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Being a Passive Husband

husband signI get it. An author sits down and writes a book about marriage. He takes a moment to pray and consider how he will assist couples through the difficult waters of marriage. He wants to encourage men to be leaders in their homes who are worth following, but he has to be careful. He doesn’t want to encourage an abusive husband to be even more abusive. It would break this author’s heart get a letter from a wife who was beaten by her husband after reading his marraige book.

So he writes his book and it is a best seller. It really breaths life into many a marriage and shows many pushy jerks of husbands how to be compassionate and thoughtful husband who hears his wife. Many marriages are helped by his timely and thoughtful words.

Except mine.

You see, in my marriage, I am the wimp. Many of you who know me are scratching your heads, “What, no way! Chip is pushy if he is anything.” You’re right to say that, but this is true in almost every relationship except with my wife. The way I have learned to work with her is under the very reliable code of “Don’t Do Evil.”

This plan looks really good on paper. The author mentioned above can rest assured that I will never beat my wife or abuse her. In fact, many societal ills would be helped if more guys were passive like me. Much of the crime and violence in the world would be much reduced. Sounds great, right?

It’s fine unless you are my wife. She was hoping to get a husband who was assertive enough to lead in our home. She didn’t ask for a passive husband who simply didn’t make waves. God will not judge me simply on the evils I failed to do, but on the good I did.

So, ever ready with the marriage book, I can hear the real answer, Leadership!

That is a fine answer, I just don’t really know what leadership is. If I were fundamentally more capable at most of life than my wife, it would be easier, but I married the lady who is really good at life and family and just about everything else. She is driven and capable and were she to enter the corporate world, I would soon be working for her.

I am very grateful she has taken all of that superior talent and drive and is an amazing mother and wife. Not every guy is so blessed, but it does leave me in a bit of a lurch. I am not confident in my own abilities and judgement compared to hers. Sure I am competent, but in most of life, she is excellent.

Is the competent guy really going to forcefully challenge the excellent lady?It is easy to just let it ride. Really, peace is much better than being right. Whatever it takes for peace. I may not know what it is to be a leader, but I know that this is not it. So I am back to where I started, trying not to fail. Wouldn’t it be great to be trying to succeed and not simply avoiding failure? Maybe I should read a marriage book.

But every author is so concerned with not setting off Mr. Abuse that many of them don’t have much for me. Where is the marriage book for the wimp? There aren’t any. In addition, many Christian Marriage books seem like manuals for suffocating my wifes wonderful talents and gifts. That can’t be the way marriage was meant to be: the place where my dear wife goes to be less than she can be.

So, to all the wimps out there, I don’t have all the answers for you. I know you are out there because I know many of you. We have bought into the lie that avoiding failure is the most important thing. So here are the few answers I have found in my few years of marriage. I hope that they are helpful to you.

You are Loved by Your Daddy in Heaven

This may feel like a non-sequitor, but I think the most important thing we need to do is be willing to take a risk of failing. It is easy to say, “take a risk” and it is hard to do it. What has helped me? It is knowing that my God will honestly, tenderly, kindly, and sweetly love me if and when I fail. He will not be angry with me even if my wife is. If God is for me, who can be against me.

This has been a source of immense courage. Jesus went to God when he was afraid and asked for the pain to end or the courage to face it. This should be a common prayer for us wimps.

Leadership is the Same Thing as Initiative

Leadership is a painfully vague word that makes me imagine a general commanding an army with confidence and boldness. This is totally unattainable for me. I can’t be that guy, particularly at home.

Fortunately, I don’t think God is asking me to do that. What he is asking is for me to bring my thoughts and concerns forward? To be the first to say something. In fact, I think he is asking me to bring up things when I am not sure I am right and where my motives are clouded. One of the most paralyzing forces in my life is my introspection of my motives. Sometimes, I need to just say how I think and feel and take the risk of being completely wrong.

Leaders Apologize

One of the mantras of leadership is that it takes responsibility for the situation. I’m not sure what the means. I’m responsible enough. I mow my lawn and hug my kids and wash the dishes. I show up to work and come home.

Certainly part of taking responsiblity is to go press on through the requirements of life to care for my family, but taking responsibility is more than that. It is the feeling that the problem is my problem. It is the urge to correct the problem and maintain the solution. It is the drive in my heart to make Earth just a little more like Heaven.

In a real sense, taking responsibility is the same thing as the urge to apologize for the failure and weaknesses of my life, my home, and my community. It is the sense of ownership of the problem that does what is necessary to fix (or at least try). My natural bent is to avoid problems because I can then be blamed for the failure to solve them. If my fingerprints aren’t on it, then when it goes wrong, no one can blame me.

This is yet another variety of avoiding failure and not seeking success.

Recognize the Strengths of Being more Passive

There is a myth that I have believed that passivity is all weakness. Many Fruits of the Spirit give the appearance of weakness: gentleness, kindness, patience, and self-control. Many passive men and women excel in these virtues and far from being weak, they are a serious strength. My family is well-served if I am steady and reliable, gentle and affectionate.

Recognize the Weaknesses of Being more Passive

As with every character quality, passivity has a dark side. Much of maturity is to capitalize on your strengths while blunting your weaknesses. To effectively blunt the harms of my passivity I must know what they are!

I need to face the fact that many times my family needs me to resist my overly cautious nature and do what I think is right. Some men are too quick to act, I am too slow to act. Maturity for them is to slow down and think. Maturity for me is to consider and move forward even when I am uncertain.

Look for Contexts in Life Where You are More Confident

While I am more passive at home, I am much more confident and assertive in certain church contexts and at work. What’s the difference between them?

In exploring why I am more comfortable in some settings has been quite fruitful. It is good to see places where my natural leadership strengths show themselves. It is confidence building to just know that those places exist.

A Few Final Thoughts

I fear that someone will read this article and conclude that my wife is a battle-axe of a woman. She has her sins, but I feel immensely blessed to have her in my life. No, the main problems lay with me. She has been a thoughtful, gracious, forgiving, and wise friend for our marriage.

My hope is that you, the passive man or woman, will be given hope and encouragement. God loves you as you are and he made you to be a gentler soul. He also calls you to be more than just your natural self. He is refining you into something much more than you are today. Jesus didn’t come to make you mediocre. He came to make you a precious and fully redeemed bride for himself. He really loves you. He will continue to work with you and love you.

You may be passive, but he is actively pursuing you. We are so blessed to have him.

-Chip

The image above is courtesy of Keoni Cabral and is used with permission

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16 thoughts on “Being a Passive Husband

  1. Thanks for sharing but no where in the bible does it call a man to be passive, in fact, it says you are given the spirit of boldness, self control, and holiness. What i do respect is you can admit you do not wear the pants at home. It is called male emasculation a spirit of jezebel affecting more men in todays world than not. So you are right you are not alone. Ironically, women hold the power but cheat, lie, fall in love with males of authority and real assertiveness while secretly loathing their feminized husbands or boyfriends. Such is life i guess. Take care man.

    • I agree that I am not called to be passive. But, as the AA crowd has so aptly said, first, I must admit I have a problem.

      I disagree with your generalizations of women. Sure there are pushy and arrogant women out there, but there are many who are longing for a man they can respect. Women and men are sinners. The tone of your comment looks like you have been seriously sinned against by a woman, but your overgeneralization is not helpful. It needlessly hurts all the women who are victims of the men in their lives.

      -Chip

  2. I read this yesterday and needed time to think about it before commenting. I want to commend you on your bravery for bringing this subject to light. My husband & I do lay marriage counseling through our church, and this is something we see very often. It’s not necessarily why a couple comes to us, but can be a factor in their discord.

    For the first 10 years or so of our marriage, my guy was passive to the point of barely existing in our home, I can relate very well to what you are describing. I would insist that I wanted a man of action, and a leader of our home and then undermine him at every turn. For us, it was a matter of saying out loud what both our downfalls were – his willingness to let me control everything and my insistence to try.

    What I am saying is that this is never one person’s fault or one person’s problem. This is a situation that you both have agreed to and only if both of you choose to respond differently, will it happen. If you want you could start to push back in small areas and voice your opinion on matters that normally would go unchallenged, but if you do this with no warning or communication beforehand, she will take you down. It’s all she knows how to do so far.

    From what you said, it sounds like you are unhappy with being passive but also it sounds like you’ve resigned yourself to believing it’s just the way you are. It also sounds like she wants you to lead the family, but doesn’t make room for it. If you both decide that you truly want to have more of a voice in the house, and to be more of a team, there is room for that. I appreciate the fact that you don’t want to strip her of her talents, but if you share the leadership of the home, it allows her more room to be truly great at the specific areas where she excels. Your quiet strength supports her.

    Sorry, I don’t normally comment like this, but this is an area close to home.

    • Jennifer,

      I appreciate your comment here. As with most good responses, it is both refreshing and challenging. That is not a small thing. Thank you.

      I agree with you that it takes two. My wife’s bent is to aggressively get her way and she knows this. I think she has made more progress in blunting that weakness than I have in fighting my own passivity.

      Additionally, being passive means that it is a lot easier for me to just blame her for my problems and sit back. One of my real struggles in this respect is to ask what it means to lead through this weakness in myself. Blaming her is not helpful even when there are times she bears some responsibility.

      To be honest, I am at a much better place in fighting passivity than I have been in the past. Five years ago, I could never have written this post. Most of the content wouldn’t have made sense to me. You are right to say I am unhappy with being passive, but I am much less unhappy than I was in the past.

      Ironically, I now appear much more unhappy than I used to. Now that I can name it and am working to be more assertive, it comes out as unhappiness more often. In reality, my marriage is a really sweet one. Certainly we have our moments. She is my best friend and I love her dearly. She also loves me well even though many of my weakness slam on her wounds.

      Again, thank you for your comment. It made me think.

      -Chip

  3. I am glad to read your post. “Leadership is the Same Thing as Initiative” is well said.

    It’s funny that I found out my husband is called “passive”. I used to think his quietness is “wisdom” & passivity is” gentleness.” I often hear “I would support whatever you decide” so I end up taking a lot of duties & responsibilites.

    We have been married for 10 years & have 3 boys. From time to time, I would get so frustrated because I feel that he doesn’t “step up” to the plate. When I told him to teach the boys to play balls, just like his dad taught him when he was 3, he would say the kids don’t want to learn or it’s too hot outside. Later, It’s time to teach the boys to ride a bike. Nothing! When I signed them up & let them to learn different ball games, my husband complained that it’s too expensive (we have twins!). I did end up teaching my boys to ride a bike (so they can join the school rodeo). He likes to hold the kids & sit there. It worked well when they were little but now they need to get moving…

    I feel that my kids need a strong male role model. Then, for me to become a cub scout den leader is a big draw, I feel resentful because I think it’s the daddy’s thing & he should step up to it. When I attended the meetings, most of the volunteers are dads (except 1 or 2 single/military moms). When I talked to my husband about it, he even blamed me for taking this volunteer position. He is the “why fix it if not broken” type of guy. He doesn’t want to get involved with anything in the community. He doesn’t like to socialize with anyone.

    Sometimes, I wonder if he is laid back or inefficently managing his time. As our boys are older now, I think we should show them how to lead by doing more volunteer work but my husband doesn’t want to do anything new. Like the church retreat, I think we should join & it’s really fun for the boys. My husband is so reluntant. Sometimes, I am just so tired of “pulling” the wagon ALL THE TIME.

  4. Hello Chips, thanks a million for this article, i now see things differently, i am married to a very passive man. i use to be very frustrated about it but reading your blog made me to empathize with him. please what can i do differently to help him discover his strength as i don’t want to remain frustrated and i don’t want him to be sad either. there is a lot of power struggle in our relationship. i am left with most of all the responsibilities and i find it very difficult to let him have the authority.

  5. Thank you for the thought provoking article. I, too, am really good at running our home and children. Really good. My husband is really good at running things at his job. Really good. But his family has made things very difficult for us. We have lots of things to work out, to heal from, and to forgive. So thanks for putting All that out there in your article. Lots of us struggle with similar things, and it’s important to remember who the real bad guy is, and that we are on the same team, and that love covers a multitude of sins.

  6. Sorry. But here’s the truth. Avoiding being blamed is called being a coward. There’s nothing positive about it. It is your biggest failure, something you have been trying to avoid so badly.

  7. What is the wife supposed to do? Stop being who she is and let it all go to hell, or continue functioning and getting more frustrated resentful and angry. I hate this choice that has been staring me in the face for 15 years.

  8. Chip, thank you for this wonderful article. My hubby is often times more passive than I would like him to be. Your words remind me of the most important truth, in my opinion: my hubby is unconditionally loved and accepted by his heavenly Daddy. If the Creator and Owner of all of our lives wiews him like this, I must too.

    My problem is that his weakness plays on mine too. I am not a very driven person by nature. I struggle with feeling lazy, slow and incompetent. But things around the house need to get done. Our 6 year old son needs to get some kind of parenting. I have spent years trying to communicate, explain, even manipulate my husband into stepping up, but it always makes him withdraw even more. So I do what needs to be done. Very imperfectly, not in time, but things do get done.

    I am now trying to just accept him, give him his space and not bug him about anything. But his passivity is very demotivating for me.

    It’s Saturday today. Last night as I went to bed, I thought, it’s Saturday tomorrow, an opportunity to catch up on house chores, to go shopping for some things we have been needing for a few months now, also a beautiful day to spend with our son out on the playground… So many opportunities to spend the day well. But this morning, as we all got up, my hubby made himself his morning coffee and turned on the tv. There goes all my motivation. I tried to remember everything that I wanted to do, but it was just hard, with the tv on and him mentally absent. So I went grocery shopping just to get away from his passivity which makes me passive too.

    Last weekend he was away for work. Our son and I were home alone and I got a lot done. We even spent some time playing outside, I read books to our son, we cleaned the house together, played and had a lot of fun. But when my hubby is home, it’s just a huge temptation for me to sit in fron of the tv with him and do nothing. Our son often comes to us and asks for us to play with him, but we are so immersed in the tv show that we just tell him to find some toys and play by himself.

    This sounds horrible and I am crying over the fact that I am even writing this but that’s how it is.

    From what you wrote, I feel like my husband is spiritually and emotionally where you were 5 years ago. Any initiative is for him a risk of failure, so he runs away. Not physically, but he runs to the internet or the tv or whatever else.

    I know that I need to let God work in him, but as I wait for him to mature, it’s taking a toll on me. Every morning I give my hurts and wounds to the Lord and ask him to give me the energy and motivation to spend the day well and not waste time. But some days He doesn’t. My husband and I are drifting apart, it’s incredibly hard for me to trust and respect him since he rarely does what he says he will do. We have a good life, he is a good man, but our unity is gone and there is this vast emptiness, sadness, hopelessness. I feel terribly alone. It’s like I have very little in common with him anymore. Like I’m living with a stranger and I can’t say anything to get closer to him because it will be interpreted as judgment, coercion, manipulation.

    About two years ago I started having episodes of clinical depression. I’m getting help, seing a Christian counselor. It’s helping, but it’s very depressing to think that I am going to have to live in isolation from my best friend for the rest of my life.

    Is there anything I can do to help him work through his own demons, and the biggest is the fear of failure?

    Thank you so much.

    • Anita,

      Let me be the first to say that I don’t have the answers for you. You have have a challenging situation. It sounds like your husband is dropping the ball, big time. I want to commend your patience and endurance, your fumbling for the right path through a dark land. God knows it is hard and you will be rewarded for every moment of pained uncertainty.

      One big difference between my house and yours is that I don’t have a TV. It is not that we don’t watch TV shows on the internet almost every day, but I don’t have a TV that allows me to channel surf. I know me well enough that I do not have the self-control to have a TV. It is too easy a place to rest after stress, particularly coping with the stress of knowing that I should be doing something else right now.

      So, because I am convinced that everyone should do what I do, I would strongly suggest getting rid of the TV. It makes doing my park much easier to have that kind of access taken away. We actually took a month last year screen free. My takeaway from the whole month was that I lost much of my taste for Facebook. It has felt much more shallow ever since. Maybe you can discuss this with him. If he is as passive he sounds, he may not put up too much of a fight. Talk about how it would be good for you and your son not to have that distraction in the home for a month. You will be surprised how little you need it after the first week. Have some board games ready and get a library card, you’ll be ready to use them shortly.

      All told, you can’t make him change. Talk with your counselor about how to approach him. I often wonder if a frustrated wife should ask him what changes would be important to him in the home. Don’t nudge him, just press him to see what things he would like changed in the house. You may find some surprising ideas.

      I wish I had more for you. It turns out people are really complicated and there is not one fix for all (or even any two) situations. My heart hurts for you. Good bless.

      Chip

  9. I am in Anita’s situation. Funny how motivated we are when our husbands are away. I feel his passivity weakens and angers me. I was wondering if its grounds for divorce. He has abandoned the home while living here.

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