plan to use as a logical pillar of an argument with Mr. A. That is to say, that by seeking a definitive label it seems to me that you wish to point out to Mr. A the errors of his ways by contending that he is OBVIOUSLY. PASSIVE. AGGRESSIVE (or whichever mini-diagnosis strikes you as most jaw-droppingly apt). Since IMO this has no useful, therapeutically constructive remotely positive potential outcome, I would stick with the following:

"Dear Mr. A: Please, as a sign of respect and love, have the courtesy to trust me with open communication of your wants and needs. I respect and care deeply for your wants and needs and hope for both of us to have adequate emotional satisfication with our interactions (here's hoping you feel the same). That can only happen if we share our honest thoughts, and each pledge to care about same".

Of course, this plea for communication may not work. But neither, I assure you, will pegging Mr. A with a "passive aggressive" diagnosis put in play by an anonymous Internet community in a feigned attempt to learn more about the mutual inability to functionally communicate. Doing so, frankly, is a little psychotically antisocial.
posted by bunnycup at 6:39 PM on June 4, 2007 [9 favorites]


Your fella is a control freak, and is passive aggressive, and I don't give a tinker's darn what anyone upthread says about it.

Find a family systems therapist, though. They're good for this sort of things because you will each learn how your individual behavior affects the other.
posted by konolia at 6:52 PM on June 4, 2007


(Sorry, bunnycup, no offense meant to YOU. )
posted by konolia at 6:53 PM on June 4, 2007


Eeeeowch. Just reading your title I cringed.

I'm just going to recommend this book and back away slowly.

It's a very difficult book, not for the weak. That's probably why it's for sale so cheaply - people gave up and thought it would be easier to divorce than actually do the work of healing themselves.
posted by lysdexic at 6:55 PM on June 4, 2007


Mr. desjardins tends to be a bit like your husband, due to various things in his childhood. I tend to be a bit like you; taken aback and wondering how I've offended him.

We've deconstructed this in therapy, and now we're doing a hell of a lot better. But I can clearly see what's going on in your example, based on our experience.

Me: Would you handle dealing with the contractor about the exterior and the garage?

My rephrase: Hey honey, could you please deal with the contractor about the exterior and the garage? It would help me out a lot, because I have to watch little desjardins. And plus, then we can do other stuff tonight instead of me telling you what the contractor said!

Now, he feels like he's being Mr. Helpful, whereas before I'm guessing he feels badgered. Mr. Desjardins also feels that a direct request ("Can you take out the trash?") is an accusation ("Why haven't you taken out the trash yet, you lazy slob?"). (Yeah, I know, you wouldn't feel badgered/accused if the same request had been made of you, but this is him, and it benefits both of you to learn each others' language.)

You said you're not upset, but when you stop talking to me and start rushing to leave I think you are angry with me.

You know damned well he's upset. Don't chase after him and try and badger him into a conversation he obviously doesn't want to have. Let him deal with his feelings. If he never has a chance to process them and figure out WHY he's getting upset at your innocent request, he never has an opportunity to change. It took 2 years for Mr. Desjardins to figure out what buttons I was pushing, and he didn't figure it out until I left him alone to think about it.

Me: Point out that he could have said no to my request or tried to negotiate a compromise or asked to talk about it later or pointed out why he could not meet the request. When I ask if he could do this rather than ignoring me for hours at a time, he again says some variation of "You meant to offend me" or "No, just because you want me to do it doesn't mean I have to."

This was us to a T. Again, I had to learn his language, especially since I'm the one who wants something from him. It wouldn't make any sense to ask someone who only speaks French "Where is the bathroom?" in English, and get upset when they don't understand. Incidentally, "demander" in French means "to ask," but it looks a lot like "demand," doesn't it?
posted by desjardins at 6:58 PM on June 4, 2007 [11 favorites]


He is acting the petulant child to force you into being the solicitous mother.

If he's doing this out of jealousy of his own child, you might be able to ameliorate it by trying to to include him in the loving interactions you have with your baby whenever you can. If he lost the attention of his own mother to new younger sibling, you could possibly resolve that by pointing it out and emphasizing how much you and his child love him and depend upon him. If he has been displaced to a degree by the baby in your affections, which is entirely normal and probably even healthy, try to arrange as much loving interaction as you can between him and toddler anonymous, so that he can return the favor to the level required for the health and stability of your relationship.
posted by jamjam at 7:02 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seconding DarkForest. The fact that nowhere in your post do you seem to entertain the possibility that some of the problem may be coming from you makes me very nervous.

"Passive-aggressiveness" is a perfectly rational coping mechanism for some people in some situations. What is it, exactly, that you think your husband is trying to cope with here? You don't think he's just plain spiteful, do you?
posted by bricoleur at 7:02 PM on June 4, 2007


I'm not sure I agree with anyone's suggestion that Mrs. Anonymous needs to change her communication style. Assuming she is not prettifying her side of the conversation, then her husband is choosing to behave badly. To suggest that she needs to rephrase her questions or take a different approach is to again make her do his work in the relationship.

I'd say he's not being direct about his emotions (passive-aggressive, same thing), and he's not behaving maturely. This communication style is unacceptable and is clearly damaging your interactions to the point that you're afraid to bring anything up, even politely. And I add my voice to those that say: get back into therapy, pronto, because this stuff is terribly toxic to your partnership.
posted by Miko at 7:15 PM on June 4, 2007 [9 favorites]


Oh, and I agree with bunnycup. If you want to get along with this guy, ever, labelling him with "passive aggressive" is going to be completely counterproductive. Whether it's rationally right or wrong, your husband is reacting to some button you've pushed in him, and the compassionate thing to do is to 1) learn how the button was installed and 2) avoid pushing it.

From personal experience, I think you're being passive-aggressive by feigning innocence at pushing his button. E.g.:

Me: Have I said something to upset you?

You know damned well that it was what you said that upset him. Sure, you feel that he has "no right" to be upset. IT DOESN'T MATTER, because he's still upset. He's probably upset ABOUT being upset, because he knows it's irrational, but instead of lashing out at you, he goes silent. Honestly, I'd bet $1000 that's to protect YOU from his internal anger. I'd also bet $1000 that he had an "interesting" childhood.

You have a toddler, so you have a built-in source of compassion in you. Your little one skins his knee, and you rush to his aid. Yeah, you know it can't possibly hurt THAT BAD, and his wailing is mostly for your attention, but you still say, "there there, little one," and hold him on your lap. You don't say, "suck it up, punk." On this particular issue, your husband's brain got stuck in toddler mode, and he does not know how to react any differently. If you react with compassion, instead of expecting him to suck it up, I guarantee he will begin to react differently, because the compassion is what he's looking for in the first place (cf. his request for politeness).

I know, it sucks to have to be the "adult" in the relationship. But you can get through this w/o resentment if you're willing to act with compassion and delve into whatever issues from his past are getting triggered by your requests.

Sorry to be so verbose here, but this is soooooooooooo familiar to me, and if I could save another couple a few of the fights we went through, I'd gladly type all night.
posted by desjardins at 7:16 PM on June 4, 2007 [11 favorites]


I'm sure desjardins is right about what's going on in his mind, but that still doesn't mean the solution is for Mrs. A to change her behavior. There's no requirement that our loved ones arrange their lives around the symptoms of our poor mental health. We don't marry toddlers. I should think therapy for both of you would really help.
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on June 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


a label for either his behavior or our dynamic

In situation one, Mr. A sounds, to me, like someone who is frustrated because he feels that Mrs. A expects him to do both the at-home work and the outside-the-home work, that Mrs. A is subtly throwing in his face the fact that she doesn't really want the work done (areas you requested work for), and that Mrs. A is trying to gear up for a big discussion/explanation of why he's wrong while he's trying to get ready to go in to work. Mr. A sounds sort of like someone who doesn't think there's going to be any good gotten out of arguing his point, so he doesn't bother.

In situation two, without knowing what you define a neutral remark or request as, I don't think there's any way to comment on it.

symptoms of our poor mental health

That's the first time I've heard 'less than stellar argument style' defined as 'poor mental health.'
posted by frobozz at 7:34 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Miko: agreed on the therapy for both, though I didn't specifically mention it.

She sees a problem, because she's the one posting here. She cannot change his behavior, only hers. Therefore in order for something to change in this situation, she has to change her behavior. Asking him to change his behavior has not worked. It doesn't matter that it SHOULD work. It HASN'T. So, her alternatives are 1) leave the guy; 2) try something different. Presumably he has many good qualities or she would not have married him. His behavior in this particular situation lacks maturity. Hardly a reason to say forget it and leave. If his behavior never changes, well, she's left with accepting it or leaving. But right now they're just stuck in a stupid pattern. Not quite the end of the world.
posted by desjardins at 7:44 PM on June 4, 2007


I have been Mr anonymous in relationships before, or something quite like him, and am nothing like him now. I'd suggest it's nothing to do with him per se, it is to do with you as a couple. You are both acting as passive-aggressive as hell, and it sounds like you're both boiling up to vent it out, hugely.

You said you're not upset, but when you stop talking to me and start rushing to leave I think you are angry with me.
That would drive me nuts if someone said it to me. You know he's upset! And the rational questioning of a highly emotional response is ridiculous -- it's like asking what yellow smells like.
Yes, he's being a dick, but yes, you're not helping matters.

I didn't work out how to make that sort of relationship work, so I don't know if I can help. I imagine it's going to take some hefty work -- you're going to have to learn how not to push his buttons quite so hard (and not to trivialise what he sees as stuff that drives him mad), while he is going to have to learn how to express his emotional states without undue aggression, and also to let loose. Good luck!
posted by bonaldi at 7:44 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


One thing that occurs to me, is that something like

"Dear Mr. A: Please, as a sign of respect and love, have the courtesy to trust me with open communication of your wants and needs. I respect and care deeply for your wants and needs and hope for both of us to have adequate emotional satisfication with our interactions (here's hoping you feel the same). That can only happen if we share our honest thoughts, and each pledge to care about same".

would have been totally counter-productive. This isn't rationalism, here. However, her getting angry and yelling at me would have been great. Finding a matching emotional pitch is really key, and just now you're on completely different emotional pages.
posted by bonaldi at 7:47 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Speaking purely as a layman, it's my personal observation that most men have an emotional range from 20x to 100x what is socially acceptable in day to day American society. The last thing Ms. Anonyomous wants from Mr. Anonymous is "open communication." She really doesn't want to see his mad face, much less his rant face, to say nothing of the faces that enable men to kill elephants for sport, or butcher whales, or invent suicide bombing as a battle tactic. But those faces are all part of us, every one of us, even the most Caspar Milquetoast among us men, if you scratch deep enough. As in, just a little through our paint, in an inconspicuous area.

Most of male socialization in American society is about men learning to sublimate their real emotions, to be stoic, and to do the predictable, quiet thing. Most married men I know have been doing this so long, that their marriages are essentially contracts to keep doing it forever. Most guys on the street on which I live can't even raise their voices fully in their own homes. Slamming a fist on a counter-top hard enough to crack Formica is enough to get police to respond. But that level of expression isn't even a decent head of steam, isn't even enough heat for decent poetry, in the long march of normal male emotional expression. So the guys on the cul-de-sac across my street circle their driveways and yards for hours, 4 or 5 nights a week, piddling with their boats, or their cars, or the lawn tractors. Anything to avoid going inside until it's time to go to bed. And a lot of guys in the neighborhood are gone by 6:00 a.m. most workdays, so they've got time for coffee and a paper in the diners down on Atlantic Blvd. 50 to 100 trucks in most of those diner parking lots by 6:30 a.m., 5 and 6 mornings a weeks, and the clientele is 10 to 1 male that hour of the morning, and more and earlier in some seasons. Married men, 95% of that 90%. Single guys can sleep later, and regularly enjoy coffee and eggs at home, I guess.

In my neighborhood, we guys can even see it in one another, and sometimes we grin and wave and shake our heads at one another across the street, when it's obvious, again, what's going on. One guy on the street behind me, got an anvil and a nice 28oz ball pien hammer last year, and in 9 months, out in his garage, pounded his way through 3 fiberglas handles, and fine peened the whole top surface of the anvil, spur and all. Fine piece of work, really, 250,000 or more blows in that exquisitely shiny surface, but not the kind of thing you see much any more, whereas in most Viking villages, it was commonplace. 1000 years of crude "socialization" being nothing to the biology of male emotion, or expression of same. Another guy down at the t-intersecting street to mine is a marathoner. Does 100 miles of running a week, on average, and still can't run away from his mad, all the time.

So, although I'm just a layman, I'm convinced, from long experience, that Ms. Anonymous most assuredly doesn't even want to hear what her husband might really think of her analysis of their problems. And he knows that. He's not passive - aggressive, he's sane, and "socialized." And Ms. Anonymous? She just wants to know:

"What's going on here? Is he paranoid, depressed, insecure, a bully, all of the above? No one in my life (including ex's) has had this issue with me and I'm getting tired of the work it takes just to get through small transactions with Mr. Anonymous."

There is nothing in that "question" that offers any hope, whatsoever, for human understanding. And so, loath as I am to employ cliche, seriously, Ms. Anonymous, do both yourselves a favor, and DTMFA.

And tell him the rest of us are havin' breakfast tomorrow down at the diner, and would be pleased to see him, if he'd like to join us. He can have my sports page and want ads, if I see him.
posted by paulsc at 8:28 PM on June 4, 2007 [137 favorites]


'less than stellar argument style' defined as 'poor mental health.'

I do think that not being able to express emotions or thoughts directly is not a state of mental health.

I'm speaking as someone who's been the Mr. A, and in my case it definitely wasn't health. It was, in all honesty, completely my problem, and due to a lack of emotional maturity. Who knows? It's definitely more than a bad argument style, though. He's not arguing at all; he's shutting down and closing off contact, refusing to engage, claiming victim status.

It's true that Mrs. A can't change Mr. A, but she can avoid blaming herself and taking his problems upon her. I didn't suggest she leave him, I suggested that they get back into therapy. It's the only solution I can see. Recommending that she take it upon herself to manage this behavior is just encouraging a further disintegration of this relationship. For her to walk on eggshells for fear of ruffling him the wrong way starts to border on codependency.
posted by Miko at 8:30 PM on June 4, 2007


Does he have a lot of other stresses or responsibilities in his life? Maybe he is afraid that he can't handle doing whatever it is you asked him to do, and doesn't know how to say "No, I can't - can you please do it (or help me)?"

Or maybe he wants to say "I have too much on my mind to worry about this now, can you let it go, and I'll handle it myself when I can."

I get a ton of requests to fix/update all sorts of things at work (I work in IT) and when there are too many, sometimes I get overwhelmed and anxious and then don't know how to say "no" or delegate them effectively. And at that point everything sounds like an unreasonable demand, even though, objectively, it isn't the case.

What if you tried to make the request in a way that.. acknowledges that it's asking for some of his time & reflects that you've tried to do what part of the task you can?

For example.. "I don't want to bug you but, I was thinking about meeting with the contractor about the garage - should we both be there, do you think? I can call him and set up the meeting if there's a good time soon. Or, if you'd rather do it later, that's fine too." And then don't bring up the contractor again.

By the way, what would happen if you asked him to do something, and he immediately agreed and did it? Would you thank him and say how great it was? And, if so, would he react badly to praise and get embarrassed and uncomfortable? Just wondering..
posted by citron at 8:41 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Your fella is a control freak, and is passive aggressive

yessiryesyesyeah.

do not hope for change. people do not change, only their perceptions of each other do. a decision is warranted: can you accept this type of behavior or do you need to end this?

you know the old saying... the horrible end beats the horror without end. or something like that.
posted by krautland at 8:53 PM on June 4, 2007


Mr. Desjardins also feels that a direct request ("Can you take out the trash?") is an accusation ("Why haven't you taken out the trash yet, you lazy slob?").

Yes! Ms. Steady can be like this a bit sometimes, and while we have talked about it, and she is working on learning my language, I have learned that just by framing the request a little differently or asking at a different time can greatly affect the way the request is received. Now, it's not like I am walking on eggshells or anything, but by choosing my words with a little care I can make things go much more smoothly.

That said, it does sound like Mr. A's response is extreme, and I think he will need to alter the way he hears you more than you need to change the way you ask. I'm thinking the title of this question is tongue-in-cheek, but if not, I have to disagree strongly. Finding a label is not helpful at all, especially for a layperson. Developing some mature and respectful discussion about the issue (that takes place when the problem behavior is NOT cropping up) will help a million times more.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:01 PM on June 4, 2007


I may be reading a lot into this, but I suspect Mr. Anonymous is simply overwhelmed. He's probably got a tough job, and now a family he MUST support so he can't quit, and if the job gets any more difficult, he's going to lose his ability to cope. When you ask him to do something - just before he heads off to work, no less - you've just pushed him that much closer to the edge of the cliff. If he vents his frustration at you, the ensuing fight will push him even closer to the cliff edge, so he chooses to shut down.

He probably has the same reaction at work if a new task gets suddenly dumped in his lap - and, again, he has to bite his tongue so that he doesn't get fired. Something has to give somewhere, and in order to keep supporting his family financially, what gives is his relationship with you.

And he probably had lofty goals that he wanted to achieve in his life, and now they seem further out of reach than ever.

Is there a way to scale back the family's expectations (smaller house, older car, cheaper schooling)? If he felt there was a big enough cushion that he could drop the burden for a year without the family's world collapsing, he would worry less about coping. I suspect the worrying is using up a lot of what little energy he has left and he would never need to use the cushion if he had it.
posted by mediaddict at 9:11 PM on June 4, 2007 [6 favorites]


Some responses here are seriously OTT. paulsc, does this vast emotional range that men are capable of encompass anything other than anger? Compassion, love, sadness … anything that has the whiff of tenderness? (hint: yes)

desjardins, you're right that the compassionate thing to do is find out what's going on, but Mrs. A has tried to do that, albeit not in a way that the Mr. is responding to. She's asked what she's said to upset him and he refuses to engage. I can accept this behavior if it lasts for a few minutes, maybe a few hours (I do it far too often). But to be pissed off and uncommunicative, to refuse to bring up the issue and to hide from it for two days is excessive and unfair.

Except. Except that two days means that something major is going on with him, inside of him. Two days means that he needs to get to therapy, probably more than you. He's afraid of the necessary conversation/argument itself or he's afraid of what it means; afraid of just how very angry he feels and frustrated that he can't change his behavior. Only he knows what's going on. The trick is to find a way to get him to talk about it.

I'd suggest approaching the issue outside of any conflict. Let him know how much you care about him but how frustrating those days/conversations/arguments are to you. How very open you are to doing what is right for him or better for him, but that you can't unless he tells you what it is. Tell him, in no uncertain terms, that this is an issue between the two of you that you can work out and not (solely) something that he needs to fix in himself.

Good luck!
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:23 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. Ater reading some of these responses, I think I'll go give my husband two blow jobs tonight.

You have a toddler, and seem to want to save your marriage, so maybe this will be very unhelpful. But I've had boyfriends who acted like this, and it was a sure sign to me that they wanted to break up, but were too fucking pussy to do it.
posted by peep at 9:38 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


(My view's coloured by recent dealings with a passive-agressive (now) ex, so there's every possibility I'm projecting my situation onto yours. There are a number of similarities though, and they're what I'm responding to.)

A few thoughts:

-- If this is happening weekly, he's spending almost 30% of every week giving you the silent treatment

-- If you've no idea of what you're doing to set it off, you're never going to work it out. Because basically, the rules are set by him and they're probably pretty arbitrary, unconcious and prompted by whatever his internal 'protection' need is at the time

-- How hard are you working to justify his behaviour to yourself? Think about what it would feel like not to have to do all that justifying and thinking - if you're feeling relief at that thought, you're probably working too hard.

-- Think about it this way: all he has to do is turn up and gut react, you're the one doing all the worrying and hard work.

-- You may have limited success with rephrasing things. In my own situation I used the assertive, respectful approach that seems to work with 99% of people I've encountered but was told that I was 'counselling' him. You may find that you'll never win no matter what words you use.

My feeling is that there are deeper issues here that will probably take a bit of (therapeutic) work for you - both separately and together.
posted by prettypretty at 9:48 PM on June 4, 2007


"... paulsc, does this vast emotional range that men are capable of encompass anything other than anger? ..."

Sure, it's one component of what gets operas written, hearts transplanted, space stations built, and starry, starry nights painted.

"... Except that two days means that something major is going on with him, inside of him. Two days means that he needs to get to therapy, probably more than you. ..."

Two days of being quiet is your guideline for therapy? Piffle. Two days part time consideration of an irritating behavior on the part of a loved one doesn't begin to formulate words worth getting into, for many men on the planet. Two days isn't long enough to even notice, really. At a week's remove, the whole thing might appear to be merely a molehill, or resolve itself through other courses. Mr. A could reasonably be of that philosophical bent, as many men are.

If all your issues must be solved satisfactorily in real time, though, good luck with that, wemayfreeze. A lot of people's emotional clocks measure in seasons.
posted by paulsc at 9:57 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


What Mediaddict wrote really resonated with me. I guess Mr Anon might be a total passive aggressive dick, but he sounds to me a lot more like he is just stressed and not feeling very supported. You write that you never had these problems with your exes... but did you have a marriage and a toddler with your exes?

My partner, with the best of intentions and zero maliciousness (which is also the case with you, I think) often does exactly what you describe: she finds the one moment in the day where I have a chance to sit and reflect and consider in what order to do the things I need to do, and then she starts giving me the list of requests of things she wants help with. It makes sense, from her point of view -- I'm sitting there quietly and conveniently, and seemingly ready to receive the "honey do" list. But from my point of view, right at the moment when I am almost feeling on top of what I need to do, I am handed another big list of things to worry about and take on my shoulders.

As much fun as a big blow-out argument really is, we've taken two approaches to trying to reduce this sort of issue. (And yes, there is a reciprocal to what I just described, where I get to push her buttons, but that is a different process with different issues involved.)

On the one hand, we've worked on other ways and times to communicate these things, that are better than the "please do x and y and z and p and ..." at the breakfast table. For us, drawing up to-do lists together really works, in the context of working together on our goals for the future: "So if we want a nice house, and you can work with the contractor on the siding, then I can do x and y." There are plenty of other ways to do this -- the point is to consciously decide that what you are doing now is not working, and therefore to chose a different course of action.

On the other hand, at the same time we try to be extremely conscious of the contributions the other person makes to helping the household run and be pleasant. It might be a bit hokey, but once in a while we each take turns listing all the things the other person did for the household that day (especially the things that are done out of sight of the other person). It lets you know that what you are doing is seen and appreciated, and also lets you know if either big areas of effort aren't being noticed, or are wasted effort -- maybe you are spending five hours every day weeding the lawn, but he has always hated grass and wishes it were a big flower bed instead. It is (for me at least) quite humbling to list all the things my partner did that day, and I am quite ridiculously pleased that she notices and appreciates the things I do.

At the end of the day, a key question to ask yourself is "am I doing everything I can to make my partner's life easier and more pleasant?" Hopefully your partner does the same, but this is a case where you shouldn't be waiting for them to take the first step. Your good behavior is not conditional on theirs.
posted by Forktine at 10:34 PM on June 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think this is more of a "different people act differently" issue than a "men act differently than women; lo the undiscovered depths of the masculine soul" issue.

I've certainly been guilty of the kind of frustrated upset silence Mr. A is exhibiting - though not for days at a time - and bonaldi has the right bit of advice there. Rational talk about who's the good guy, about who's "right", and whether I have good reason to be upset, just makes it worse with me. In situations where I've gotten upset over my husband's completely reasonable requests ("hey, when you get a chance can you do some of the dishes?"), I just need to cool off by myself. No good will come of him asking me "why are you so upset? Let's have a big talk in which you defend your upsetness, and I give reasons why you shouldn't be upset." This will just get me more worked up and angry -- again, really over nothing.

I get upset because he's pointing out something I already feel guilty for not doing, and because this makes him the more grown-up one, and I end up feeling like he's my boss telling me what to do. Yuck. (Even though I know he doesn't see it this way at all.)

It's childish, I know, but it's hard to control. My husband is also a "If you're upset, let's talk it out right now" kind of guy. We needed to find a way to negotiate this.

I now know that I should just say "Arrrgh, that ticks me off, not because it's unreasonable but just for no reason at all. I can't talk about it now. I don't hate you. Let me cool off and we can talk about it later." Maybe you could suggest this to him as a coping strategy, as a signal to you that now is not the time, but that the issue is just him getting his back up over something small - not him thinking, in a fully reasoned way, that your suggestion is wrong - or whatever? That's the kind of thing that couples therapy might be good for -- concrete strategies like that. Not deciding who's right and who's wrong.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:52 PM on June 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


Some people's suggestions sound to me like they're saying Anon should bend over backward, make herself sound small and pitiful (eg, serazin's phrasing, "I'm afraid I wouldn't cover everything you wanted"), and generally take responsibility for avoiding triggers that may be unavoidable. Trying to be sensitive is worth a shot, but it can definitely also go too far and become crazy-making. I dated someone who'd seethe for hours (not days - God), and I acted meek and walked on eggshells trying to avoid angering him for years until I realized it was impossible. So I'm biased but would just recommend being careful about staying on middle ground. (Eg, I liked rock steady's suggestion, since he specifically explains that it means being sensitive without having to feel "on eggshells.")

I have a lot of sympathy for you, Anon. And I'm not sure how extreme your situation is. But I do know labeling things will just help you explain to yourself why you're unhappy and what you're continuing to put up with, and confuse the situation with a bunch of stereotypes. I really felt you when you said "I'm getting tired of the work it takes just to get through small transactions with Mr. Anonymous" -- I'd stick with that.

And if you did want to keep working on things, here are some things you could consider --

1.) Watch the abstract voice and the objective truth. "I don't think it makes sense..." (your opening) is one of those abstract phrases where the narrator represents their thoughts as a universal truth. You don't say that his approach does not work for you, but that his approach, objectively speaking, is nonsensical. You do moderate it with "I don't think," but there's still probably a better way to say things. Another word that set off "objective truth" alarm bells for me was "disproportionately," since it makes it sound like you know the length of time it's officially okay for him to not speak to you before his behavior is officially too much. In many places, you do stick to a more first-person speaking style, but you might want to keep an eye on it. Especially since your question is asking for an abstract judgment on his communication.

While you're avoiding any claims to omniscience or objectivity, I'd resist the urge to label his behavior at all and especially to label it as wrong. I'd assume all your differences are neutral (at least as a working hypothesis). If you do want to think systematically about what's going on, read something that describes interpersonal differences without judging them, like the Meyers-Briggs system (you sound like a classic NT to me and I'm guessing he's an F, to the extent M-B is real) or Gottman or The Five Love Languages.

2) Consider doing less thinking and more feeling. I notice you use the phrase "I think" a lot. Would you get further with Mr. Anonymous by appealing to his emotions?

Combining this point with the first one, what if there are no objective rules about right and wrong behavior, and the only reason he should do something is because of his love and concern for you and how you feel? In fact, in addition to not judging or labeling him, you might avoid intellectualizing the situation at all. Whenever he starts sulking, could you just immediately ask for what you want because of how you're feeling? "Oh, please stop being mad at me! I miss you!" Or, "argh, it's so painful to me to be ignored! Please talk to me!" (Maybe you tried this, I don't know.)

3) Loving curiosity ("what's going on in there?") goes a long way. Also, on preview, everything that Forktine said sounds very wise.
posted by salvia at 10:57 PM on June 4, 2007


Me: An apology for offending him (but without taking on the "intentionally malicious" claim) and explanation for my behavior.
Him: Silence, withdrawal, refusing to interact with me for another extended period.
Me: I also begin to ignore him. Eventually I confront him and express upset at being punished disproportionately for my actions.
Him: Or he eventually approaches me saying, more or less, to stop being controlling and ordering him around. Also I should be more polite (say please after requests, wait until a better time, not interrupt him, etc.).
Me: Point out that he could have said no to my request or tried to negotiate a compromise or asked to talk about it later or pointed out why he could not meet the request. When I ask if he could do this rather than ignoring me for hours at a time, he again says some variation of "You meant to offend me" or "No, just because you want me to do it doesn't mean I have to."
Then the full-fledged argument begins.


I used to have a dynamic like this one. Here are some things you might want to try:

Next time you give an apology, just give an apology without any caveats. Even if it's not what you want to say, just suck it up and say it. (I'm guessing that) Your husband feels that you don't value his opinions, and when you say "I know you think I'm malicious, so I guess I'm sorry, but I'm not malicious, in fact let me explain" you're reinforcing his belief that you don't want to listen to him. If he's coming to you and saying "I think you are bossy and impolite" and you counter with "Well, you could always so "no" to me", you're doing it again. Listen to what he's trying to tell you.

Actually try saying stuff like "Could you do me a favor?" and "please" and all that stuff that's important to him. Try presenting an emotional argument ("It would really help me out if you would talk to the contractor...") rather than a rational one ("It doesn't make sense for me to talk to the contractor"...). Your husband seems to have a problem saying "no" to you (perhaps because you present more arguments?) so when you ask him to do something, throw in "it's okay if the answer is no". See how many times he takes you up on it.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:11 PM on June 4, 2007


My wife and I were in marital therapy. Plus I was in individual therapy. Plus so was she. For a few years. It took a lot of time and a lot of money, but we learned a lot. From what you're saying, this might be a good strategy for your situation, because both of you are contributing to the situations you describe, and both of you could use the help.

But it takes three good therapists to make it work. (Don't waste time with any therapist who seems to ignore your needs, or you don't have confidence in. Mutual respect with your therapist is important. Your therapist should ideally be intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, experienced, understanding, caring, and a really, really good friend.)

If you find that prospect daunting, ask yourself, "How much do I love him? How much does he love me? How committed am I to this relationship? How much is he?" If your answer is "Not very much" then consider cutting your losses with this relationship and move on to the next.

Relationship therapy makes sense only when the relationship itself is worth saving, when both parties really want the relationship.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:21 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is the title of this post a joke??

Hi anonymous,
Instead of analyzing just him, how about putting yourself in his shoes and evaluating the situation--including yourself--from his point of view?

Because to me (a random female on the Internet who has experienced both sides of this dynamic), the example of what you call a neutral remark/request sounds pretty imposing and non-negotiable in tone and the timing isn't very considerate. And this type of exchange happens on a weekly basis! If I were your husband I would feel frustrated, taken for granted, and would have no idea how to begin to effectively communicate this to you. His silence is a coping mechanism that maybe he finds preferrable to getting into a long, exhausting argument where his voice won't get heard anyway. That's what I get from the limited information you've provided for us here.

But you see, the fact that you are here taking the time to ask the Internet for advice, I KNOW you aren't some self-entitled, unbudging spouse. You and your husband just have different standards for "normal" communication and are feeling a little disconnected from one another, that's all. Since your husband seems to be having a difficult time now, maybe you can be the one to make the first move in bridging the gap.

What can you do? Be considerate and rethink your approach when asking favors next time, and don't be on the offensive. Don't force him to talk, but really listen to him when he does--let him speak without interruption from you. And lastly, don't call him or even think of him as being passive-aggressive because labels are never helpful in situations like this (and honestly, you might have a hand in the passive-agressive pot too).

As for why your ex-partners have never had this communication issue with you, well, of course not--you didn't marry them! (I think.) You simply didn't make it to this stage of a relationship with them to find out. Marriage and starting a family is a mixed bag of joy, compromise, sacrifice... but you don't need us to tell you that. You know that as well as anyone here. Certainly better than I do. :)

Finally, apologies for my presumption. I'm trying to help, honest!
posted by QueSeraSera at 11:41 PM on June 4, 2007


I think salvia has a really interesting point, on the "abstract opening" idea. It sounds a bit like you're upset because he's not sharing his emotions with you, but your example (and your abstracted pattern) don't show you sharing your feelings with him, either. As salvia says, it sounds more like you're stating truths rather than sharing your concerns.

I agree that you shouldn't have to walk on eggshells, at all, but I also think it'd be unfair to hold him up to a standard of communication that you're not encouraging or engaging in yourself.

I'm newly in love with Susan Heitler's From Conflict to Resolution. It's actually written for therapists, but I think the first few chapters are one of the best all-around guides to solving relational conflicts that I've ever read.

She points out that we often get into a pattern of "I want X, so you have to do Y," "No, I want Z, so you have to do A" win-lose negotiations. What she recommends is moving toward a brainstorming win-win model, in which each person shares his or her concerns and then you work out a mutually agreeable solution that takes as many of those concerns into account as possible. This approach means that you have to be willing to share your feelings, and to talk to your partner rather than either issuing orders or assuming you know how they feel.

So, rather than "I can't meet with the contractor, you have to do it," even just starting with "I'm feeling really overwhelmed, and I don't think I can meet with the contractor. What makes sense to solve this?" This may not be a great conversation to have as he's walking out the door, because you need to make sure you're actually giving him time to think about what will actually work for him, and for both of you to think about solutions. For instance, he could watch the toddler while you talk to the contractor, you could reschedule the contractor meeting, you could set up a conference call so that both of you could talk to the contractor, you could leave the kid at your parents' house, both go to the contractor meeting, and then have dinner together, etc. etc. There's not one "right" solution, there's just all the possibilities that you guys are willing to come up with.

Presenting things as an either-or, rather than stating your concerns and asking for help in finding a mutually agreeable solution, basically creates a situation in which you both have to fight in order to win. If you can both shift your interactions so that you're both actively trying to find solutions that work for both parties (again, without trying to read each other's mind, but by talking things through), then you move away from turning everything into a fight.

None of this is to say that the guy may not have problems expressing his emotions, but I do agree that you can't change him on your own. You can, however, try to encourage an atmosphere in which problem-solving is a win-win situation, which should hopefully cut down on the overall feelings of antagonism and defensiveness.
posted by occhiblu at 12:59 AM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


I meant to add, because that last comment just wasn't long enough: I think the co-dependent, walking-on-eggshells bit comes from trying to read your partner's mind rather than engaging them in conversation. If the thought process is, "I'm going to brainstorm a lot of solutions on my own, and then present the one that I think takes all of his concerns into account," that's not doing what Heitler suggests... that's walking on eggshells, and doing his emotional work for him. Conversely, if the thought process is, "I'm going to brainstorm a lot of solutions on my own, and then present the one that I think best takes all my concerns into account as the single "right" answer," then that's not doing what Heitler's talking about either... that's being dictatorial, even if it's thoughtfully dictatorial. I certainly engage in both patterns more often than I'd like, so I don't mean to suggest either one makes you a bad person, but see if you can involve him in your thought process rather than letting it all go on in your head and presenting him with a fait accompli -- and then getting upset that he's not letting you into what's going on in his head.
posted by occhiblu at 1:12 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Because the first step to finding a solution is labeling the other person's behavior"

You think so? How about understanding the person's behavior? How about understanding your contribution to the dynamic?

You are engaged in a process that you can identify. You do the same thing over and over. Nothing changes, yet you persist and puzzle.

That does not sound like a particularly effective problem solving strategy to me OR a problem with hubby. Are you seeking to label the behavior or to label the person? Even the lamest and most lay tomes on relationships counsel early against labelling.

You fired your counselor after you labelled her as 'not effective'? And some how, haven't found the time to find a new one or to deal with 'scheduling problems'?

If none of the other ex-es did this, what exactly made them transition to ex-status? Surely it was something or are you blameless there, too?

Nature is served best when we get into relationships, breed, and get out of relationships and go elsewhere to repeat. It's a background program running at all times and tempting to discount conceptually. This program has a feature that disguises itself as free will. It is active in your hubby and in you. It's why there are ex-es and why there will probably one day be yet another in your life.

The subtext in your post is overwhelming me and the best I can muster is to suggest reading as much as you possibly can about relationships, trying something different, and working on having a good heart and open mind. If you love this person, and you want to combat Nature's interests in having you separate, realize that love at a higher level takes work, tolerates shortcomings, goes the extra mile, rejoices in each breath taken by a loved one, and celebrates the brevity of the life you share before your death... not too long from now in the grand scheme of things.

It's not a competition for who gets to rule or who does the most work.
posted by FauxScot at 1:48 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't think it makes sense for me to be a go-between on areas you requested work for. Also, I don't think I can watch Toddler Anonymous and meet for two hours with the contractor at the same time, and then spend my free time in the evening filling you in on the meeting.

It doesn't take a paranoid person to see a lot of judgement and resentment in that response. You could have just said "I just can't handle dealing with it today, honey", but it seems that making a point was more important to you than making life easy.

I really don't mean to attack you, you're both under a lot of pressure and it's the easiest thing in the world for a situation like this to develop. What you need to do is get back to a situation where each of you has a firm conviction that the other is always doing the best that they can for the family. Sometimes that's not so obvious because you can't see the stress that someone is under when they appear to be physically inactive, but your trust in your partner should be strong enough that you're willing to put the most generous interpretation on it when you see them apparently not doing as much as you are.

Your interests are so closely bound together at this point that resenting your partner makes about as much sense as resenting your legs when they get tired. Winning an argument with him is about as meaningful as winning an argument with yourself. I know when life is hard it can seem like pride is all you've got to take comfort in, but it's really not helping you right now.

Also, I agree with occhiblu that now might be a good time to read up about conflict resolution. Even just reminding yourself of a few basic rules like using "I feel" statements wherever possible could improve your interactions a lot.
posted by teleskiving at 2:44 AM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Something else I want to say: maybe you need to go a bit easier on yourself as well. It's OK to be stressed, tired, irritable, and irrational sometimes. I get the feeling that you're trying to sustain expectations of yourself that are not really reasonable, and the same may be true for your husband.
posted by teleskiving at 3:02 AM on June 5, 2007


Hard to tell what's behind all this on your description. You think you are being reasonable, logical, fair: no doubt in a sense you are. But a marriage(?) isn't merely a working partnership: where's the fun, affection and love in your interaction? Where's the sense of appreciation and shared goals and the promise of good times together? Where's the acknowledgment that, although the "exterior and garage" are areas "he requested work for", work on those areas enhances the home in which you both live? If I didn't get affection, tolerance and signs of appreciation from my wife, I'd probably withdraw from her, too. On t'other hand, maybe peep is right and he just wants to break up but is too "pussy" to do it; but I don't think so: he sounds love-starved, put-upon and misunderstood. Probably you feel the same way.
posted by londongeezer at 3:08 AM on June 5, 2007


Holy crap, would telling him he's passive-agressive piss him off royally... He doesn't want to be labelled. He wants to have his own feelings considered. Somewhere in there, he takes your requests as demands and feels that all the things he wants to do are not being considered and understood. Maybe you don't have a clue what they are because he's never told you, but he probably believes that you should know what they are and consider them anyway.

Instead of 'can you do this?', try 'what do you need to get done today? Is there space in your schedule for doing X? Here's what I've got to do [short list] and I'm not sure I can meet the contractor.' He'll likely be prepared to move whatever he's got around to do what's required. As it sounds above, you're lumping him with stuff without considering what he needs and he's not the type to let you know what he does want to do. Pretty ridiculous for an adult but hey, people can be pretty ridiculous...
posted by humuhumu at 3:24 AM on June 5, 2007


My mother (not a doctor but a wise and formerly resentful wife) frequently recommends The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships as a resource. For $1.99 (used), it certainly can't hurt.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:08 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Your good behavior is not conditional on theirs.

Forktine, this should be the stock answer to every relationship question on this forum, ever.
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:43 AM on June 5, 2007


One possibility that hasn't been discussed already is differing communication styles. Take a look at this classic AskMe post on Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture and some of the discussion that follows it.
posted by yankeefog at 5:49 AM on June 5, 2007


Brief communications at the doorstep aren't the way to handle important subjects, whether someone's leaving for work or coming home. There's just too much going on. Make an appointment with him to talk over stuff when both of you can sit down and you have at least fifteen minutes together.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:07 AM on June 5, 2007


I've skipped most of the responses, so apologies if I'm repeating.

It's hard to tell from your examples if there is a problem with one of the people or if it's with the dynamic that happens between you. If you both were willingly in counselling, then that is a pretty good sign that you both are willing to work on the problem. My step-father is a counsellor, and he strongly recommends that couples start out their couple counselling separately. That is, it's really good for you each to have a few sessions where you can unleash all the frustration you have without the other person having to find out. That gives the counsellor a few things as well: they can find out how you each are interpreting the dynamic and then compare it to what they observe, and they can learn about things that you might not otherwise bring up.

Anyway, this is a really long way of saying that you should probably go back to counselling, but look for someone who will see you separately for a few sessions first.
posted by carmen at 7:30 AM on June 5, 2007


Mediaddict's line of explanation kind of drives me nuts. We all have frustrations and responsibilities and goals that slip away and what, a better time would be right before bed?

On the other hand, I can see that you are trying to be respectful and neutral and diffuse the fight, but...you're missing the mark:

I don't think it makes sense for me to be a go-between on areas you requested work for. Also, I don't think I can watch Toddler Anonymous and meet for two hours with the contractor at the same time, and then spend my free time in the evening filling you in on the meeting.


This is not neutral. "A go-between" and "You requested work for..." are accusations. That "I don't think.." business is just passive-aggressive. And the "spend my free time" line is just a cheap shot.

Figure out a way to divide up chores equitably. In your example, can you actually meet with the contractor but don't feel like it? Or do you really think that he's better-abled to handle it?
posted by desuetude at 7:32 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually try saying stuff like "Could you do me a favor?" and "please" and all that stuff that's important to him. Try presenting an emotional argument ("It would really help me out if you would talk to the contractor...") rather than a rational one ("It doesn't make sense for me to talk to the contractor"...). Your husband seems to have a problem saying "no" to you (perhaps because you present more arguments?) so when you ask him to do something, throw in "it's okay if the answer is no". See how many times he takes you up on it.

Yes, yes, yes! I also tend to go with "When you have a chance..." if it is not a time-sensitive request -- otherwise Ms. Steady tends to assume it is urgent. It was also very interesting to see it "from the other side" in LobsterMitten's post.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:17 AM on June 5, 2007


Since anonymous can't respond to all the attacks on her based on the title of the post, I have to say that it sounds to me like a kind of despairing black humor.
posted by transona5 at 8:21 AM on June 5, 2007


to translate most of what has been already said above:

he's a gigantic asshole, and you cannot change that. therapy is unlikely to change it, either, it could make things better, but not solve this guy's many problems.

you draw your own conclusions.
posted by matteo at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2007


Also, Anon did say she wanted a label in order to find further information about strategies that might work in interacting with her husband, which seems like a laudable goal. She's not trying to label him just to prove that he's in the wrong.
posted by occhiblu at 8:52 AM on June 5, 2007


I think what paulsc said was interesting, (and from the number of favorites, it looks like a lot of people agree) but I don't see how Mr. Anonymous' behavior is necessarily any more relevant or archetypically male than hers is female.

They're both experiencing the long-term effects of civilization on specific aspects of themselves as they relate to their genders. And they're both contributing to this particular problem by being part of it, regardless of who is "right".
posted by zebra3 at 9:03 AM on June 5, 2007


[okay ENOUGH. if you can't answer without snarking, take your astute analyses to MetaTalk.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:59 AM on June 5, 2007


I myself sometimes get steamed enough not to want to discuss the situation at the moment and withdraw in a similar manner. Usually it takes me a bit of time to realize (a) I am over-reacting (b) I am unable to sort out what it is that bugs me and how to expresss it properly. I am truly fortunate that Mrs. Lawless usually clues in and doesn't try to further engage me in these moments and lets me work out what I really want to say and am frustrated by an inability to articulate while I'm hot-of-head.

I can't help feeling that Ms. A is not quite playing fairly here. I would expect if this is a even occasional occurence that the signs of withdrawl and their meaning should be pretty clear and the question of whether she has irritated Mr. A should be evident. Being of perhaps (unfortunately) of a similar type to Mr. A, I would also likely stack "I'm fine" on the pyre because, damnit, clearly I'm pissed off so that's a dumb question to be asking and obviously there's no point in discussing things when these clear truths aren't getting through, especially when these things touch nerves which make things difficult to sort out.

I'd kind of fear giving Ms. A a label to use on Mr. A, almost. "You're only being that way because you are ('emotionally detached'|'passive aggressive'|'a poor communicator')", etc. I can see a lot of things not being said by Mr. A and some things being leveraged by Ms. A to work to her unattackable defense, neither party being very honest or receptive.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:51 PM on June 5, 2007


It's pretty much a marriage cliche: the wife is the task-assigner, the husband is the task-executor. Certainly, that appears to be the case here, since we're dealing with a wife's requests that are met with an unsatisfactory response by the husband.

This husband is clearly resenting his role in this relationship, but isn't very effective at expressing his resentment -- although "...he eventually approaches me saying, more or less, to stop being controlling and ordering him around" is a pretty good start. Of course, when this request is summarily dismissed, what else should the guy do BUT sulk, act emotionally distant, etc.?

No one in my life (including ex's) has had this issue with me...

Did you ever have a house and family to mutually run with your ex-es? It's not you. It's not him. It's you + him in this scenario of running a family together.

What's going on here? Is he paranoid, depressed, insecure, a bully, all of the above?

Label time: A little paranoid, probably depressed, definitely insecure, and quite bullied. He's being "passive-aggressive" and, frankly, rather "hen-pecked".

But I humbly suggest you dump the labels, open your heart, and honestly try to understand his position, rather than trying to figure how to get him to Do Stuff. ("...I'm getting tired of the work it takes just to get through small transactions with Mr. Anonymous.") It will probably take more therapy and maybe a few good fights, but you gotta come to an equilibrium that you both can live with.

[Sincerely doing my best to give a good answer here, jessamyn.]
posted by LordSludge at 1:12 PM on June 5, 2007


I'm not sure I agree with anyone's suggestion that Mrs. Anonymous needs to change her communication style. Assuming she is not prettifying her side of the conversation, then her husband is choosing to behave badly. To suggest that she needs to rephrase her questions or take a different approach is to again make her do his work in the relationship.

Agree, wholeheartedly. I don't know if this is going to be helpful in the least-- it can't be worse than some of the other contributions in this thread, especially paulsc's, which is one of the saddest things I think I've ever read-- but dealing with this same kind of (lack of) communication and passive-agressivity is directly why I am now twelve years out of my marriage, and why I'm grateful every day that I no longer have to live with it. He gets to treat his new partner that way now, and I've seen him do it, and I've seen her walking on those very same eggshells that I used to, and cope with the same glaring hostility.

The problem is that the things that Mrs. Anonymous are asking to be done are not optional. Somebody has to take out the garbage, pick up the kids from daycare, buy groceries, and, in my case, if I am working full time to support the household while my ex was spending every day in his studio doing... whatever, then it seems logical for him to take care of the necessary and important domestic stuff. He didn't agree, most of the time, so I ended up making all the money, doing the vast amount of childcare, taking our child to every single doctor and dentist appointment, making up shopping lists and being in charge of the food, and, yes, being reduced, in all of this, to having to give instructions. Because if I didn't, it wouldn't get done. Even when I did, it wouldn't get done.

Sorry for going on, but this obviously has hit a nerve for me. The suggestions that Mrs. Anonymous should change her communication style to accomodate him, when she's supposed to be sharing her house with another adult, not a child which has to be coached and encouraged to speak their thoughts in an appropriate way really grates on me.

*takes deep breath, thanks god once more that I'm out, out, OUT of that relationship*
posted by jokeefe at 4:34 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


As an aside to Jokeefe:

"...it can't be worse than some of the other contributions in this thread, especially paulsc's, which is one of the saddest things I think I've ever read-- but dealing with this same kind of (lack of) communication and passive-agressivity is directly why I am now twelve years out of my marriage..."

Not to snark, and I'll admit what paulsc said is sad, but wasn't your decision to leave what paulsc finally suggested? And that was a bad suggestion?

I'm not personally acquainted with the type of men paulsc describes - i'm younger and single, have had a few short relationships, and so have limited experience with this - but the final couple of paragraphs hit home:

From anonymous: "What's going on here? Is he paranoid, depressed, insecure, a bully, all of the above?

From paulsc: "There is nothing in that "question" that offers any hope, whatsoever, for human understanding."

Labelling your partner, imo Anonymous, is going to kill the relationship outright. This is not a coping strategy. He will know through the "skills" you pick up to measure him, particularly if you start off considering him so negatively.

I'll suggest one other thing. He's working, you're with a toddler (all day), you're having renovations done? Sounds like you both need a break. I can't think of the amount of stress and tiredness for both of you is going on in your relationship right now. Can you find a babysitter and take a weekend away somewhere and just relax?
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:25 PM on June 5, 2007


This resonates for me. You might try taking a look at this book and see if you recognize your relationship. I hope you don't, but when my counselor gave me this book, it sure helped me sort some things out. Obviously, with only limited information about your situation, I don't know if it applies. You may be in a relationship with someone who really does want to have a successful marriage, and isn't just trying to squash you.

Which is why I would also recommend reading books by John Gottman. As far as I can tell, he's one of the few people who has actually done the time, put in the research, and really tried to break down what makes the relationship wheels turn. He gives *excellent* examples of communication breakdowns (and how to avoid them) in "What Makes Marriages Succeed or Fail," and "The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work," is also excellent. Some of the information is repetitive, but it's fantastic.

Good luck, good luck, good luck.
posted by eleyna at 8:19 AM on June 6, 2007


Also, it's important to remember that labeling your partner is very different than labeling a particular communication or action.

Labeling a partner most certainly *is* counterproductive, but labeling an action is not. It helps the sorting process and aids in formulating appropriate responses.

Knowing what defines some of these behaviors (crazymaking, withholding, stonewalling, gaslighting, sabotaging, ordering, etc. etc.) is the first step to being able to work through them, if both parties are willing, or respond to them effectively, if one partner is not.
posted by eleyna at 8:29 AM on June 6, 2007


I often have similar situations with my husband. This is tragic because we were both communication studies majors.

I'm ignoring your request for a label, because having a label won't help unless you are just trying to find a vocabulary to talk about this with him. In which case the best thing you could do is pick a word with no existing baggage that you both agree represents this dynamic. With my husband, we actually refer to it as "doing the hokey-pokey" because it reminds us that we are in this together, and that we named it, and that it is funny... sometimes.

You can either try to deal with this on your own, or you can try to do it as a couple.

To work on it as a couple, you need to have a conversation removed from any particular instance, where you admit that you are having stress over the way you two communicate and seeing if he admits that there is a problem sometimes, and see if you can agree you both could communicate and fight differently and perhaps have a better relationship for it. If you both agree that you want to work on this, do some homework. Gottman has been suggested and I nth that, I also suggest you both read some Tannen
You both need to read the books, so you may want to start with Tannen because she's concise. You could also each read a chapter and then brief the other one on the chapter. If having a child has amplified existing issues [and it tends to] Gottman has a newer book And Baby Makes Three, that you may want to start with. The most practical Gottman book is 10 Lessons, which focuses on specific problems and has transcripts of conversations with notes that show how they are going wrong.

After you read the books, I've had great luck using Gottman's clinic technique [designed to record arguments] of purposely having an old or recurring argument again, and trying to apply what we learned. When my husband and I were doing this, we practiced having the same argument every week. Sometimes it was hard and we fell into old patterns and feeling were hurt. But doing this helped us come to really understand that the *how* of the argument made a difference in what we felt. [It also made the argument incredibly absurd by the end of it]

What if he does the hokey-pokey when confronted with doing the hokey-pokey, and doesn't admit that there is a problem or won't really talk about it? Then you can try to work on this on your own. Some people think that isn't fair, or proper, but I think having a happy marriage is nice, and I don't mind doing more of the work if the goal is happy. Read Tannen and Gottman on your own. Make a concerted effort to inject more accord into your conversations. To the absurd point of actually saying things you know he'll agree with, or asking questions that will be answered "yes". Remind yourself every day the things that you love about your husband. You can choose to not be bothered by things. When people are in periods of being "more in love" they allow their partner more wiggle-room. Being more affectionate with your husband, or talking with him about things that show you know he is more than just a working element of your household may help get you both to being "more in love".

I find it helpful to tell myself that I have a right to my communication style, and he has an equal right to his. However maddening I find it, and whatever names the MefI's may call him, it isn't his fault that this was how he learned to be. Neither one of us is right or wrong, but the result is both of our faults. After you've been together a long time, this is easier said than done. I also know that choosing not to be bothered isn't always easy, and there comes a time when it isn't possible.
posted by Mozzie at 3:06 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, from what you've written, it looks to me like both of you are acting passive-aggressively and that you've fallen into a "scripted" interaction in your relationship.

I agree with others here that see him as behaving more badly than you are—specifically in a very juvenile passive-aggressive fashion. His response greatly narrows your options for trying to resolve the conflict, not the least because he's making you come to him.

However, as someone else pointed out, the way in which you asked him to deal with the contractor and the things you included as reasons why he should do it and not you were passive-aggressively loaded. It's not that from what you've written you're not in the right—it's that you slyly made a list of those reasons that really were an attack on him. You're saying: I didn't want this work done, I don't have the time to deal with it, and if you weren't so selfish it never would have occurred to you to saddle me with the responsibility to deal with it.

Basically, you seem full of resentments that you're not dealing with directly. You're passive-aggressively presenting them. And he is passively-aggressively responding to them in its typical male expression. You're in that subtextual conflict relationship loop. More than anything else, that's the problem here.

I tend to rationalize all relationship conflicts and deal with them that way, so I well understand why you might be doing this, too. For me, it's a defense mechanism. I have a lot of experience dealing with strangers in highly emotional contexts and I have a lot of facility at conflict resolution and the ways in which you deal with how people are feeling—validating their feelings is very important—yet in my own personal life, I have a lot of difficulty doing this because I'm more vulnerable and find it too easy to rely on intellectualizing.

But more than just this being a tempting way to keeping the conflict at arm's length, I sense in what you describe the possibility that your rational, intellectualized approach could also be passive-aggressive on your part. It may well be a sort of rebuke—you're emphasizing that you are the calm rational person and that you think there's something wrong with him being upset and angry. There's few things that are going to destroy the possibility of effective communication in an emotionally-laden context than to invalidate someone's strong feelings. And I think you're doing so indirectly, passive-aggressively, like so many other things in your relationship.

I've focused on your behavior because it seems like you have no awareness of how you're probably not behaving as well as you think you are or that part of the responsibility for your problems could lie with you. That I've done so should not be taken as blaming you more than him. It sounds like he's dealing with these problems much more poorly than you are, with even less awareness of what's going on.

And this masculine version of passive-aggressiveness is pretty much inexcusable, regardless of paulc's bullshit comment. He's not even trying at all, he's just running away. And running away in a way in which he can take satisfaction from the fact that you keep chasing after him. That has to stop. You shutting down, too, isn't that answer, however. You need to make it clear that you're not going to tolerate his avoidance. You're not going to continue to chase him, but if he continues to run away, it means the end of the relationship. Don't put it so confrontationally, of course. Basically, both of you have to stop accepting the status quo and agreeing on a framework in which you'll deal with your communication problems and not continue in the script that you're stuck with.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:56 PM on June 7, 2007


A bunch of thoughts.

He sounds like he's seething with anger and so do you. Volcanoes of rage to come. It's not a team, little camaraderie and a lot of free-floating blame.

It takes two to tango. Don't think this dance of anger you both have going is going to work. You're playing caretaker parent victim, he's playing scapegoat child victim. Old familiar roles, probably based on family of origin issues of one sort or another.

Book suggestions, Games People Play, The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond by Patricia Evans, Codependent No More. His silence game is a type of verbal abuse. So are your sentences with their hidden martyr soundtrack of "You're inadequate" and "I'm pulling all the weight in this house, you lazy, selfish bastard".

I don't think seething, unexpressed rage is what gets hearts transplanted, a starry night painted. Those things take the opposite, patience, focus, vision, careful strategizing, the capacity to handle obstacles without giving in to tantrums...

Simon Baron Cohen has talked about autism as extreme male brain and I'm inclined to think that in order to kill the bambi, cavemen had to feel emotions less, not more or a narrower range than women. Yes, there was a lot more male physical prowess in days of yore. Women were in the cave with the helpless newborn, having to watch it intensely so it didn't die by accident and the human species terminate. No dead bambi, then no human species because the mother and child would die of starvation No caretaking the infant/s, the human species would die. Men and women had their roles. The roles have changed in this new sedentary world and I don't think there is much mutual respect between the genders, yet.

Women and men have been biologically geared for different achievements in life and the nuclear family is geared for people who are and can sustain being low key in their emotions.

If it were possible to ask Mr. A, "Do you want our marriage to continue?" without that question being about blame, he might answer honestly, one way or another. If he wants to continue, you might then say, "I want to live comfortably with you. Do you think you and I can work this out together?" And give him space to think about it.
posted by nickyskye at 4:40 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


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