Live in Love: The Passive, The Aggressive, The Assertive
Homeostasis. I used this word today in my psychology class, and enjoyed watching the facial responses of my students. Although amusing, the meaning (maintaining equilibrium/balance) is very imperative to our lives. If we do not have homeostasis, we will be unhealthy, we will not thrive, and in some cases even survive. The great Dr. Seuss taught us this lesson as children by reminding us to “Step with care and great tact. And remember life is a great balancing act.” It becomes even harder to maintain homeostasis when applying it in a relationship. I have observed individuals going to the opposite extremes in order to create this balance in their relationship. This only leads to chaos! Picture it this way. You are driving down the road and you start to veer too far to the right, and almost end up in a ditch. Would you over compensate by turning the wheel to the extreme left, driving right into head on traffic?
One common disequilibrium I see in relationships, is the passive and the aggressive personalities. (For the purposes of this article, I will use he/him to describe the aggressor and she/her to refer to the passer. However, each gender has equal ability to take on either role.) Now there will be times in every relationship in which each party will take an aggressive role and push boundaries; at least at an unconscious level. The reaction to this initial aggressive behavior will influence the ultimate route of the relationship. Each time the person pushes the boundaries, then he is set up in a better offense position to push the boundaries and become more aggressive. This will make him try to have more control in the relationship and take his daily frustrations out on her. This can even lead to verbal or physical abusive relationships. The passive individual takes this position to try to create balance and maintain the peace in the relationship by enabling or allowing this kind of behavior from the aggressor. Instead of addressing the problem, she ignores it hoping it will go away. Unfortunately, the aggressor will only become more aggressive and will destruct his significant other.
Now I use the word destruct in a purposeful matter. It is the exact route these behaviors will result in. Each time this aggressive behavior is allowed, the aggressor loses respect for the passive individual. As the respect is lost, so is the love, deteriorating the relationship. Not only does this behavior destruct the relationship, but it also destructs the individuals involved. The passive individual will start to lose herself and lack self-esteem. This passive behavior can also cause anger outbursts, anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic symptoms (physical pain caused by stress). These dynamics also cause complications for the aggressor. The person uses the aggressive behavior to make him feel more in control. However, the chaos it causes will only cause the aggressor to feel even more out of control. It will also interfere with his true happiness. I have never found a mean person to be truly happy in life. I once dated a guy who was depressed with his life and he asked for my help to make him a happier person. He was very self-centered and on one occasion he purposely stood me up. Not only did I not give him another opportunity to do that to me, but I followed up with an assertive phone call. I told him his behavior was unacceptable and it is not okay to treat others in this manner. I advised him the reason of his depression was because he was not a nice person and mean people cannot be happy people. He did not have much of an immediate response, but I felt better about the situation and it only made me more confident. He later apologized and contacts me every once in a while. Each interaction we had after we dated was more respectful, than while we were dating.
This leads me into my next point on how a couple can maintain a healthy balance in their relationship and that is through both of them being assertive with each other. Being assertive means picking your battles and addressing your concerns in an appropriate and respectful manner. This may mean that the emotions have to settle before addressing the issue. I always encourage my clients and students to stand up for themselves in a relationship when something occurs that they do not like. One of two things could happen. The relationship may immediately come to a dead end. If this occurs I view this as being very positive. The individual saved herself time, energy, and hurt emotions . If she were to take the passive position, then she would have found herself in a toxic relationship that would be all the more harder to get out of. The second possibility, which happens more often, is the aggressor gains respect for her. It actually turns him on and he becomes more attracted to her. This puts boundaries on the individual and he also remains balanced within the relationship.
My theory was proven perfectly on the reality show Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas. There was a couple on the reality show who exemplified this argument; Melissa & Chris. There was no doubt Melissa wore the pants in the relationship and displayed verbal aggression towards Chris. Each time Melissa was verbally aggressive towards Chris, you could see his self-esteem fading away. The directors held both of them in accountable for the problems in the marriage; Melissa for the verbally abusive behavior and Chris for allowing this behavior. During one exercise, the spouses were switched. Melissa treated her acting husband, Marlon, in the same manner during this exercise. Marlon was assertive with her. She immediately backed down and appeared to be turned on by this. Both of their spouses exhibited jealousy towards how well Marlon and Melissa got along after this incident.
So how are you going to handle the issue of your significant other pushing boundaries? Are you going to go to the extremes of passive and aggressive, ending up in a ditch or oncoming traffic? Or are you going to identify when your relationship starts to hit the “Brrp Brrps,” and use assertive skills to slightly veer back on the road towards happiness, a healthy loving relationship, and homeostasis?
Geisel, Theodor Seuss “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” United States: Random House. (1990) Print.
Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas. WeTV. May 2013. Television.