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How Do I Get My Husband to Be Less Passive?

03/31/2015 10:58 am ET | Updated May 31, 2015
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In my recent post Top Ten Fixable Reasons Your Wife Won't Sleep With You, one turn-off that really resonated with my female readers was when a guy acts "passive."

Many women complain about their husbands being passive, not initiating activities, laying around watching TV or clicking around on their computers, and overall not appearing to have much drive or passion. This seems to be a common complaint among the women I see in couples counseling as well. Strangely though, most guys who don't initiate anything else have no problem with initiating sex, which then adds insult to injury in their wives' minds: "You won't initiate anything else, but you'll try to have sex with me?"

There is an evolutionary reason that women can hate passive guys. If we visualize them in an earlier age, passive guys would not be able to defend their wives from predators, nor would they be good at hunting and providing for their families. In most ways, assertive people do better in life than timid people, because they can express their needs and get them met. And lest you think I'm saying that women are attracted to meatheads who get into bar fights, I'm talking about assertive, NOT aggressive. Aggressive mates are actually a dangerous choice, since they are likelier to do dumb things and get hurt or killed, or be rejected by the group for being difficult to get along with.

When women today say that they want their husbands to be more assertive, or less passive, here are some examples of behaviors they want to see:

- Planning dates

- Initiating conversations

- Doing projects around the house, without being nagged

- Initiating activities with the kids

- Sitting up and leaning forward, with a look of enthusiasm, during conversations

- Standing up for themselves, e.g. with coworkers or family members who take advantage of them

- Standing up for their wives, when situations arise where this is necessary, e.g. in-laws making rude remarks

- Expressing preferences, e.g. for what the wife wears, or even what she makes for dinner, ANYTHING

- Initiating sex in an assertive, or even dominant way, not by silently groping or passively saying things like, "I'm going to bed now..."

The real kicker is that some husbands actually used to act more assertive, when dating, or in early marriage, but they've stopped.  And of course, some never acted this way at all, but it was okay with their wives, because they were in the honeymoon phase and valued others of their husbands' strengths, e.g. their kindness, honesty, and so forth.  So let's figure out why some husbands act passive.  Here are some examples gleaned from couples counseling.

1. They've tried to be assertive, but their wives insist they are WRONG.  

Example:

Husband: Hey, let's go out tonight.

Wife: Tonight?  Are you joking?  Did you miss that the baby woke up 5 times last night and I'm barely keeping my eyes open?  Must be nice to sleep through the night.

2. They've tried to be assertive, but their wives perceive this as chauvinistic.

Husband: I want you to wear the red dress.

Wife: Because you want to see my boobs?  I'm wearing the blue one.

3. They've tried to be assertive, but it's in ways that their wife hates.

Husband: I'm staying late at work today so I can finish the big pitch.

Wife: Jesus Christ, again?

4. They grew up in an environment where being more go-with-the-flow was reinforced.

Husband, age 7: I want to play in Little League next year.

Your Mother in Law: Look, we're going to have to see.  I don't know what we have money for.  Can you just not ask for stuff all the time? Your brother doesn't ask for things every minute.

5. You, the wife, are not that nice.

Husband: Let's have sex right now.

Wife: Pfff.  Give me a break.

6. You and your husband actually work well as a couple in large part because he does what you say when you say it and is therefore fairly detached from his caveman assertiveness, which you actually did your utmost to beat out of him early in your marriage because you, in all honesty, value him listening to what you say more than you value your fantasies of him taking charge.

Wife: Get me a papertowel roll from the shelf and also can you start making the lunches for tomorrow, because I have to do bath.

Husband: Bounty or generic?

7. You always reject him for sex, which is hurtful, so he's done trying.

Husband: I'm going upstairs [if you come, great and if not, I didn't feel like a fool by actively asking you for sex and you rejecting me].

Wife: I'm going to do some more Pinterest/blogging/watching TV/internet shopping.

So, here is my point: whether this passivity is innate, learned from a young age, or learned from interactions with you, is moot.  But what is important to understand is that your husband may have become so acclimated to not being assertive that he no longer really even knows how to get in touch with his more assertive side.  Assertive is the type of thing that's either on or off.  You aren't going to get the guy who comes home every night at 6p.m. and lets you choose literally everything related to the home or parenting if he's not passive in other areas too, like the boudoir.  Remember what Dr. Psych Mom always says (okay, I just said it right now, but it's valuable information):

An assertive man is only good until he starts interfering with your nap schedule/meal planning/desire not to have sex more than once a week/[insert other rigid preference here].

I'm joking, but you have to realize: you either get an assertive husband or the ability to do whatever you want, not both. So, be careful what you wish for, because once you get assertive, you may not be able to go back to passive.  But, if you're convinced that you want a change, here are some real ways to get your husband to embrace his more assertive side.

1. Be direct.  Say, "I've realized our dynamic has become me telling you what to do and you doing it.  When the kids were younger/earlier in our marriage/when dating this was a dynamic I didn't mind as much and maybe even preferred.  But now it is frustrating for me.  If I work on being controlling, can you work on figuring out stuff for us to do, planning things, taking charge?  If I act critical of your attempts, let me know and I will try to stop."

2. Then, actually try to stop controlling everything.  The point is for him to be in charge of something, at least sometimes.  But if you control and mastermind every single thing that occurs in the household, there is no space for him.  So step back and see if he comes forward.  E.g., if you don't plan date nights, after a few weeks, will he?  You can't know what he can do if you're doing everything.

3. Stop being dismissive. If you want an assertive guy, then sometimes he is going to want to have sex on a Tuesday, when you have implicitly made it clear that Tuesdays are your day for Zumba class, DVRed Homeland, and then going right to bed.  If you laugh at his attempts to change your routine, and roll your eyes in a condescending way, you're NOT reinforcing assertive behavior.

4. Positively reinforce when he is not passive.  Even small things, like, "I like how you filled up the gas in the car without me asking.  That was such a nice surprise. I love when you do things without me asking you."

5. Tell him explicitly that you are attracted to him acting more dominant in bed, if this is the case.  Be like, hey, I have this fantasy that you order me into the bedroom and act really aggressive.  You can say this via text message if you want, you wussy.  If he doesn't do it that night, say: "I don't think I've been direct about this because I didn't know how to tell you, but I really like the idea of a guy acting dominant in bed.  Tomorrow, maybe you can try.  I am going to pretend I didn't tell you this tonight, so then you can 'surprise' me tomorrow.  If it goes well, I would like you to keep 'surprising' me like that, often."

6. Reminisce about times that he initiated awesome activities in your early courtship. Remember when he planned that surprise day trip and packed a picnic?  He may not know how you go back to that memory in your mind to try and counteract your repulsion when you see him sitting like a giant larva on your sofa watching MMA tournaments.  Remind him, by telling him how wonderful that was and how, if he's looking for more things to do to make you happy, he would really hit it out of the park if he did stuff like that again.

7. Ask him to make choices and then go along with them, even if your first thought is that they are woefully misguided. Say things like, "You pick where we go for dinner, I like being surprised." Then if you end up somewhere that sucks, drink up and put a smile on your face.  If you want someone who isn't passive, you're not going to like everything that they do.  You have to look at the bigger picture here.  And maybe after Applebee's, he will rip your clothes off like Christian Grey did with what's her name in Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy.

Well, there you have it.  Ways to make your husband less passive.  Try them and report back.  Or just forward them to your husband, hoping he gets the it.

NOTE: IF YOU'RE A HUSBAND WHO RECEIVED THIS IN AN E-MAIL, IT WILL SAVE YOU A LOT OF COUPLES COUNSELING BILLS LATER ON IF YOU INITIATE A DISCUSSION TONIGHT ABOUT THIS ARTICLE AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOUR WIFE.  PUT IT IN YOUR OUTLOOK CALENDAR RIGHT NOW FOR 9PM, UNDER CODE PHRASE "HAVE A GODDAMN DISCUSSION."

And until we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Urges You To Own Your Part In The Creation of The Larva on Your Couch.

For more, visit Dr. Rodman at Dr. Psych Mom, on Facebook, or on Twitter @DrPsychMom.