Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about your recent Jewish Press article (Feb. 4) about the joking husband who hurts his wife’s feelings. Did you accept the wife’s premises as the complete explanation of their marriage relationship? Are there things that she is not relating or not even aware of?
Does the husband get emotionally hurt by his wife? Is he reacting to things that she does that are discordant towards harmony?
These queries are rhetorical, and I certainly have no answers to these questions.
In the simplest terms, your explanation might be all that is relevant.
However, as it is said, it takes two to tango; and the more robust the evidence, the better the conclusions one might reach.
Jack Greenberg, MD
Dear Dr. Greenberg,
I appreciate your letter and will tell you that the problems that you are raising reflect the difficulty we have in writing this column.
In writing this column I only had information from the wife, but I realize that to get a more complete picture we would need to examine their relationship more fully in order to understand the source of this alleged passive aggressive humor. Why does the husband engage in such humor? Is it totally sourced in the husband’s background and emotional make-up as presupposed in the letter, or is the husband responding to the wife’s provocations? I, as a writer, have no idea what is transpiring; however, it is certainly worthy to explore the other side as well.
In answering your questions, which are very astute, there may be things that the wife who wrote the letter is not relating or is even aware of.
Broader examination would seek to assess what about her behavior may be causing him to feel rejected. Clearly if he feels rejected, he may be using the passive aggressive jokes as a way of expressing his feelings. I am only hypothesizing based on your letter. However, we do not know if the wife is being sensitive to him. We only have two examples.
Perhaps the couple could have gone together to the chuppah of the wedding so he would not have felt left out. Maybe he was resentful for being left home and taking care of the kids (if there are any little ones still at home). It seems that possibly the humor may be coming from a source of rejection and resentment. The obvious question is then, is this a childhood rejection that he is imagining and projecting onto his wife, or is there something about his wife’s behavior that is causing his feeling of rejection and resentment? I agree that it takes two to tango. If you read my answer I did give the wife ideas as to how to be more understanding to her husband. However, all of the unknowns preclude me from giving more complete responses.
People resort to passive aggressive behavior due to feeling fear of expressing their feelings of anger, frustration, or rejection directly. They resort to less direct forms of expressing their feelings to “play it safe.” In a marriage, a partner may resort to passive aggressive behavior to avoid direct confrontation. The strategy is always ineffective since the underlying negative feelings have not dissipated, but will always find a mode of expression. Does this husband feel too afraid to express his feelings to his wife or has he just never learned how to do so appropriately? In responding to your query, the wife should probably make her husband feel safer in the marriage, so that he will then express himself more directly. What we do not know is if the wife just needs to tweak a few things because her husband needs more reassurance than most or does she need deeper work because she is making her husband feel insecure? Is the husband just insecure because he came into the marriage that way, or is the wife controlling and putting him down?
The reality is that in a healthy marriage, both parties should feel safe to speak about their feelings openly. I do not have any information to ascertain what is happening in this situation. Your questions reflect intuition in the importance of knowing an entire situation. We recommended therapy since we do not know what is transpiring in this marriage. Thank you for your excellent letter. I hope your letter helps this couple figure out what is going on and seek the appropriate help. Hatzlacha.