MARRIAGE MISSIONS EDITORS NOTE: We’re approaching this issue differently from others on our web site. We’re giving various quotes from the book, “Married But Not Engaged” (no longer being published), written by Paul and Sandy Coughlin. This is to give you insights into why passive husbands operate in a non-engaged mode in marriage.
That doesn’t mean there are not passive wives. However, in this case, if it’s your husband who is passive, we encourage you to prayerfully consider these points asking for God’s revelation.
This is not a “one-size-fits-all” article, but you could learn a few things you may not have otherwise considered. Here’s what Paul and Sandy write on this issue:
A Culture at Odds with Masculinity:
We could devote an entire book to examples of how our culture is confused (at best) about what a man is and vilifies (at worst) what it does know. [But here’s a shortened example] …A study that compared gender stereotypes common in the 1970s to those widespread in the 1990s found that while views of women have improved, views of men have plummeted. Women are characterized as “intelligent, logical, independent, adventurous, dependable, and skilled at relationships.” Men? “Jealous, moody, fussy, temperamental, deceptive, narrow-minded, and heedless of consequences.” The report characterized this view of men as “negative masculinity.”
…What’s the primary premise behind our society’s denigration of males? Why do so few find it wrong and unacceptable to demoralize men? The root idea: Men are a serious problem that must be fixed, not a gender to be appreciated. Men are not okay as men. Masculinity, in and of itself, is negative.
We as a culture have undergone extended therapy at the hands of social engineers, media presentations, and dedicated activists. The script men and women followed before the social revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s was flawed’ however, rather than addressing the flaws in order to right them, much of society began instead to reverse or invert the flaws. Human value and dignity is about all people being of equal worth. We needed to embrace and enact positive change in the ways women were viewed and treated, not say, “Men have had the upper hand and abused it; now it’s women’s turn to rule and degrade.”
The most shaming and heartbreaking message is that a man is disposable.
Maureen Dowd’s, Are Men Necessary? would be humorous if it weren’t for her deadly serious attack upon manhood. The main thesis of Peggy Drexler and Linden Gross’s Raising Boys Without Men is that boys are best raised by women; not only are fathers expendable, they’re detrimental to the rearing of boys. TV sitcoms have perfected the image of men as naturally incompetent husbands and fathers, buffoons either to be set straight or cast aside.
• By contrast, the record shows how essential men are to children and to society in general.
The largest predictive factor in whether a child will graduate from high school, attend college, avoid crime, reject drugs, or become an unwed parent before 18 is the presence of a father in the child’s life. According to a recent Health and Human Services report, “Fathers play a unique role in fostering the well-being of their children, not only through providership, protection and guidance, but also through the way that they nurture the next generation.” Yet there’s a huge catch: “A father’s involvement with his children … is powerfully contingent on the mother’s attitude” toward him.
When a man does not feel needed, something in him dies.
Even an emotionally healthy man turns passive and loses energy.
• John Gray, author of one of the bestselling books on relationships, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, explains how women during dating speak the following unspoken language loud and clear. “We need you. Your power and strength can bring us great fulfillment, filling a void deep within our being. Together we could live in great happiness.”
This unspoken message motivated their man to become larger and more attractive during dating. But after marriage, the usual challenges set in, made worse by “Nice Guy” tendencies to avoid conflict, which to their wives appears like they’re trying to avoid responsibilities. This is true, though it is not their original motivation. He no longer feels wanted, and feels like a big fat problem. He may feel this way because he’s been told so.
• The Psychology of Passivity:
Given our cultural predicament, the “Nice Guy” disease affects every man differently, worse for some than for others.Some men are more predisposed to passive thought and behavior, and it’s not rocket science figuring out why. Their lives are over-influenced by fear and related emotions like anxiety, which seal up the heart and prevent the sharing of emotions and the interchange of love. The usual suspects for this psychological tendency include childhood abuse neglect, and abandonment.
• If passivity haunts your man, know that he wasn’t “born this way.”
It’s not his natural personality type, and it shouldn’t be mistaken for being reserved. A reserved man may take longer than others to share his feelings, make decisions, and engage socially. In the end, however, he does express himself, make his will known, and connect with others. Though he’s cautious, he still proceeds. A passive man, fear-frozen, is (and sees himself as) acted upon, rather than actively participating in life.
• Abused kids harbor a pervasive sense that they are an inferior sub-species.
They feel they are children of a lesser God. When you believe you are inferior to others, you invite fear into the deepest parts of your heart. Men usually don’t even know that they’ve done this, but somewhere along the way, they did, and they’ve been committed to fear ever since.
Writes Dr. Laura: “It is terrible to have been hurt, tortured, molested, abandoned, ignored… or exposed to other demoralizing or dehumanizing behaviors. For anyone to minimize that truth is somewhere between ignorant and insensitive.” And when a young boy undergoes such treatment, it creates a “sick parallel universe …for you, one your real world with everyone else. Your options and possibilities will appear severely constricted, and understandably, you flounder.”
Christian Nice Guys with this background are still sinners.
They’re not some special case where their sin doesn’t smell bad because they had a tough childhood. But it should be clear by now why Christian Nice Guys drag more baggage through life. As the social philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich From once observed, “The scars left from the child’s defeat in the fight against irrational authority are to be found at the bottom of every neurosis.”
• The passive man assumes that others (including you) possess more power than he does or ever will.
He’s prone to depend on you and others to regulate and arrange his world for him. As you’ve probably observed and experienced, this makes him undependable and irresponsible. He believes that, regardless of what he does, outside forces determine his future; this is fatalism. He has disregarded the biblical wisdom that if a man plans, organizes, and takes action, he improves the quality of his life. He feels inadequate to handle his life; he’s convinced he has little or influence in achieving what he wants and needs, so even though he’s dependent on others, he’s resentful of them as well.
When faced with life’s challenges, conflicts, prospects, and uncertainties, Christian Nice Guys go into a holding pattern.
They wait; hoping someone else deals with the issues and solves the problems. They hold out for a rescue boat with your name on the side.
• Other Christian Nice Guys go to the other extreme and believe “All I need to do is give it to the Lord.”
This common and fatal assumption ignores the truth that we co-labor with God in our spiritual and emotional growth, which are greatly connected. This false assumption is also a hiding place for many Christian Nice Guys who don’t think they can do the soul work required to face their fears and the misconceptions they produce.
The Nice Guy is smiling, but he feels hopeless and pessimistic, which in his mind justifies his reluctance to ask others for help. If things are hopeless, why fight life? Just ease into the arms of fate. If something is beyond his control, that’s the way it was meant to be. He may well believe he is working against God’s will when he exerts his own.
• Mellow Messiah, an Insidious Distortion:
Christian men across denominational divides are told to follow an example of being and behaving that doesn’t exist. They are told to be “like Jesus.” But they are shown an incomplete portrait of him as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” They carry what I call the “Nice Guy Bible”, in which they’re encouraged only to underline and study the “pleasant passages” while largely or completely ignoring the ones that can bring freedom from passivity.
This Nice Nazarene is fictitious.
The Gospels show a Jesus who was both tender and tough, depending on the circumstances. Jesus traveled the entire emotional spectrum without apology. Men who follow a false Jesus hamstring themselves, the constraints nowhere more painful to experience or to witness than in marriage.
Christian Men Easy to Spot
My friend Michael Levine, who’s not a Christian, says he can spot Christians at Hollywood parties. He says, “They worship at the altar of other people’s approval.” Michael’s fascinated as to why Christians think Jesus was wimpy, when even he can read that Jesus wasn’t: “Jesus is portrayed as some weak guy who patted kids on the head all the time, and Christian men are expected to follow this example.” Michael, who does public relations for stars, loves Christians. His best friend is a Christian, so he’s no bigot. I sometimes what to disagree: frequently, we’re the bland leading the bland. We lack backbone. Following a half-Jesus makes us half-alive, dull, unable to connect, missing intimacy.
Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life could have a sicker on the cover. The purpose-driven life is impossible to attain if fear is in the driver’s seat of your life; you must decide whether you will serve pleasantries or purpose.
• Three powerful forces (a culture at odds with masculinity, the psychology of passivity, and a twisted caricature of Jesus) encourage many men to remain or become passive, to lay down the sword of their will, and thereby relinquish the provision for and protection of those within their care. You’ve seen how those powers make it hard, and in extreme cases impossible, for your Christian Nice Guy to create intimacy.
But now the good news:
These forces pale when compared to the power a good woman has in the life of an average man. No other person possesses your potential to help him move in a better direction. When you use this strength rightly and justly, you can create an environment like no other.
There is much more that this book reveals on this subject that we can’t to give you. We hope you can find a way to obtain the book, Married But Not Engaged: Why Men Check Out and What You Can Do to Create the Intimacy You Desire, written by Paul and Sandy Coughlin, published by Bethany House publishers, to read more about what to do about a husband’s passivity.
— ALSO —
To read several related articles on this issue, please click onto the following links to read:
• Q & A with “No More Mr. Nice Guy” Author Paul Coughlin
• THE NICE GUY MARRIAGE: Living in Fear Instead of Bold Love
— PLUS —
If you have additional tips you can share to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Communication and Conflict For Married Women
30 responses to “Passive Husbands”
(AMERICA) There is a lot to be said about passive men in marriages and perhaps more should be said. I disagree with the source of the problem. I have never been counseled to be “like Jesus” and be passive. In the Sixties, certain religious passages were used to promote surrender, unilateral disarmament, or other silly ideas. But that we had to do it because Jesus had done something like never arose. Paul Coughlin had a horrid upbringing and is sufficiently aware of its effects that he ought to know better. Few of us could put a finger on any lesson growing up that we need to be like the Breck Girl picture of Jesus. If Coughlin could find a syllabus including such, he ought to show us. Until then, his problem is his mother, not his Christian Education. In addition to what has been said so far, what has not been addressed is the wife’s reaction when a man ceases being passive. Coughlin and others tell us that it would be gratitude, relief, and improved relations. Apparently there have never been arguments when a husband stood up for himself. Coughlin and others like him need to address that issue.
What if the wife DOESN’T want the man to stand up for himself because things are going her way as it is? He still needs to stand up for himself, but none of the literature addresses the possibility that there will be resistance and how to handle it.
(USA) Read “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Hemingway.
(USA) Thanks! Great article. I plan to share this with my husband. We’ve gone through a lot and I recognize him in a lot of this article. I do see how I can positively influence his life but it’s a fine line between leading and providing resources. I look forward to reading more on your website. -Christian wife
(UNITED STATES) A man’s role is NOT to stand up for himself, but to stand for Christ and to provide for and protect his family.
(USA) My husband has been gambling for eight to nine years. Things got extremely hard, he was abusing me verbally and not responsible for paying the bills. I have been helping him. He was in and out jobs, now he has a good job and another guy works with him. My husband is his boss. He has been disappearing prior to his departure.
I have called my son to talk to him about his gambling. He was mad and he told my son to get out from the house. He packed and left to live with the single guy who works with him. He has been changing addresses and changed his pay check address to his office address. It took me 14 months to find out where he’s living. Guess where I found him? He is living with this single guy who never had a girl friend and never has been married. They used to shop together, golf together, eat to together and sleep in the same house. I have trusted his friend, but he turned out be a crook and kept enabling my husband. I am not sure what to do.
(USA) My husband was completely neglected emotionally as a child, and continued to be disregarded as an adult, well into adulthood by his parents, which led to a five year separation from them. While that was hard on everyone, especially on our children, it was the best thing we could have done.
Unfortunately, while our relationship to his parents is so much healthier, my husband is not. He is railing against his calling to lead his family and live with me in an understanding way, always blaming me for not “creating the right environment” for him to grow. Leaving him alone when he wants to “process” is never the right move, for it leads to his embracing more lies about reality.
I’ve been afraid to disconnect, but exhausted with trying to keep connected with this man-child who doesn’t want the responsibility of growing up. He’ll fake it for a while, but it always ends with an attack on me. Everything about Coughlin’s description about passive men rings true, but my strong personality is fed up with this guy and while I rejoice with the truth, it feels pretty hopeless that we will ever have a real marriage.
(AUSTRALIA) I agree with Richard Aubrey’s comment. I have a passive husband and I am an aggressive woman. We have a reasonably healthy relationship, in spite of significant issues that we both had growing up. We had similar upbringings, and after observing my husband’s family and mine (and allowing for differences that birth orders bring), I am leaning towards genetics playing a bigger role in whether someone turns out to be passive or aggressive.
THE struggle in our relationship is to overcome my frustration at his passiveness, and his uncomfortableness with my aggressiveness. It will be a balancing act that we will continue (prayerfully) to the end of our days.
But one of the most painful struggles I have is with a sense of identity, as society (even so-called ‘enlightened’ Western society) doesn’t look favourably on the passive-husband-and-aggressive-wife combination. So while I agree that Western industrialized society has performed some significant negative social engineering, I disagree that husband-wife/male-female roles have been re-engineered to such an extent as appears to be implied by quoted snippets from the Coughlins.
(AMERICA) I know how you feel, only I don’t want to be the agressive wife. I want my husband to lead and respect the ideal.
(AMERICA) I have a passive husband and I have to take the lead with everything because he won’t. He is now a Christian but he is still dependent on everyone else but himself. I try to get him to take the lead but he never does. I feel resentful all of the time because I am a Christian too and this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. I am considering divorce because I am always frustrated and resentful. Any advice?
(USA!) I recommend that you give your husband the book Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul, by John Eldritch. He forces the reader to admit the condition of his own heart and challenges him to deal with it. It has vastly helped me move away from the passiveness that I struggle with daily. Also encourage your husband to go do manly things… I’m serious… shoot guns, play rugby, lift weights, join a boxing club, build a shed… something to make him feel powerful and confident. Finally massage his ego (many of you may hate me for this one but…) tell him he’s sexy when he comes home from doing manly things. He needs to know you are proud of him in his masculinity, not just when he helps you around the house.
Thanks Tim, great advice! As women, we have to be careful not to expect a man to empty himself of his masculinity. He needs an outlet where his “blow them up and aggressive” feelings can be expressed. I’ve found that since I “got it,” as far as giving my husband some type of outlet for this (even though I don’t understand it), he is MUCH happier and often works better at meeting some of the needs I have. It often (but not always) works out this way.
We need to work to think together, but that doesn’t mean we have to think alike, or that we will ever really understand each other. The goal of working together in our marriage is not to erase the person our spouse is, but to join together our talents, yet still give each other grace and space, as needed. It’s a fine balance, but it’s worth working towards (acknowledging that it will be a lifetime achievement –something we will need to work at for our entire lives together).
(USA) Cindy, the same applies to a woman. We need to be careful not to make a woman empty herself of being a woman. The same goes for women. Why do you all always look out for a man’s feelings and not a woman’s feelings? We need space to blow too. Please respect us women, like you all do men.
Jean, I agree that this applies to women too. But these quotes are written by a man explaining the man’s side of things. That doesn’t erase the woman’s needs; it just explains the man’s needs. There are other articles, which explain women’s needs posted on this web site and other web sites. This is an article taken from a book. Please know that we get it that not all men are passive, just like not all women are passive. The author didn’t put a disclaimer on every page to say what you just said. If so, the book would be twice as long. Please, just take these quotes as information that is given to help inform those that need it, on the subject of passive men.
(UNITED STATES) Yes, men need to know that you are proud of their masculinity. Todays society makes a man ashamed of who he is. This weakens a man. He is passive and afraid of any further disapproval. Women, If you don’t want a passive man then start to work his ego and you will be amazed how your man comes alive. He will be the man you always dreamed of in more than one way!!!
(USA) Mike, the same thing goes for us women. We need to know that the man is proud of our femininity too. Today’s world makes a women ashamed of herself too. While you are looking out for a man’s feelings, look out for the woman’s feelings too.
Good idea, Tim: I have similar issues with my passive Christian husband. However, per your reply, what if your husband isn’t interested in doing “manly” things as you mention –i.e. lift weights, shoot a gun, etc. My husband has a very strong feminine side and would much rather do the laundry, sweep the house, etc. than I would. Although I do not consider myself a “dominant” woman, I have reluctantly been forced to “take the lead”.
How then do you “lead” Christian men who don’t really want to lead and are used to deferring to others? It’s a constant frustration for me in our marriage. Thanks for your advice.
I hear what you are saying. My father in law was a baking, dusting laundry man, while mother in law made the money and barked orders, yet was mad that he did not lead. My question to you is the same one I asked her. What would attract you to such a man? A man that acts feminine, then wives get mad when he wont lead, but you picked this type of a man. Why? Please, I am trying to understand. I could not even sleep with a wimpy man, they are a turn off. Notice I am not saying a sensitive man, I mean a feminine wimp…I don’t get it.
(AMERICA) Most of us are between extremes. A passive man and husband is probably not the most passive man and husband who could possibly be found after prolonged search. He is, in fact, more passive than most. Possibly in the thirtieth percentile for assertiveness, not the zero. So he has some tendencies toward assertiveness.
My question is what happens– what is his wife’s reaction– when he attempts to assert himself? It’s one thing to call for him to take the lead. It’s another entirely if he actually does.
The author of The Surrendered Wife discovered after a short therapy session that she had smothered her husband by her need to control everything in her life from the most important to the most trivial. After which she reproached her husband for being passive. Somewhere in there were interactions where he was attempting to assert himself. What, do you think, was her reaction? My question, again, is what is the wife’s reaction when a formerly or mostly passive man attempts to assert himself?
Since my husband rarely if ever asserts himself, it’s a joke to me when he tries. I wish it was different; I’m working on taking him seriously but he I usually shows to be an empty shell. I was always the passive one in my relationships so I think the reason we married is so I would learn to assert myself but not dominate… But I believe if a man is serious about changing this kind of behavior in himself then it won’t come across as fake but it would be greatly welcomed and respected although it may take some getting used to.
It’s a catch-22 for sure. If you don’t take him seriously, how will he ever gain the confidence to lead? You have a choice, you can judge his motives, by suggesting his assertive measures are just empty actions, or you can encourage him to do more of the same by finding something good about what he’s doing. Even if he’s only going through the motions at first, at least he has the presence of mind to try what are largely the right motions.
He may be 100% serious about making the changes, but lacks the experience or confidence to “sell it” as the real you are looking for. He can’t force you to welcome it. Only you control if you will welcome or criticize his efforts.
(USA) I’m reading the book. Is there a next step?
(USA) These men -passive/aggressive, are total NUT JOBS! This behavior directly relates and emanates from a controling, passive/aggresive MOTHER, who uses sexual seduction aka. lust of the eyes, flesh, and pride of life to manipulate all males she encounters. Essentially mom is demonized or allows a strong JEZEBEL spirit to motivate her actions.
These mothers are VERY ANGRY with men. Starting with God the Father, then her own father or father figure, and any other male in her life. Plus, many of these mothers have a limited “skill set” and thus little-to-none self-sufficing skills. This results in manipulating/controling every one around her, especially her sons, because it’s easier to exercise control over them as oppose to a husband, she already operates in an “office” of authority over her sons.
This type of mother will “pit” her sons against their father, and other male siblings. All in a futile attempt to SURVIVE, because they don’t want to submit to authority and work. The Bible calls us to submitt ourselves one to another, these women/mothers don’t want to submit to any one-including God.
You shall know a tree by its fruit. Be a “fruit inspector”. Galatians 5:22 states… the FRUIT (singular not plural; KJV) is LOVE, peace, joy, meekness, patience, kindness, long-suffering, gentleness, temperance, etc. and of the such… The operative is LOVE, these mothers can’t LOVE and never have. They manipulate/control in order to SURVIVE. Let GOD deal with them, He will! Heaven help them!
My mother-in-law is a modest, godly servant. Your description could not be further from the truth. I assume blaming mothers for the problem is a reflection of your need to blame others for your problems. We, men and women, come from a variety of backgrounds, but as adults need to own what we are responsible for, what we can change, and how we can now live.
Okay. We’re responsible. The question remains; what happens in a relationship when a passive man tries to assert himself? Some of the discussion implies the wife would welcome it. Really?
This is an important issue I have been dealing with for years. But I also, as a man, understand Jean’s point of view as well. We need to consider both sides of the spectrum when it comes to issues like these. If we consider one and not the other, then we’re just creating the same problem, but with a different face.
Very informative article. But I see nothing about how wives should approach and talk with their husband regarding a passive attitude. In other words I see a very good definition of the problem but see no solutions offered.
Me neither! Thanks for asking that question. That is ALL I came here for. I’m already certain that a controlling mother and passive father created that in my spouse, but all I need to do is know HOW to approach him. I’m fairly certain he is entirely oblivious to the situation as this model of over-bearing mother and apathetic/indifferent mother has existed in his family for generations. I find it hard to deal with as my father was very assertive. He wasn’t abusive, and he wasn’t Christian either; but he was a “real man” if I could use that term without causing offense to more gentle/less stereotypical males.
CULTURE IS CONFUSED ABOUT MASCULINITY?? Thats right, blame culture. The fact is ALL human tribes, countries and societies struggle defining manhood. It’s universal. It isnt just today’s modern world. It isn’t because of liberals. Christians don’t hold all the answers to manhood or womanhood, but you won’t hear them admit that.
Good article. I was terrified of my mother and ended up terrified of all women, including my wife. I went through some very bad times because I could not stand up for myself and take the lead. I do not think of myself as a very good or devout Christian but I do remember praying in desperation for some help which I now realize was granted. I am no longer afraid of women and I am the head of our household. We have now been married for 36 years.