Passive aggressive, just like many other psychiatric terms, has become a label used in everyday speech. Unfortunately, that means it often gets stamped onto behavior that isn’t at all passive aggressive, and it loses its meaning.
But passive aggressive behavior is a real issue that can lead to serious problems – frustration, anger, and conflict – in a marriage. It’s a pattern of covert manipulation and passive obstruction, in which the passive aggressive spouse manages to make their partner look unreasonable and emotionally volatile, while they appear completely calm.
Has this happened to you? Does your spouse have a way of blaming you for the anger they are provoking?
How can you tell if you’re dealing with a passive aggressive person? And what can you do to cope?
Recognizing Passive Aggressive Behavior
A passive aggressive person often is codependent – suffering from low self-esteem, unable to express their own anger. They fear being controlled by others and having their weaknesses exposed, and will therefore sabotage whatever your wants, needs, or plans are. That way, they get you upset enough to act out their unconscious anger.
Passive aggressive behavior includes pervasive patterns of:
Ambiguity – They don’t say what they want, neither do they mean what they say. In whatever way possible, they will try to avoid being pinned down or taking a stand.
Chronic Lateness – You’re waiting for them to be ready, but they always seem to be caught up in other things. At times, they’re dismissed from their job because they’re frequently late turning in assignments.
Denial/Playing the Victim – They are masters at blaming others, refusing to take any responsibility for their own behavior – distorting the truth, minimizing their part, rationalizing, or flat out lying about it.
Forgetfulness – Rather than saying “no” when you asked them to do something, they conveniently forget what it was they were supposed to do.
Incompetence – If and when they finally do what they’ve been asked to do, they often intentionally perform the task inefficiently, make careless errors, or cause a huge mess.
Losing Things – They always lose things, but rather than admit their problem, they blame others for the loss, getting them to solve the issue for them.
Negativity – Sulking, pouting, and stubbornness might be part of their tactics. Often, they also have an argumentative, critical, and envious personality.
Obstructing – When you try to make plans for something, they find fault with everything you suggest, but are not willing to make any suggestions themselves.
Procrastinating – They delay doing things with endless excuses and feigned misunderstandings, dragging their feet to handle responsibilities, keeping promises or sticking to agreements.
Rejection/Withdrawal – They’ll withdraw from you and give you the silent treatment, refusing to talk things out, or they shut down conversations with “fine” and “whatever.” At times, they even withhold affection, sex, or material and financial support.
Coping With Passive Aggressive Behavior
Above all, don’t become a participant in your partner’s unproductive cycle of conflict!
Don’t nag or scold, nor pay them back in-kind: Address noncompliance directly and assertively. Describe the behavior you dislike, explain how it affects your relationship, then let them come up with a solution for the issue.
Don’t handle their responsibilities for them: It will ll only enable more passive aggressive behavior. Instead, state clearly what you need, but then let them decide when and how they will do it. This negates their ability to control you through their inaction.
Don’t let them maneuver you into extreme emotions and actions in response: Own your feelings – guilt, anger, frustration – control them, and then let them.
Don’t accept blame for their bad tendencies: Simply express that you hope they’ll get it figured out, and go about your day!
Lori Hunter, LMFT specializes in working with families, co-parenting and those high conflict couples struggling with relationships. She helps couples build intimacy, teaching effective emotional processing techniques that directly improve thoughts and behaviors.