Oy Vey

The Hell Of Being Married To A Yes-Man

You might think a passive, go-along-to-get-along spouse would be swell. Not quite.

A yes-man enjoying his day on a rope swing bed

None of us enjoy a fight with our husband. It’s neither fun nor a turn-on, and it can squander those sacred, precious hours of freedom after the kids go to bed. But imagine never arguing with him—because he refuses to do so, preferring instead to roll over, give in, and generally let you have your way. If this sounds familiar, you may be married to a Yes-Man, also known as a People-Pleaser, Pushover, or Mr. Whatever-You-Want-Is-Fine.

A life without argument may sound pleasant — and it’s certainly handy that when a habitually timid guy does stand up for something, you know he’s serious — but it has its downsides. If your partner is peeved and doesn’t tell you, his unspoken complaints have the potential to turn from mild irritations to toxic resentments. Worse, his inability to be real with you when realness is unpleasant means you can’t fully trust him: How can you be sure he’s telling the truth? (One study found that people who were excessively polite were more likely to betray their peers. Yikes.) That’s a big deal: When you ask if he’s cool with watching this movie, you want to know, but when you ask if he’s happy in this marriage, you need to know. Not to mention that the lopsided nature of things can make you feel like a nitpicking shrew, perpetually attacking the outwardly gentle being who seems only to want to make you happy.

Also, if your guy is a pushover at home, he likely is elsewhere, too. Which can mean that when it’s time to stand up to those doing the pushing — like, say, friends who take advantage (whose drama affects you, too) or in-laws whose nonsense shouldn’t be yours to manage (but ultimately is) — your husband can’t be counted on. When kids are in the mix, that can be a real problem. Say you’re both atheists, but your husband’s overbearing Presbyterian parents insist that you baptize your newborn. Can he set appropriate boundaries and tell them they don’t get a say, or is he too busy having a panic attack in the corner? You don’t feel it’s your place to set his family straight — but if he’s not going to, what then?

Or maybe you’ve seen this dynamic play out when your husband constantly appeases his boss (sure, he’ll work all weekend… leaving you to do 48 hours of solo childcare), or his friends (sure, he’ll go to Nashville for a bachelor party so no one gets mad at him… except you), or family (sure, you’ll spend your vacation cruising Alaska with his entire clan, though you’d rather pluck your eyeballs out with a fork). When your husband can’t carry his half of the inevitable bullshit that crops up between loved ones, and you’re the one who suffers, you have to wonder where his loyalties lie. You soon see that if he can’t stick up for himself, he’s not going to stick up for you, either — or for your kid, when that inevitable moment arrives, too.

If you’re tired of living with a walking doormat, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for ways to encourage a more equal partnership.

Show Him It’s Okay to Disagree

This may be the last thing you want to hear, but… are you sometimes a bit nitpicky or shrewish? It’s true that some yes-people are born (or made that way long before they meet you), but it’s also true that a tense environment in which someone feels criticized isn’t conducive to open communication. Look inward and ask yourself: Do I make it safe for him to differ with me? If you can’t definitively say yes, then you both have some work to do.

Don’t Ask Leading Questions

When you tee up your husband to tell you what you want to hear, you enable him to default to a non-risky response. But if you don’t telegraph your hoped-for answer, he may find it easier to go with the one that happens to be true. So, instead of saying, “That movie was so stupid, right?” you could try, “What did you think of the movie?” That’s a low-stakes example, but even small questions like this can help your husband practice having opinions, laying the groundwork for him to be more vocal about big-picture stuff.

Be Explicit About Your Needsa turn

A submissive spouse may think he’s altruistically giving you everything you want by never differing with you, but this behavior is more selfish than you or he might realize — he’s privileging his own emotional comfort over your need for honesty and closeness. As Christine Carter, Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at U.C. Berkeley wrote of people-pleasers, “pretending will rob you of joy.” That’s just as true for the person on the receiving end.

Model Boundaries

Show your husband how a non-pushover moves through the world and the benefits that self-advocacy can reap. If, say, a friend hurts your feelings or a colleague undermines you, clue your husband in as you navigate the situation. Tell him how you plan to handle it — “I’m going to have a talk with her about why that was hurtful,” or “I’m going to take my coworker to coffee and explain that I didn’t appreciate that.” Go-along-to-get-along folks are terrified of confrontation resulting in a huge blow-up. But once they have exposure to gentle, healthy disputes that proceed without catastrophe, they see that disagreements are not the terrifying events they’ve made them out to be.

Gently Suggest That He Deal with the Underlying Issue

Pushovers are the way they are for a reason. Maybe your husband was raised in a household where no one showed emotion, so even a slightly raised voice reads to him like rage. Maybe he’s so afraid of confrontation that he swallows his own needs just to avoid it. Maybe he tends toward perfectionism, and the thought of things being less than impeccable upsets him. Maybe he has an underdeveloped sense of self and leans hard on relationships as a source of self-worth, keeping an artificial peace to ensure those connections never fray. (In fact, people-pleasing is associated with sociotropy, or the prioritizing of relationships over one’s own desires.) The point is, while a people-pleaser can learn to change his behavior, the issue that causes that behavior is worth addressing. That can happen in therapy, of course, or through better management of stress and emotions. In fact, one study showed that compulsive agreement often stems from too much mental stress —suggesting that if he can quiet that brain-chatter, your husband might just be able to set aside the need to placate.