Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today we’ve got a question from a woman who feels like her husband doesn’t initiate or take the lead.
A little background–we are not a “traditional” newlywed couple–my husband and I just celebrated our second anniversary, I’m older and have grown children from a previous long term marriage, he was briefly married as a very young man, I am his first “roomie” ever, he is still in the military.
Our situation–I need and want my husband to be more decisive, a leader, and take charge (in and out of the bedroom). He is a generous, kind, caring man and I’m grateful and love him dearly. We have a good sex life (2-4/ week) but I’d say I’m the higher drive spouse and initiate almost all of the time–however after much reinforcement and affirmation and really just getting tired of always initiating–I’ve notice a slight improvement in he starting to initiate. I long to feel desired and pursued! I long for him to be more in charge-need his strong, masculine self to make me feel more feminine. I long for him to have an opinion when I ask what he’d like to do, eat, watch etc. It is nice that he wants to please me and make sure I’m happy but I’m concerned how this passivity will affect the long term health of our marriage.
The last thing I want to do is hurt my husband or make him feel like he’s “doing something wrong”. I heard that term in the beginning of our marriage when I tried to bring up things that were bothering me and have worked on finding ways to communicate more effectively. I’m more hesitant and seeking help in this area bc this obviously ties to his being a man and his masculinity and in no way do I want to unintentionally disrespect or demean him!
Do you have suggestions, resources, a way to encourage him? A way to start talking?
Let’s look at this from a number of different angles:
1. Some People May Seem Passive, But Their Personality is Just Laid Back
She seems to want her husband to be decisive and have opinions, and she views this as a character defect because he doesn’t. But these are also different sides of personality. There are umpteen ways to measure personality, and I’ve talked on this blog before about my favourite–the MBTI. Basically it divides personality into four spectrums:
Sensing/Intuitive (are you a detail person or a big picture person)
Thinking/Feeling (do you value logic or feelings when making decisions)
Judging/Perceiving (are you quick to have an opinion, or do you like to be spontaneous?)
I’m totally guessing here, but it sounds like he may be an FP, and she may be a TJ. Thinking/Judgers are big on opinions and action and just DOING something. FPs are big on living in the moment, enjoying things, and not getting too worked up over anything.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with either.
We need to be very careful in marriage that we do not attribute a character flaw to someone when it is simply a personality difference. I’m a TJ, so I understand the woman’s urge to want someone to make a decision and to express it quickly. But I also married a TJ. If she chose to marry someone who was not like that, she really can’t blame him for it. Even the fact that she’s saying he’s a passive husband instead of saying he’s a laid back husband already means a value judgment.
In marriage we all have to adjust to each other. Perhaps what God really wants her to learn is how to be more spontaneous, how to live life without definite plans, how to enjoy the moment, and how to just relax. These are all good things, too.
Don’t try to change him. He’s a good and generous man, but he’s simply different from you, and that honestly is okay. It may be a good idea to take a personality test so that you can see this in black and white. It isn’t a character problem, but instead differences in how you approach life. Sometimes it’s those differences that can make life fun!
2. Be Careful of Overcompensating
There’s a funny dynamic in marriage that goes something like this, and let me use parenting as an example because we all get it. Let’s say that you could measure leniency as a parent on a scale of 1-100, and discipline on a scale of 1-100. Let’s say that one parent falls at about 25 on the discipline scale, and one parent falls at about 25 on the leniency scale. One parent wants more order, and one parent wants more fun.
Here’s what often happens as the two parents interact with the kids: the lenient parent sees the discipline parent discipline, and so they became concerned. That makes them become even more lenient, because they want to give their kids a break. As the discipline parent sees the lenient parent grow even more lenient, they feel that the discipline is even more in their hands, and so they start coming down even harder. Both parents are trying to make up for what they see the other parent not doing.
Now, suddenly, they’re both 75 on their scales. They’re comfortable at 25, but they’ve become a caricature of themselves while they try to compensate for the other.
That’s a common dynamic, but it’s one we need to make sure we don’t follow. In this case, the wife could be so concerned the husband makes no decisions that she starts to make even more. That reinforces him as the passive one, and her as the decisive one. Soon she’s become more decisive than she even wants to be, but she’s also given him permission to be even more passive. It’s not healthy.
If you see something lacking, don’t fill the gap. Sometimes it’s best to back off. She backed off on initiating, and he did begin to initiate more. That’s good!
3. Accept Him as He Is
Here’s what I see from this letter: she’s tried all kinds of different ways to make her “passive husband” open up more, because she feels that something is holding him back and he’s missing out on life. She wants him to communicate better and to initiate more.
But few guys like talking. And he’s in the military! That means that he’s been taught to keep his feelings under wraps and just do what you need to in the moment. Sitting around and analyzing what’s going on in your head isn’t a big part of his experience.
She suddenly wants him to start opening up, and she’s frustrated that he’s not.
I guess I’d ask, why? What did you expect him to do?
Let me be perfectly blunt here. Stop trying to change him and stop trying to have these big communication sessions. Just accept him. He seems like a decent, responsible, kind person, who doesn’t like to talk about his feelings. In other words, he seems like the vast majority of men. It doesn’t mean he’s hiding anything, and it doesn’t mean that he has things bottled up. He just would prefer not to look too deeply, and that’s okay.
Instead of trying to get him to sit down and talk, why don’t you spend time with him? Find a hobby you can do together. Have him take you to the shooting range. Take up jogging. It doesn’t matter what it is; but do things together. That’s when you’re likely to start talking; it’s far more likely to happen outdoors when you’re doing something than at night when you say, “now’s when we’re going to communicate.”
4. Be Grateful for Your Sex Life
It sounds like you two have a great sex life. 2-4 times a week is wonderful! And it sounds like he’s a good lover, interested in pleasing you. No, it’s not absolutely everything you want, but it sounds pretty good. Why not start focusing on what you do like, instead of on what you’re missing?
Thank him for what he does do. Send him flirty texts referring to something that happened last night. Just be generous!
If there really is something that you’re missing, you can suggest having “His/Her Saturdays” or something, where one week you do what you want (and you lay out how he’s supposed to initiate), and the next week you do what he wants. That works for some couples. But I think learning to laugh together and appreciate what you do have is far better than mentioning inadequacies, especially when you’re doing well. When you both feel like good lovers, it’s far easier to continue to improve. When you both feel judged, people tend to retreat.
Those are my initial thoughts, but I’d love to hear yours! I’m also quite aware that this woman has a great husband–he may be passive, but overall he sounds like a solid guy. I know some of you don’t have that. Your passive husband won’t get a job, or plays video games all the time, or something like that. In those cases my advice would be quite different. But this man doesn’t seem to be doing anything wrong; they simply have different personalities. And in that case, I still think the best route is acceptance, not trying to change someone.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments!