Up the Down Escalator

I’m noticing a growing trend of wives “throwing in the towel”, leaving passive husbands.

Initially, I was shocked by what I thought I was seeing:  women, married* to nice, easy-going guys, were bailing on their marriages.  Believers and non-believers alike.  At first, it didn’t make sense.

But then it did.

Every aspect of the family has been under a relentless attack for so long.  The sexual revolution of the 60’s, the rise and maturity of radical feminism, and the bullying deviant agenda of LGBT activists have all chipped away at God’s design for the family.  Strong, healthy and highly-differentiated masculinity, present and active in the home, is just one of the wreckages of these attacks.

So, it’s no wonder there is confusion today on what it means to be a man.

So, what do I mean by a “passive” husband? First, what I don’t mean is just a likeable guy with a nice, easy-going temperament. We need more of those.

By passive I am talking about learned defensive behaviour — a husband who has learned to embrace passivity as his default relational lifestyle, at the expense of providing leadership to his wife and family. He is low on initiative, but high on keeping the peace, minimising risk, and playing it safe. These three fear-motivated priorities wrongly displace a healthier long term goal of doing whatever it takes to deepen his relationship with the woman to whom God gifted him, and who yearns to be his soul mate.

That makes so much more sense to me — that a wife might grow increasingly frustrated and embittered living with a husband whose marital repertoire includes these sorts of behaviours.

… for these women, intimacy is like a beautiful dress in a magazine: something they hope for and dream about but wonder if they’ll ever have. Their husbands are married, but not engaged.”

Paul & Sandy Coughlin

The Escalator

I think it was at a Family Life “Weekend to Remember” marriage event that I heard a speaker say that a passive husband (hoping for marital success) is like a man trying to climb up a down escalator by exerting a minimum of effort.

It obviously can’t be done unless he kicks it up to another gear. If he just maintains his pace or stops to stand, he ends up at the bottom, keeping himself and his wife from love and life.

Patrick Means in “Men’s Secret Wars” talks about boys who have been under-fathered and over-mothered, growing up into men with wounded masculinity as well as an unhealthy dependency on a woman’s approval, and a retreating over-sensitivity to a woman’s anger.

I’d really appreciate hearing from women readers on this male passivity issue.  I want to better understand this phenomenon from a wife’s point-of-view.  I’d like to hear about your experience, either in the comments below, or by communicating privately through my contact page.

If you think your marriage might be struggling with this increasingly prevalent issue of masculine passivity, here is a gender-specific, non-scientific quiz designed to help identify if this is an issue with you.  Even if you are separated or divorced, respond by putting yourself back into the context of your former marriage.  (this is not a form that transmits your info.). Please be brutally honest.

For Husbands …

[ ] I have no problem agreeing with my wife, if it helps to smooth things out at home.

[ ] I’m not the kind of guy who creates romantic moments with my wife.

[ ] I tend to avoid marital issues that could trigger conflict.

[ ] I have trouble doing the right thing if any risks or negative consequences could be involved.

[ ] My wife says she wants more of me emotionally, but I’m not sure how to deliver on that.

[ ] I’m concerned more about safety, than I am about living life to the fullest.

[ ] For me “intimacy” is a synonym for having sex.

[ ] I feel powerless in my own home.

For Wives …

[ ] My husband doesn’t take passionate stands on issues I know are important to both of us.

[ ] If I have a preference or desire, my husband quickly complies.

[ ] I feel lonely in my marriage, even when my husband is physically present.

[ ] My husband has a hard time saying “no” to others who ask him to volunteer or do something.

[ ] I take most of the initiative in our home for travel, dates, worship decisions and our social life.

[ ] My husband is emotionally unavailable when I need him most.

[ ] I feel the burden of leadership in our family.  That’s not a role I want to assume.

[ ] My husband seems to be living only “half a life”.


1-2 — You have some things to work on in your marriage.  It might just mean bringing them to the surface.  Talk to your spouse and come up with a game plan.

3-4 — Passivity is a challenge in your marriage.  Find a competent marital therapist to begin working through the identified issues. Both of you need to recognise the value in this and commit to it.

5+ — Your marriage is in crisis, or about to be. Hopefully both of you have not yet emotionally checked out.  Your marriage is precious. I’d recommend both a competent marital therapist for the two of you, and a male individual counselor to come alongside (husband) to work through the underlying issues that are contributing to his passivity.

Parting Thoughts …

  • God created marriage to be holy ground.  Al Janssen writes in “The Marriage Masterpiece”, “Our marriage is a covenant relationship that God wants to use for His glory to give the world a glimpse of what He is like.” While I wish I’d written that, this is the perspective I want to maintain in my own marriage.
  • Husbands are commanded in scripture to actively and sacrificially love their wives — no matter what.  For a husband to figure out what that looks like (ie. what his wife needs), he will need to ask her what pleases and nourishes her, and what makes her feel loved and secure.  Then he needs to get busy.
  • Scripture ordains men as servant-leader heads of their wives and households, and ultimately holds husbands responsible for the success or failure of their homes.  That’s a day-to-day, brick-by-brick active responsibility that can’t be delegated, sidestepped or ignored.
  • Underneath a husband’s passivity is fear, and that fear is often the result of imperfect parenting, bad relational modelling, hurt, abuse, rejection, or a host of other negative developmental experiences.  There is hope and healing for all of this.  This could be the first day of a healthier, God-honouring, off-the-charts amazing marriage.

That’s what I want yours to be like.

Blessings on your home,

Please follow, comment, like or share below.

* legitimately married, not co-habitating.

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4 thoughts on “Up the Down Escalator”

  1. Solid gold. One of the best you have ever written. You absolutely did not ned my help on this topic.

    I have already forwarded to several of my guys and will share it with my groups when they start back up in the Fall. __________________ 7100 Valley Lake Dr. Raleigh, NC 27612

    Inspiring others to passionately pursue REAL LIFE in Christ


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post Robert! By the way, I scored 0 on the test 😉

    For those of you who received blind copies, please subscribe! It’s free and always worth the time to read!!

    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

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