Setting Up Your Spouse to Fail in Your Relationship

Relationship battles are always individual to the relationship, yet there are common themes and behaviors that pop up over and over.

One of those is the spouse who doesn’t like specific expectations, requests or demands from the other spouse, but doesn’t address the issue directly. Often she resorts to what’s known as passive aggressive behaviors, putting her partner (whether male or female) in a no-win situation. Let’s presume her partner is a husband for the purposes of this discussion. (Note: passive aggressive behaviors do tend to be used more often by women than men as women – even nowadays – tend to be socialized to avoid addressing difficult issues directly.)

Let’s say the couple has decided to save money to buy a house, and to forgo splurging on themselves for such things as eating out, unnecessary clothing, vacations, etc. One day they go shopping together to purchase gifts for some family members’ birthdays, during which the wife suggests the husband check out the wristwatches she knows he really wants. While he’s doing that, she heads to the dressing room, carrying a cocktail dress she’d noticed earlier.

When her husband finds her, she’s in front of the three-way mirror, admiring the lovely dress that fits like it was made for just for her. What happens next depends a great deal on the thoughts, feelings and behaviors the wife employs in her interactions with her husband, although almost certainly, whatever his reaction is – if it’s negative – will be blamed entirely on him.

Grace Kelly, in her famous dress from "Rear Window".

Grace Kelly, in her famous dress from “Rear Window”.

Say he says, “You look beautiful” and she chooses to take that as permission to buy the dress even though she knows full well it’s not in their budget. She happily says “Oh thank you! I know we’re trying to save money but it’s so wonderful of you to say it’s okay for me to buy it!” The husband is now in a very awkward position… He’s been snookered, and he knows it. And there’s little he can do. If he “allows” the purchase by pretending to be okay with it, or by saying nothing, the two of them have engaged in a relationship charade that will eventually lead to relationship anger of the type that’s almost impossible to sort through without professional intervention.

Yet, if he says “Whoa, wait a minute… who said anything about buying it? I merely said you looked beautiful”, the wife is likely – based on the choices she’s already made to first try on a dress they can’t afford, and then to deliberately misunderstand his compliment for purchase approval – to become upset, feeling he deliberately led her on. If this couple has poor communication skills (which are likely if the conversation has already gone this far), there could well be a meltdown by either or both of them in the very near future.

In both instances, the wife – using a passive aggressive style – has put her husband in a very difficult position. Unless he’s unusually adept at figuring out how to extricate himself from these manipulations, there are almost certainly major problems within this marriage. She has a style that deliberately sets him up and places him in a no-win situation. Even if he offers no outward display of irritation or anger, he is feeling angry and manipulated, and that anger will spill out in other areas of their relationship.

Below is an example of a post I saw on a relationship blog a while back. Can you see what happened?

We went to the local organic cafe this morning because my wife wanted something “healthy and nice”. I said “my wife” because healthy food was her motivation, not mine.

When the cashier asked what we would drink, my wife said “Water of course” and turned to ask me what I wanted. I said “Cola of course”. She looked at me, then she stared at me and asked the cashier to give me water. I asked why and she said she has to make sure I eat right. I said “Its not food”, to which she responded, “Well, in that case I have to make sure you drink right”.

Two hours later, I was in a bank when a man and a woman walked in and stood in line behind me. After a few seconds the man walked to the coffee table and got some coffee. Then I heard them arguing and the woman saying “You know you can’t have that.” The man smiled and continued drinking his coffee.



The woman left the line to sit in the lobby. I tried to avoid looking at the man, but I still saw him shaking his head so I said, “Women, it looks like they all took the same class.” The man looked at me and shook his head some more, winked at me and smiled. I took that to mean, “I can’t talk right now”, so I laughed and said “What a smart man!”

That was three hours ago and now I am hungry and still wondering. Why do women want to run our life? Does anybody know why?

The author goes on to further explain that he’s had some health problems but doesn’t understand why he can’t have a cola once in a while. And seems from the other gentleman’s wife’s comment that he’s supposed to avoid caffeine.

So what we have here is a classic example of passive-aggressive behavior. Both husbands put their wives in no-win situations. The first husband knew they were going to the organic cafe for “something healthy and nice”, yet insisted on ordering a cola in a setting where the wife could either give in (and he wins) or make a scene (in which case, he’s the victim… and he wins). The same with the second husband. Both chose to take their relationship battles into the public

As long as these men continue to look at their wives’ caregiving behaviors as trying to “run their lives”, and to react to it in such a passive aggressive fashion, they will always have conflict in their marriages.



Published in: on August 24, 2013 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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