As a guy, passivity takes many forms and will plague your life in every area. But it is especially a killer to your marriage. The dictionary definition states it plainly:
“accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance.”
As it concerns the relationship with your wife, being passive means to choose not to engage when you could engage. It is a lack of paying attention to your wife. You have no clue how to dial in to her pain. You have no plan for her growth or nurturing. You allow your marriage to play out with no strategy or goals. Things just…exist. Like a lazy river, the shores define your path and there is no paddling required.
I can sniff out passivity in a guy within five minutes. Why? Because it used to define my own marriage. As my own daughters have entered womanhood, I have spoken with them many times about red flags in a future husband. Being passive is right at the top of my list. My girls know this one well. In fact, we were having a conversation as a family about my writing a book on the topic of marriage. My youngest chimed in with her idea for a title. “Hey Dad,” she says, “you should name your book Conquering Passivity: A Marriage Handbook for Jack Wagons.”
Sorry…you cannot hide your passivity
When I was in the early years of my marriage, I did not like conflict and I brought that attitude into my marriage. Passivity was a defining characteristic of how I lacked in loving and leading my wife. My wife, who is a strong personality and “get-r-dun” type of woman, sensed this within me. She did not like it nor desire it. But it produced a response within her. She saw the passivity.
Recently, I asked her what it looked like from her vantage point. To her, it was my seeing her struggle and choosing not to step in. It did not matter the reason. I saw something going on and did not engage her at the heart level. Looking back, I believe it was a combination of two factors. First, I was somewhat fearful of what would result once I chose to dive into this situation. It was messy and complex. Second, I did not really know how to change things from their current state. It was easier to do nothing.
As a result, she became more independent in our marriage, and since I was not leading like Jesus, she took the lead within our home in areas that I should have been pursuing. In her words, she grew independent both mentally and emotionally. When we both said “I do” on our wedding day, two were to become one. But my passivity tempted here away from this one flesh relationship and drew her to be independent once again. She admits it was a poor response on her part, but it was a defense mechanism. Roles began to reverse and things got out of sync. I loved my family. I was present in a physical sense. But I was not viewing my wife through the eyes of how Jesus views His bride. He engages us as His bride to make us holy and pure. He has an agenda for us: to look like Him. His affections are intentional and His love is steadfast. He sees our messiness and willingly steps into it with us.
Adam vs Jesus
The Bible presents the best of contrasts when it comes to this topic of passivity. Adam versus Jesus.
When Adam was created and placed in the garden of Eden, God was very specific about Adam’s role and the prohibition placed upon him: do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And if you read Genesis 2, God and Adam had this conversation before Eve was created. He was to love and protect Eve by teaching her God’s ways. From the very beginning, Adam was designed by God to protect his woman and be more concerned about her welfare than his own. It is interesting to note in Genesis 3 that when Satan the serpent craftily approached Eve, Adam was right there. When pleasure was calling out, the voice of God became white noise. When the serpent beguiled Eve, Adam’s passivity left his bride in grave danger and he did nothing about it.
Adam did not protect the truth given by His creator and he did not protect his wife when she was being talked into questioning God’s goodness. He saw his wife working to poor conclusions about God and just stood by. And then he made the choice to also question God’s motives and he ate the fruit.
Not just alive but life-giving
But Jesus…BUT JESUS came as the second Adam, not just as a living being but rather as a life-giving spirit (I Corinthians 15:45). He came to fully and finally undo the carnage left behind by the passive Adam. He obeyed the will of His Father and went as a lamb to the slaughter. And to what extent did He protect His bride? He died when I should have been cursed. He was crushed by His Father when it should have been me.
Jesus initiated. He countered the temptation to be passive by initiating with His bride because of His great love for her. When He saw his bride dying in her sin, He initiated and went to her. Jesus knew it was going to be more than just uncomfortable to jump into our broken mess; He was going to be murdered. He saw His creation in rebellion and without hope and willingly engaged us at the heart level. Being passive is not just a personality type; it is a rebel-hearted sin that originated from our father Adam when he chose not to protect his beloved. It is an active and willful choice to not love our wives as Jesus loves His church. We need help.
We need Jesus.