Passive Men, Wild Women

That phrase, Passive Men, Wild Women, isn't original. It comes from psychiatrist Pierre Mornell, MD, whose book bears that title. It's a good book, written in 1979, but you'd think the ink was still wet. The issue that concerns Dr. Mornell is as prevalent as it is relevant. And it is found in Christian marriages just as often as in non-Christian ones. Dare I say more often?

In a few words, it's the problem of a passive, preoccupied man who is married to an active, with-it woman. He's not necessarily incompetent and dull. He may be extremely successful in his work. And she's not necessarily rebellious and overactive. She may be attractive, a good mother, and well-respected by her peers. The husband says, in a dozen different ways, "I'm tired . . . just leave me alone." Frustrated, the wife thinks, "I need more from you . . . give me something I'm not getting." She makes requests; he ignores them. She gets louder; he retreats further. She adds pressure; he lapses into sullen silence. He ultimately withdraws; she goes "wild." The scenario is repeated in various themes and with different words in every corner of the globe. I doubt that there are many neighborhoods where such marital skirmishes are missing.

Dr. Mornell was convinced the problem was growing. Thinking back over those who had been on his couch, he wrote:

Over the last few years I have seen in my office an increasing number of couples who share a common denominator. The man is active, articulate, energetic and usually successful in his work. But he is inactive, inarticulate, lethargic and withdrawn at home. In his relationship to his wife he is passive. And his passivity drives her crazy. . . .

Of the wives I've seen in therapy none are actually crazed or disarranged, but a great many are certainly angry, vexed, and confused. They're also highly intelligent, talented women of all ages who have become super unhappy in their marriages. No doubt that's why I see them in my office.

The husbands are also highly intelligent, extremely likable, and, at least on an economic level, making it. They work hard in their business and professional lives. They're excellent providers. (They almost have to be good providers to maintain our astronomical standard of living.) But, as I said, active as they may be at work—they seem incredibly passive at home. They are increasingly impotent, literally and figuratively, with their wives. And they silently retreat behind newspapers, magazines, television, and highballs in the home. Or they perhaps not-so-silently retreat into affairs, weeknight appointments, and weekend arrangements outside the house.¹

Dr. Mornell's observation continues to be true today. What, exactly, is the cause of this husband-wife collision course? Better yet, what are the causes of this collision? There are numerous reasons that lie behind such a stand-off. And they can be terribly complex, requiring a professional to unravel the tangles. It would be impossible to attempt an exhaustive list, but a couple of extremely important facts deserve to be mentioned . . . and in neither one do I desire to take somebody's "side." I value my life more than that.

First, men and women are different—not at all alike. These differences don't decrease and disappear once people get married. They gain momentum! We have the extreme fringes of the feminist movement to thank for trying their hardest to lump us all into one big glob of humanity. Ridiculous! Males are different and distinct from females, right down to the cells in their bodies and the unique wiring of the emotional centers of their brains. The husband who forgets this is asking for trouble and deserves most of what his wife dishes out . . . and the wife who ignores this will only add to her frustration. It helps immensely to put oneself in the partner's shoes (an extremely tough thing to do) and to realize and then honor and respect the other realms of needs, the contrasting viewpoints, the distinctives inherent in the opposite sex. There's a place you wind up if you fail to do that—on the sofa. And those who prefer carnal escapes to responsible changes, well, they often wind up in someone else's arms, which solves nothing and only complicates the problems.

Second, harmonious partnerships are the results of hard work; they never "just happen." I don't know of anything that helps more than deep, honest, regular communication. Read those last four words again, please. Not just talking but also hearing. And not just hearing but also listening. Not just listening but also responding calmly and kindly. In private. With mutual respect. For extended periods of time. The "hard work" also includes giving just as much as taking, modeling whatever you're expecting, forgiving as quickly as confronting, putting into the marriage more than you ever expect out of it. Yes, more. In one word that I seldom hear (especially from husbands), it means being unselfish.

Few things are better for breaking the passive-wild syndrome than taking off for a couple of days together. Without the kids. Without the briefcase. Without the TV. Without the laptop. Without plans to stay near anyone you know. Without an agenda, other than making time to talk and think, so you can stay on course for another couple or three months . . . maybe less! If you're a passive-wild couple—or borderline—better do a getaway. And when you retreat, remember . . .

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31–32)

Those words aren't original either. But they sure will help keep you off a marriage counselor's couch or, for that matter, your own sofa.

  1. Pierre Mornell, Passive Men, Wild Women (New York: Ballantine Books, 1979, 1980, 1981), 1–2.

Copyright © 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc

About the Author // Charles R. Swindoll

Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs around the world. Chuck’s leadership as president and now chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry.

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