July 27, 1993
A few weeks ago I watched a man controlling his wife, much to her frustration. She couldn’t do anything to gain the upper hand.
Not that she didn’t try. She coaxed. She nagged. She complained and ridiculed, and some of it seemed successful, but her efforts actually made things worse. He rules their relationship by doing nothing.
The psychologists call his behavior “passive-aggressive.” He is aggressive because he is determined and deliberate, yet passive in that he does not seem to do anything, at least not what she wants him to do.
The wife wants him to talk, to be involved in her life, to take an interest in his own, to grow as a person. However, most of the time he sits, silently, without responding and without taking any initiative, at least the kind she wants him to take.
Those who have never participated in this kind of war might label this behavior childish, or even amusing, but it is an adult game many play. It is not funny. In fact, these two players are quite miserable.
I talked with the wife. She is lonely and unhappy. She is afraid that her life will always be like this. She wants her husband to get out of his shell so he can enjoy his life too. She uses an aggressive approach. She tries everything she knows. The only thing she hasn’t tried is what works so well for him — being passive.
Most people misunderstand the biblical statements about husband-wife relationships. The wording makes them sound terribly one-sided, that the man is the boss and the woman is his doormat, but that is what I’ve just described (at least one variation) and it is far from what God intended.
Before Adam and Eve stepped outside the will of God and sin entered in, this first husband and wife did not play power games. They were completely open and honest. They enjoyed one another.
But sin is that inner tendency to run our own lives, do our own thing. It brings suspicion and manipulation and, as God said would happen, husbands try to rule their wives and wives try to rule their husbands.
Both partners can be aggressive, passive, or this strange combination of the two. Both also can dictate to the other how they expect their own needs to be met, without thinking about the needs of their partner.
To further complicate the relationship I witnessed, if that husband should decide to try and meet his wife’s needs, he seems to have no idea what they might be. He is not alone. Many men wonder what kind of leadership women respond to and appreciate.
Not every women is able to tell them either. Some know they want to feel loved but are not sure what their husbands can do to make it happen. Even those who seem to know sometimes feel that asking for it is counter-productive. Love seems more genuine when it is demonstrated without demands and instructions.
God’s way does not ignore either side of the issue. He commands men to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. He also says they are to understand their wives and take care of their needs.
God commands wives to respond to their husband’s leadership (made much easier if he does his part). She is to trust God to meet her needs, though, not coax, manipulate, beg, or even expect her husband to do it. God might use him (if he cooperates), but is not limited by the limitations of any spouse.
Most people reject these commands because they seem impossible — and they are. Because of our sinful nature, we’d rather rule than follow (or lovingly lead) and prefer taking rather than giving.
However, the Bible says “With God, all things are possible” and “if any one is in Christ, old things pass away, all things become new.”
How encouraging to know both passiveness and aggressiveness can be made passé.