The Passive-Aggressive Spouse

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Are you dealing with a Passive Aggressive spouse? If you are, you’re probably pretty desperate to find help in dealing with this issue, because it’s one that is certainly perplexing, to say the very least!

It’s difficult to deal with someone who seems to have such a slippery way of doing things. He or she can appear to be passive, but then does things that contradict that stance.

Communication not clear

“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?” (Cathy Meyer, from article “Passive Aggressive Behavior, a Form of Covert Abuse“)

Does this sound familiar? Most likely, if you’ve dealt with someone who is passive aggressive… and it’s frustrating. How is passive aggressive defined?

Passive-aggressive:

Pertaining to behavior in which feelings of aggression are expressed in passive ways as, for example, by stubbornness, sullenness, procrastination, or intentional inefficiency” (from Medicine.net)

Medline Plus gives this insight:

“Some common symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder include:

  • Acting sullen
  • Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
  • Being inefficient on purpose
  • Blaming others
  • Complaining
  • Feeling resentment
  • Having a fear of authority
  • Has unexpressed anger or hostility
  • Procrastinating
  • Resisting other people’s suggestions.

“A person with this disorder may appear to comply with another’s wishes and may even demonstrate enthusiasm for those wishes. However, they:

  • Perform the requested action too late to be helpful
  • Perform it in a way that is useless
  • Sabotage the action to show anger that they cannot express in words.”

Cathy Meyer gives even further insight:

“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.'” (from article “Passive Aggressive Behavior, a Form of Covert Abuse“).

Glean Through Info

In the above mentioned article, Cathy Meyer then goes on to give “some ways you might approach your passive aggressive.” You may find it helpful to read the entire article, including ways to approach your spouse, but I want to give you a “heads up” because for some reason, the About.com web site, for some reason, put it in the “Divorce Support” section —which is not something we’re trying to encourage —supporting divorcing your passive-agreesive, but rather dealing with it in the best way possible with the Lord’s help. Still, the article is a good one, so we encourage you to read:

• PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR, a Form of Covert Abuse

Here are a few other things you might find helpful to read, concerning this type of behavior (and click onto the links after the quotes to learn more):

“Passive-Aggressive people don’t usually like the aggressive posture over any issue; they’ll rather say ‘Yes’ when they already know what they are going to do. The yes is to get their aggressive spouse out of their face. Rather than speak up their concern on an issue they keep quite but their displeasure is displayed in their behavior, he/she might walk around the house banging the door after them, react to their spouse with short sentences, or act to sabotage their spouse to get even or get back at them. You never really know what’s on their mind, when they say yes, as a spouse you watch if that yes is really yes or yes —get out of my face or yes —I already know what I want to do.” (from the Christiancouples.org” article, “Home Improvement Series XXXVIII – Wired Uniquely?“)

They are Hypersensitive to Criticism

From the Couples Institute, Peter Pearson, Ph.D writes:

“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.” (Does Your Partner Drive You Nuts? …The Passive Aggressive Personality)

It’s a Crazy World

As a spouse, you are “doomed” if you get angry. The same is true if you say nothing. “Welcome to the crazy world of the passive aggressive partner” says Dr Peter Pearson, who claims to battle with this disorder himself. He writes:

“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 screws up the logistical part of being an effective team which supports being an effective couple.” “So what causes this aggravating problem that painfully affects both partners in different ways? Most passive aggressive folks have two things in common:

1. A highly critical parent or parents. This can cause a high sensitivity to being judged on performance.

2. “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.” (Does Your Partner Drive You Nuts? …The Passive Aggressive Personality, by Peter Pearson, Ph.D)

Certain Triggers can Activate

Deborah Ward offers this insight as well:

“Certain situations will tend to activate passive-aggressive behaviour. 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.” (from the article, “Causes of Passive Aggression”)

How Do You Deal With It?

There are other reasons, you can be sure. But whatever the reason, or excuse, how can you deal with it: If you are a passive-aggressive spouse, therapist Jay Earley, Ph.D., offers these further suggestions for creating a healthier attitude:

  • “Become aware of the underlying anger and resentment that is causing your behaviour.
  • Be aware of your desire to defeat others, get back at them or annoy them.
  • Become aware of your need to fail in order to get back at others.
  • Work on allowing yourself to be just who you are, or feeling that you are okay as you are, that your sense of worth doesn’t depend on other people’s opinions
  • Work on expressing your anger and standing up for yourself.” (from the article, “Healing and Dealing with Passive-Aggression“)

Dealing with the Passive Aggressive Spouse

If you’re dealing with a husband who inflicts this behavior upon you and your marriage:

“How are you going to stay clear, calm and connected with a passive-aggressive man? It will not be easy, but it can be done. You must master a few strategies. “First, understand passive-aggression. You cannot remain clear and calm if you don’t understand what is happening. If you remain reactive, you’ll be dancing from one encounter to another. Notice what is happening. When and where do you get hooked? What does he say that provokes you into snapping back aggressively? Notice these patterns and determine to remain clear about what is happening. “Second, determine to be active, not reactive…”

And the list and explanations go on. To learn more on this behavior and some strategies” to help you live with your passive-aggressive spouse, please click onto the Crosswalk.com article, written by Dr. David B Hawkins, to read:

• LIVING WITH A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE MAN

And then concerning passive-aggressive wives, Paul Coughlin writes about:

CHRISTIAN “NICE” WIVES

“How do women love passive-aggressive husbands?”

Question Addressed:

1.   “First, understand passive-aggression. You cannot remain clear and calm if you don’t understand what is happening. If you remain reactive, you’ll be dancing from one encounter to another. Notice what is happening. What does he say that provokes you into snapping back aggressively? Notice these patterns and determine to remain clear about what is happening.”

And then the list goes on to make 11 additional points to help wives who are living with a passive aggressive husband. Many of these points can also be applied to husbands living with a passive aggressive wife.

For more, please click onto the following link to read:

HOW TO LOVE A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE HUSBAND

From the Meier Clinics:

PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIORS: Symptoms, Cures and Causes

I realize this article is not exhaustive in the information it gives, but hopefully, it gives you some insights. If you are dealing with a passive aggressive spouse, keep asking the Holy Spirit to guide you to healthy information that will work for you in dealing with this marital issue. And then keep on the look-out, for what He brings your way.

May the Lord help you, as you put your hand into His for guidance.

Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.

If you have additional tips to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.

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Comments

252 responses to “The Passive-Aggressive Spouse

  1. I need advice. My husband has two grandchildren who are visiting from Seattle while their parents are on vacation. The younger is 9 and I have no problem with him. The older one is 10 and will do things purposely after I have asked him not to. If I say anything at all to this child, my husband berates me in front of him and the child continues the bad behavior. Then my husband lets me know what a horrible person I am. I have prayed about this because I don’t know what to do.

    1. There is nothing worse than being undermined in front of a child. I understand where you are coming from. I know this is probably too late, but for future- do you have a good relationship with the child’s parents? Can you have a conversation regarding the child and his behavior with one of them and have the parental relationship with one of them instead of your husband?

      My experience is that if two are responding on both ends, the child usually gets the picture. If a conversation is not possible with them I would see if you couldn’t do more one on one with the 10 year old. Correct him in private, or go to the park with the 9 and 10 year old with another friend that will have your back. Start building a positive relationship with the child away from berating words- although I would discuss that aspect with your husband in private, as well.

      Encourage the child when you have one on one or separate activities and support from others that will encourage proper behavior and respect.

    2. If your husband responds so poorly to situations where an adult needs to be seen in the dominate roll in a relationship with a child I feel you need to discuss your husband’s behavior displayed towards you. If he responds negatively towards the discussion it tells you he is not committed to your relationship. He is only concerned with his own self gratifying behavior. At this point I would stop trying to discipline the child and try to find something constructive to do with your time while the children visit.

  2. I have a passive aggressive, youth minister husband & to say the least, it is very emotionally draining and has our 10 year marriage in turmoil at the present time. I became aware of the “games” and got tired of feeling guilty for things I didn’t do and him not communicating anything to me; ever. In our 12 year relationship, I’ve seen him cry 3 times and not when our babies were born or when someone died even. I am always the one doing the talking , and have been in the car with the man for 6 hours and he did not respond once to me or acknowledge I was there but the author is right – they become very defensive and don’t know how to handle their emotions. He has a wonderful heart and is like a big kid really. But there is never any compliments to me or encouragement on a job well done or affection whatsoever and sometimes not even during sex.

    So passive aggressive men can have all sorts of emotional and attachment issues. And they keep big secrets and can keep big ones for long extended periods of time! This is detrimental to me because I don’t like to go to bed with anyone upset with me. This is after I’ve told him a thousand times , it does not matter what you do to me, I will forgive you regardless but there are too many secrets and as a woman, you have to TALK and communicate with me somehow. And a lot of the onee he is mad about something that never took place or he would never say.

    I’m in a very lonely place and would appreciate your prayers greatly! It’s hard to be in ministry, love Jesus and be fired up about worship and church fellowship when your marriage is not good and there’s nothing you can do to fix it except PRAY but also, he is praying fervently for me because I am ALWAYS the one at fault. He seldom says “I’m sorry” and has not said that in probably over a year. It’s especially hard since I have suffered from many health issues in the last 5 years and he is very overly critical with no offer of help or assurance everything will be ok. And … I just lost my teaching job because of an auto accident last year to where I had a severe concussion so my brain simply cannot handle the chaos so I had to completely give it to God / I’ve been so stressed out when I know he hates divorce but it is soooo very painful. I am finding my peace and my happiness in Him and as I study his Word this part comes alive I would say “hang in there” if you are married to someone like this and just love them not based on what they “do” but for what Jesus did for you! That had helped me a lot!

    And also I cannot express more to “GO TO COUNSELING! – a good solid Bible believing one! He makes up excuses with this too because it is horrifying for him to even think about talking to a stranger about his problems. I’m not sure if he will go but I am going for sure to work on me. If I’m only 5% of the problem, then I need to work on that 5% and he has to be right with he Lord and will have to take accountability from God, not me. Not trying to bash him but just showing you how complex it can become. He also doesn’t pray with our family and I mean not a dinner prayer/just a prayer for us to get through hard times, nor does he lead in any way with us at home. It’s very discouraging and all these years he manipulated me into thinking it’s all my fault, I know he’s a Christian but not much fruit is showing towards me and he’s bitter and angry and I understand that but I got over tons of things just so our kids could have parents and not be insecure with us fussing and fighting / we also didn’t have one fight – not one – the whole dating time period, about a year and a half and think our first big one was two years from that and let me tell you, you may as well throw in the towel first because they turn and twist it so much, it’s not worth it!

    He loves his job but it’s starting to catch up with him as passive aggressive men are usually very “fake” for lack of a better term but he puts on a face of this awesome Christian man /minister and gets caught up in the busyness but he feels when he is at church / then that counts. I recently stopped going to church because I didn’t feel comfortable doing that anymore. So this has affected us, our children, our finances and I feel my marriage and family is in shambles. Not to mention, we were very smitten with each other many moons ago and ever since then, we have let Satan attack our marriage and he throws his fiery darts and whispers in our ears everything so evil about our spouses. But he won’t “talk” anything out and we are complete opposites – he now disagrees with everything I say. I feel very controlled and unhappy. This was a man that I met and couldn’t sleep for a week I was so in love. So be proactive, Satan wants to steal, kill and destroy your family and especially your marriage! I just wish he had the emotional capacity to communicate with me or show empathy. There is none. :(

    I know God can heal anything but when one partner literally does nothing to help the situation. What should you do then? Thanks for the article. I’m comforted that other believers go through this same thing – just remember it’s considered a personality disorder and what I find very easy, he finds extremely difficult to communicate feelings. Feeling vulnerable. It’s so sad and very hard but God is all I am looking to now for comfort and assurance. Thank you for your prayers -praying for you all !

    1. I have learned that there is a part of the brain, Amygdala which ordered panic in primitive times or fight, flight or freeze.

      If this reaction to confrontation formed in childhood, it’s not fixable. I cannot imagine how your husband ever chose that profession but they clearly have devastating lack of communication or conflict resolution skills. Also, I am not sure these personality disorders are very detectable before marriage. It truly ruins lives during marriage however.

      I went to NVC counseling which resolved things for the present and helps to teach new skills but then go back to the old ways eventually. It is an evil affliction trained from youth and continues on for generations and destroys people and families. Wish I had better outcome to share. I never want to be near one of these abusers again. If my husband beat me, I would be out there but this is silent and destructive. Today, I now know I’m not crazy – my husband just has a personality disorder that is ruining my son

    2. Hi, I just want to say that in reading your story I may as well have been reading my own. I am in the process of trying to respond in a very different way to my husband, two months without ‘nagging and whining’. He has not actually spoken to me about anything but the day to day and alternates between smiles and sulks. The distance emotionally (i.e.: not constantly begging and pleading and moaning) has helped me realize that I am the one who suffers by thinking and hoping that he will change. I am much happier accepting that barring a miracle, that is not going to happen, and therefore I need to organise my life around that fact.

      As I said to another sufferer, I think we have to concentrate on being the very best us we can be, focus on that, on living and being, avoid the old pitfalls of ‘hoping he will be convinced to change.’ By that I in no way am trying to imply that you have to always deny yourself, not at all. But just try to teach yourself not to go to him for the things he cannot give. You are a mum, an honest, kind, strong person, that shines through your words. Trust yourself, trust that you can look at things and make good decisions for your own mental state.

      This thing he has is an illness, not something he chose or chooses. Does he want to sow confusion? Probably not, but does he? ABSOLUTELY! I hope you will be able to get strength from knowledge and power from wisdom about this and regain whatever of your inner self you have lost! All the very best to you!!!

  3. I have read many heart breaking stories here about real pain and frustration of people holding on because it is what they believe is Biblically the right thing to do. And I also hear myself say RUN cause I also am here with a PA for 12 years and 2 kids In Elementary school. I thought I heard God say “I am fighting for you” and have already seen the ways He has but it has been with expensive consequences that I have had to back off and say this is necessary pain and I will not stand in the way.

    The most disturbing story I’ve read here is the lady with small children married to the PA youth pastor. I have to say to everyone including the men who are also suffering look up Karla Downing; she is at Change My Relationship.com. She is a very strong Christian who is victorious and is amazingly still with her PA. She is devoted to people who are on our side of the fence. She is a worthy individual that brings a Win/Win by the way God is using her. Anybody else know who she is?

  4. This is my second post but wanted to Thank these persons involved with this Web site, it is insightful to hear someone who is PA. I look to solutions on how to glorify God on this marriage. I currently have found setting boundaries and allowing natural consequences to do the teaching the best position with my prayer of inviting God in to work as only He can.

    I use this technique on my children through the Love and Logic system (Fay) and have found lots of support with Karla Downing as the tool for also my marriage. I still with the rest of you have my frustrations but have found locking myself in the bath room (morning bath and prayer/meditation time) spending time with the Lord (sometimes can take longrr than an hour usually 2) is top priority I have found its the only way to keep my focus.

  5. I too have lived with a p/a for 36 years. I have been so confused and tried to be the perfect wife although there is no such thing, but have put extreme time and energy into my family. My husband has had porn problems on and off all those years; It’s so hard not to dominate in the marriage when they won’t be leaders! We were both supposed to be Christian. I have read extensively on passive aggressive behavior and co-dependency what I suffer with, but no matter what I read I just want my husband to show me that he loves me, and it breaks my heart that he can’t! This is especially hard if you come from a family of abuse. I try not to be so controlling but sometimes nothing gets done and eventually someone has to do it! the grass dies the kids don’t get disciplined the oil doesn’t get changed ect. I pray daily, just don’t always hear God respond. Don’t know what else to say!!

    1. Dear Friend, I am so sorry! There is no underestimating the confusion and sorrow this condition sows and reaps constantly. Like the old saying of ‘sowing to the wind and reaping a whirlwind’. But the bad part is in the whirlwind being in our heads so we don’t know up from down anymore. I have recently gone on anti-depressants and I must say this has helped me to cope so much better. I no longer beg and plead with him to act, to contribute, to give love and affection, etc. He said that I only ever nagged and whined, and I don’t at all anymore as I have a moment in my brain to ask myself whether it’s worth asking for something he cannot give.

      Frankly, I always refused to give up hope and thought ONE DAY he will change, if I just explain it to him properly. That is not going to happen, and acting accordingly is less of a burden than I thought. I have that much more peace and I feel that much less guilty all the time. I wish there was some other way. I too come from a background of abuse, we just need love and comfort and security don’t we?

      It is terribly sad, but you are a whole person in and of yourself, you are faithful, strong and committed. He may not see that, but it is living who you are that counts. Be the very best you possible, you are worthy of love, pride, caring. If you don’t get it there is no way it means you are worth anything less. I wish I could comfort you. Be strong, you are enough!

  6. I would like to ask how to deal with this when the father which is passive agressive continues to keep promising our son who is 7 years old things and fun outings then never shows up or shows up hours late? It hurts him. He didnt even show up for his birthday!

  7. I am so thankful that I found this site. It may help save my loving, painful, and challenging twenty nine year marriage.