I want to address the issue of passivity in recovery. Passivity is painful. Should I say, it is painful to watch. And it’s painful to the people who long for you to be proactive.
A lot of times I don’t think we even realize when we’re being passive; but our wives certainly do. They can see when we let off the gas even the slightest bit. And unfortunately, many husbands view this as another instance of their wife’s critical eye. Truth be told, it rarely is that. It is usually that a wife is diligently watching for something to hope for and trust in. So when she sees passivity, her hope evaporates.
So what drives passivity? Is it that we’re just lazy? Perhaps. Is it that we really don’t want recovery? Sometimes that is true. Some men just aren’t ready to change. But I think more often there are 2 primary factors that lead to our passivity. I want to explain them and also talk about what to do about them.
Passivity insulates us from feeling failure and futility.
When we disengage from the process, we can care less. Not that we care less about our wives or about hurting them, but we can care less about our own shortcomings. That’s weird to think about, and tough for wives to understand. But frankly, it’s true for most men in this struggle.
Practically speaking, passivity protects us from feeling the full weight of the damage we’ve done. And the process of recovery is really hard and fraught with failure. It can seem like 2 steps forward followed by an escalator ride in reverse! It is so disheartening! We don’t know how to handle that hurt. We’ve usually not developed the resiliency for living with integrity in the middle of disappointment. In fact, for many of us that’s why we were acting out in the first place. So to deal with all this difficulty, we unplug. We ignore the exercises the counselor gave us because they seem ineffective. We avoid calling guys in group because we don’t really want to think about how much (or little) progress we’ve made. Sometimes we don’t want to hear about someone else’s progress either. It’s easier to just go to work, hit the gym, watch the game, play something with the kids, Netflix binge or simply sleep.
Unfortunately, our passivity in the process mails a message to our wives saying, “you’re not worth fighting for. In fact, I’ll go ahead and add insult to injury. I’ve already betrayed you, now I’ll double down on the pain by not putting forth the effort to change and heal”. Truly, hurting our wives is an unintended consequence though. We aren’t trying to hurt them more, we are just trying to hurt less ourselves.
Passivity gives us a little semblance of control.
It can feel like an incredibly powerless process we’re in. On top of that we have the inequity with our wives, where it seems like they have the upper hand and final say on everything. It compounds our powerlessness. To be passive means we get a choice. We have a say in what we will or won’t do. Our level of proactivity vs. passivity gets governed by our own sense of agency. Meaning, when we feel like we have a say, like we are part of the decision making process for recovery, then we are far more likely to be proactive. But when we feel like we’re just being given a list of boxes to check or hoops to jump through, we often slide into passivity. Here again, its not because we don’t care or love our wives; it is because we can feel like we are slightly in the drivers seat. Frequently I see men in my office who are active agents at work, driving their own timelines and schedules, meeting deadlines, managing people, accomplishing meaningful things. Yet, at home, and in their marital recovery process, they look lazy or disinterested. I think it is partially to have some semblance of control.
So how do we maintain proactivity when we want to slip into passivity?
3 things that help me-
1 – Having support and accountability. Men that are chasing what God is calling them to personally and relationally will raise the bar for you as well. Today, I love knowing there are men in my life who refuse to settle for passivity. They want as much healing and redemption as possible in their relationships, so they don’t stop serving, leaning in, practicing intimacy, etc. That keeps me wanting to stay on the gas as well.
2 – Utilizing the fix-it part of our personality. A lot of us are fixers or problem solvers. Problems give us an opportunity to engage our analytical brains. While we can’t just jettison our empathy, we can utilize the fix-it mentality to stay proactive. Get creative thinking about how to build trust. Practice some new ways of communicating what you really feel about your wife and family. Analyze what works and what doesn’t in the logistics of your life and put some new rhythms in place. Tweak, change, test, iterate.
3 – Finally, remember that proactivity is spiritual. It was a character trait of Jesus. He was on the move and on a mission constantly. Yes, he had moments of quiet and rest, moments where he just kicked back and regrouped. But even then he wasn’t simply “vegging out” as we would say. He was either recharging for the next round or doing intentional community. To avoid passivity and remain proactive is actually engaging our own sanctification process.
If you’ve gotten passive, today is a great day to kick it back into gear. Grab a new book, call a buddy, watch some videos about recovery, create a new dialogue with your wife, start a new devotional (shameless plug – you can grab my devotional, Summit Devo, here), do something to re-engage. You (and those counting on you) will be glad you did.
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