Do you have a passive-aggressive spouse? If you said yes to that, you ought to be in a desperate need of help in dealing with him or her, since the issue is rather baffling, to put it mildly. When someone has a slippery way of going about things, and if that someone is your significant other, things can be tough to handle. While on one hand, your other half gives the impression of being passive, on the other, he or she does things in stark contrast to this opinion.
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Communication is blurry
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Cathy Meyer, in her article, “Passive-Aggressive Behavior, a Form of Covert Abuse”, says,
“The passive aggressive will say one thing, do another, and then deny ever saying the first thing. They don’t communicate their needs and wishes in a clear manner, expecting their spouse to read their mind and meet their needs. After all, if their spouse truly loved them, he/she would just naturally know what they needed or wanted. The passive aggressive withholds information about how he/she feels; their ego is fragile and can’t take the slightest criticism. So why would they let you know what they are thinking or feeling?”
Does Cathy’s observation ring a bell? Managing a marriage with a passive-aggressive spouse can be very frustrating. But before we get into that, let’s find out what passive-aggressiveness is, in the first place.
What is passive-aggression?
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Passive-aggressiveness pertains to a behavior, where aggression is expressed in a passive manner, like through stubbornness or, sulkiness or, procrastination or, deliberate disorganization or, a combination of these.
The general indicators of a passive aggressive personality disorder consist of acting morose, dodging any kind of responsibility by faking forgetfulness, purposely being inefficient, blaming everyone, whining, feeling bitterness, procrastinating, repelling suggestions put forward by others, and having a fear of authority.
Here is a question that can bring things into perspective: Does your spouse display great zeal and enthusiasm when you convey your wishes to them, but when it comes to acting on the requested action,
- He/she is too late to be of any help
- He/she does it in a manner that’s of no use
- He/she disrupts the action to vent their anger, which they can’t convey in words
Does one, or all of these, sound familiar? Well then, it is confirmed that you are dealing with a spouse who is passive-aggressive.
Meyer further explains in her article,
“Passive aggressive behavior stems from an inability to express anger in a healthy way. A person’s feelings may be so repressed that they don’t even realize they are angry or feeling resentment. A passive aggressive can drive people around him/her crazy, and seem sincerely dismayed, when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their feelings, the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.
… If you confront the passive aggressive, he/she will most likely sulk, give you the silent treatment or completely walk away leaving you standing there to deal with the problem alone. There are two reasons for confronting the passive aggressive. One, if done correctly you may be able to help him/her gain insight into the negative consequences of their behaviors. Two, even if that doesn’t happen, it will at least give you the opportunity to talk to him/her in a frank way about how his/her behavior affects you. If nothing else, you can get a few things ‘off your chest.’”
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But before you talk your spouse about his/her passive-aggressiveness, here are a few more things you should know about people with this personality disorder.
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1. They will always say yes to your ideas
People who are passive-aggressive don’t put forward a violent posture when faced by an issue. They will say yes to everything you suggest, even if they are already certain of the fact that they aren’t going to do it. They will never speak up about their anxieties or worries, but if you pay attention, you will be able to sense their displeasure being revealed by their actions. There will be a lot of door banging, they’ll interrupt your work to get even, they’ll react to everything you say with very short and formal sentences, etc. So, the next time your spouse is all yes, yes, yes, try to observe their actions thereafter.
2. They are easily offended
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Peter Pearson, Ph.D, from the Couples Institute, says,
“Passive-aggressive people are typically hypersensitive to actual or perceived criticism. Especially, when they don’t follow through with promises. Here’s the kicker. They have great gobs of good reasons for not following through with crucial agreements.”
So, the next time your partner goes nuts over an otherwise constructive criticism, confront them about their thin-skinned-ness. But don’t try to patronize. Rather your motive should be to help them speak up about why they are so touchy to being analyzed. It will do them good in the future.
3. With them around, your world will be crazy
With a passive-aggressive partner your world will never feel normal. If you ever get angry on them, you are condemned. And the same is true, if you don’t voice your annoyance.
Dr Peter Pearson, who was once a passive-aggressive man himself, and had to battle a lot with this personality disorder, says,
“The passive aggressive person generally feels they are under assault and no matter what they do, they cannot please their partner. …The other partner believes they cannot depend on the passive aggressive mate to reliably follow through. Even if I am 80% reliable, as I would sometimes point out to [wife] Ellyn, she has no idea what the 80% will be or when it will be completed. This scr*ws up the logistical part of being an effective team which supports being an effective couple.”
Most of the people who are passive-aggressive, have 2 things in common:
- An extremely critical parent(s). This is what makes them super sensitive to being weighed on their performance, and
- As Dr Pearson puts it, “A lot of painful disappointments in life. This results in a reflexive coping mechanism that severely restricts their hopes and desires in life. Minimizing desires is a subconscious attempt to avoid getting hopes up and then dashed which triggers a warehouse of painful disappointments stored in the emotional brain.”
4. Beware of the triggers
Deborah Ward explains in her article, “Causes of Passive Aggression”,
“Certain situations will tend to activate passive-aggressive behavior. This includes circumstances in which the person’s performance will be judged, or he thinks it will, says therapist Jay Earley, Ph.D., such as in the workplace. Similarly, any situation where the passive-aggressor has to deal with authority figures, such as bosses, parents, teachers, community leaders and even spouses, will often trigger an indirectly angry approach.
…Passive-Aggressive personality disorder develops as a result of a combination of genetics and environment, says Earley. Essentially, this person feels that aggression is not allowed and to survive, he has to express his anger indirectly, and defeat others in the only way he feels he can.”
5. While dealing with a passive-aggressive partner you’ll have to be very careful
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Here are a few tips that you can follow,
- Try to understand the reason behind their suppressed anger and resentment, which is making them behave that way
- Make them aware of their habit of annoying others in their attempt to get back at those people
- Make them conscious of the need they feel to fail in order to annoy others
- Help them work their way to being happy with who they are
- Help them develop a sense of worth, which does not depend on what other people think
- Ask them to work at being able to express their dissent through clear words rather than obscure actions
Dealing with a passive-aggressive spouse is going to be difficult since you have to stay cool, clear, and connected throughout. Yes, it is tough, but not impossible. You need to master a few techniques before taking up the task of confronting them. First, try and understand passive-aggression as a personality disorder. If you don’t make an attempt to understand the pattern, in no way will you be able to remain calm and clear while dealing with it. If you are reactive, as opposed to responsive, you will just be struggling in vain.
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Put in effort to notice your partner’s actions. When, where and how do they get hooked. Is there anything you say or you do that makes them snap back in a hostile way? Do you provoke them repeatedly, without realizing?
Try and identify these patterns, and try to stay clear throughout. Once you’ve gotten a rich understanding of what is happening, only then should you talk to them about it. Also, make them open up more about their feelings and points of view, and respond to them.
So, is your partner passive-aggressive? What it is that they do to make you feel this way? Are there symptoms that we didn’t cover here? Sound off in the comment section below.
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