This week we talked a lot about passive-aggressive behavior. The first thing I noticed was that the examples in the articles I read seemed quite familiar, unlike when I read about sex addiction or sexual compulsion, narcissism, or sociopathy. I can see examples of passive-aggressive behavior in my past. It really appears childish. In fact, it is frustrating when I see it occasionally in our children too. I recognize I need to be vigilant, watching myself for this kind of behavior, and to keep working to eliminate it. At the same time, I think I’ve improved measurably on this issue in recent years.
I read “10 things passive-aggressive people say,” by Signe Whitson. Here are the top three things she listed.
1. I’m not mad.” “Denying feelings of anger is classic passive aggressive behavior.” It has been so long since I’ve done this that I can’t even recall a specific example. But, I’m sure I’ve done this in past years. Now, however, behaving with integrity and courage are two of my highest goals. I consider integrity and courage as guiding values when I decide how to conduct myself in daily life. I don’t avoid people when I leave the office in a timely manner. I don’t hesitate when someone asks me any question at work or in public. I don’t wait to tell people I disagree or that I feel mistreated.
2. “Fine.” “Whatever.” “Sulking and withdrawing from arguments are primary strategies of the passive aggressive person.” I certainly recall being, correctly, criticized for pouting when I was a child. Though I can’t recall specifics, I remember feelings of sulking and pouting in the course of our marriage. I vaguely remember feeling so afraid of or exhausted by discussing disagreements with my wife that I sometimes just capitulated, while growing bitter about having done so. I try so hard not to do this today. The last time I did it was so long ago that I can’t recall.
3. “I’m coming!” “Passive aggressive persons are known for verbally complying with a request, but behaviorally delaying its completion.” This is the behavior that really seems worrisome to me. I know my wife and I continue to be disappointed by specific instances of me saying I would do something and then failing to follow through.
The most timely example is about condoms. Here’s the gory, but necessary, background. This is the inadequately short version of the story. Ten or so years ago I got herpes from a prostitute in an undeveloped and unclean country, I hid the fact from TL, using a variety of dishonest tactics, until final D-day. I did not begin using condoms or medication with TL, telling myself that careful timing regarding outbreaks would be adequate. It was not.
Two-and-half years ago TL was diagnosed with herpes. I continued to have sex with her, rarely using condoms. In the past couple of months we have talked a lot about my failure to use condoms. I purchased some condoms and vowed to never again have sex with her without condoms. Yes, she already has herpes and we have both tested negative for all other diseases tests can find. But, we, including doctors, don’t know what we don’t know.
The reason I describe all this here is to question whether my failure to use condoms was a passive-aggressive act. Was I consciously refusing to use condoms to hurt TL? No.
Was I consciously refusing to do so because I innately valued my convenience and my pleasure more than her well-being? No, not consciously.
What about subconsciously? Maybe. On some level, I had apparently chosen my convenience and pleasure over TL’s physical and emotional safety. It was not a conscious choice. Nonetheless, it was my choice.
Does that make me someone who can never again be trusted to choose TL over myself? I don’t know. I hope not. At least, unlike before, I now see what I have been doing, and can watch myself for similar failings in the future.
Is it enough? Would she be safer leaving me? I don’t know. I hope I’m not too late, again.