Marriage Missions International

The Passive-Aggressive Spouse



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.

“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 exactly is the term, 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

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
  • Having 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“).

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 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 it by clicking onto:


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” article, “Home Improvement Series XXXVIII – Wired Uniquely?”)

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)

As a spouse, you are “doomed” if you get angry and “doomed” 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, resulting in a highsensitivity 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, Sep 15, 2005)

Deborah Ward offers this insight as well:

“Certain situations will tend to activate passive-aggressive behaviour, including 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“)

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.
  • Become 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“)

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 article, written by Dr. David B Hawkins, to read:


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


“How do women love passive-aggressive husbands?”

That’s the question that’s addressed in this next article. Here’s what the author wrote:

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 be applied to husbands living with a passive aggressive wife, as well.

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


From the Meier Clinics:


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.

This article was written by Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International.

If you have additional tips you can share to help others in this area of marriage, or you want to share requests for prayer and/or ask others for advice, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.


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75 Responses to “The Passive-Aggressive Spouse”
  1. Paul from United Kingdom says:

    Hi. It asks that comments should be positive. I’m sorry, I think they should be based in reality and sometimes that is not positive. My wife is a passive-aggressive who has taken that behaviour to such extremes that it is a miracle I am alive. She refuses to talk about anything unless it is to say how she wants something to happen -my views are irrelevant to her. When I was so physically ill that I could not work, she refused to work herself and made claims that I was mentally ill and needed to be sectioned. She always refused counselling but eventually went for a few sessions to use those sessions as a form of character assassination against me (because I was unable to work) and when a counsellor told her that only violent people get sectioned shes made claims that I had tried to strangle her.

    I have suffered ill-health for almost 30 years because of her behaviour but I stayed due to my two daughters who, perhaps wrongly, I loved more than my own life. I am sick to death of reading about what women should do if they have an abusive husband but when men are faced with being married to a passive aggressive woman (a far deeper form of abuse than physical – I ASSURE YOU!) that we should deal with it by understanding and patience and, and, and… etc.

    This has made me a prisoner, it has destroyed the “best” years of my life and the law even allows her to claim maintenance from me if I divorce her, no matter that my daughters now have their own lives as adults. It is about time that men were treated as equals. Women have made a big enough fuss about it and arguing the Biblical interpretations of a society which was male dominated doesn’t cut it today. Surely, if the Bible means ANYTHING, it is that we are all culpable of our own behavior, men or women, and it is NOT the proviso of being a man that should protect abuse from a woman like this!

    • Mark from United Kingdom says:

      Paul, I’ve just read your reply and it’s my situation exactly. I, myself, have severe sight loss and am unfortunately at the mercy of my wife who shows all the signs of Passive Aggression. I also agree that men are put in an impossible position in today’s world. I always find in these situations that there is no way out at all as ill health or disability plays a huge part in a person’s imprisonment.

  2. Kay from United States says:

    I feel so hopeless; I’ve prayed my knees off!!! If God is speaking to me I can’t even begin to believe I would hear. The frustration and confusion in my life is so deafening. I have been married for 15 years. I’m not only in a dysfunctional union I’m damaged goods myself. I sit now on my porch alone feeling like I’m dying. I have no place left to turn and either God’s choice is not to help me or I as said, can’t hear him anymore. I just don’t want to feel the pain anymore.

    I came into this marriage believing I had found the man of my dreams, only to find myself around a few months in emotionally gutted, crying my heart out in the shower. The words I said out loud are still, as clear as yesterday. This is really what I’ve got, Oh my God I’ve done it again! I said that because I’ve had self esteem issues from a early age. I’m a victim of childhood trama that includes sexual abuse, parents that loved me but were neglectful and unavailable. I also have ADD/ADHD, PTSD.

    Long story short this is my third marriage to emotionally unavailable men. And yes, completely aware, I’m the poster child for co-dependency and self-sabotage. First mistake, I was too young and clueless. Second disaster lasted almost ten years until I found out he was in fact gay and not in a happy way. All I ever wanted was a loving supportive marriage. I have poured over many different personality disorders for months to no avail until finding passive aggressive personality. Nothing fits like this. Every point I read is spot on word for word as though some one just shined a spot light my life!!!

    All these years I thought their was no good reason for so many unbelievable actions that left me shaking my head and speechless. I’ve always known there is something terribly wrong with my husband. No matter what I try and believe me, I don’t give up easily, with the hope addiction I suffer from. He remains unplugged on an emotional level despite any attempt I make, not to mention that he seems to have a complete void for intimacy. My husband has no problem saying I love you but has no idea how to show it. Example, I just walked into the house moments ago, tears streaming down my face as I said I don’t think I can do this any more. If I thought there were some possibility of hope you would participate with, I could go on but I know there’s not. Not once did he bat an eye from the TV. His response to my pain was do you want to go to the flea market tomorrow. I so need to connect with someone who understands my pain. Any comments welcome.

    • Brenda from United States says:

      Hello Kay, I want you to know that there is absolutely nothing you can do to change your husband. I was a very strong willed person. I married a passive aggressive man. I love The Lord. I learned I love helping others, which helped me become codependent. I’ve learned the hard way no one can fix anyone else.

      Today for the first time in 27 years I don’t blame myself and am letting my husband to deal with himself, while I find myself. My husband doesn’t communicate and withholds sex. He looks like an angel to others, because when others are around he acts loving and the minute we’re alone it’s like a different person. This did nearly drive me into the looney bin. Kay, God wants you to be happy and healthy, so my suggestion would be to concentrate on your needs and health. This will not be easy, but the book Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson will help you. Prayer is also helpful. Sincerely, Brenda

  3. Stacey from United States says:

    About four months ago I thought God had FINALLY answered long awaited prayers and brought me together with the man of my dreams/prayers. I’m in my late 40’s and have waited and prayed and prayed and waited for God to bring the man He has prepared for me into my life and me into his.

    We fell in love quickly and I thought and still think this man is supposed to be my future husband. Unfortunately, he has taken a huge step back away from me and is now questioning whether we were meant to be together. Thankfully, one of my friends mentioned that he may be passive aggressive. Being the “analyzer” personality type, I took to the internet and discovered that Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder appears to be this man’s issue. Most of what I’ve read on numerous sites describes him, much of what he has told me about his past and his family of origin, and what happened when he broke up with me via an email because he is so unable to do the confrontation thing.

    It was a complete and total shock to me that he was feeling the way he described in the email because we had a “talk” the week before because I was feeling what I now know to be his uneasiness with our relationship. During that “talk” he said we would continue to work on our relationship and that things were ok and he was glad to have me in his life. Then I find out less than a week later that he feels the exact opposite of what he told me. There is so much more to the story, but it appears as though most of you already realize how serious this condition can be and how it can affect and even destroy a relationship. I am not saying I don’t have issues because I do… trust me… I do, but I’m aware of them or the majority of them and am in therapy.

    I’ve informed this man about PAPD even though all the information says not to do that. But if someone who loves him doesn’t tell him, who will? That is a bell that cannot be unrung now anyway and I’ve always believed in being straight forward with people (well that’s not completely true… I used to be VERY passive aggressive but I worked through it on my own when I realized it and began being able to say “no” and express my feelings more effectively mostly in work situations… I still struggle with it sometimes so I KNOW how it can affect a person and how very difficult it is to suffer from this condition).

    I am trying to trust God and pray for both this man who I still love deeply and myself so we will have the strength to get through this difficult time. Unfortunately, I think this man now feels as though we don’t belong together for the long term even though he was quite enamored with me the first two months of the relationship. He communicated with me and initiated discussions on important topics, and he even brought up marriage often early on. Then the last three weeks before he broke up with me, his attitude just changed almost over night and he did a 180 degree turn around on me. It was and still is devastating to me even though I understand how this disorder affects the one who suffers and all those around him/her.

    I’m rather isolated now and would appreciate some serious prayers not only for God to give me strength to endure this disappointing time in my life, but for this man who is obviously struggling inside himself and making himself and everyone around him miserable. He is a VERY good man and I KNOW this is not who he really is or how he wants to handle stress in his life. Life has kicked both he and I around quite a bit the past few years. He deserves to be happy and I want him to be whether it’s with me or someone else. God bless all and I pray that any of you who are either suffering with PAPD or on the recieving end of it for God to be with you and help you navigate through your trials with ease and grace.

    • Helen from United States says:

      First you have to stop fixating on him. Passive aggressive people by their very actions will become center stage in your mind. As you try to outwit them, you try to figure them out. Break through to them. Do you see you cease to exist? Your dreams. You are lost in trying to reach them connect with them.

      I believe passive aggressives are all narcissists. Stop giving your husband so much of your time and attention. You focus on YOU!!! It’s your life. Let him be unhappy. Quiet sullen brooding. It’s all about attection like little children. The sun is shining. Flowers blooming but he is brooding sitting on the sofa as you ask” what’s wrong”. He mumbles “nothing, just tired”.

      • Kay from United States says:

        Easy to say… I wish I could count the times I’ve pledged to do just that. Then my PA husband neglects me so long on every level to the point of madness that I crack into reaction, not to mention the endless excuses and reasons that can be found to not hear me, avoid me, ignore me, forget pretty much over all requests etc. The selfishness, self centered actions that never cease to amaze you even when you really thought by now you had experienced it all!

        At some point in nearly every day I find myself walking away shaking my head wondering how can one think or do that?! Oh and then the times when you stumble upon something you were not supposta find, something says loud and clear you really don’t know who you married to. They have secrets that not only threaten your sanity, possibly your physical health, as well. Don’t bother to question them. All you’ll get for your question is the preverbal game of ring around the not rosy!!! I love my husband; it may sound as if I don’t, but it’s exhausting trying to. God be with all in these unions!!! Someone please pray for me!!!

      • JoAnn from United States says:

        Thank GOD someone understands me!!!! I have felt like I was losing my mind.

    • Kay from United States says:

      Dear lady, I’m speaking from years of truth, you’re in for years of pain. I really hate to advise you this but sometimes the grass really is greener elsewhere. I’m sure he has many wonderful qualities but think long and hard!! I would say run for your life; you’re going into this with eyes wide open and believe me, that you don’t know what you are in for. If he loves you, ask him to prove your worth it, then ask him to go with you to couple’s council. Get help together for the things that will go wrong later. If he’s willing to work on what you both need to be happy, then run to him, other wise run for your life, dear!!!

  4. Mark from United States says:

    Paul I agree whole heartedly! Run! Run as fast as you can! Do not try to “deal with it” because you’ll waste every minute. It’s like quick sand… the more you try, the more you struggle and the more you lose.

  5. Texas Queen from United States says:

    I have a question that I need help with. I am divorced from my passive aggressive husband but we share 2 adult children. We currently have court orders to not communicate with each other except thru lawyers. I stopped communicating with him 18 months before the divorce or the court order because of his craziness. He continues today…sending little notes with his spousal support, even committing fraud by using my checking account to make car payment, and not paying for things for our college age son stating, “your mother is working get it from her” or “I can’t help you because I have to pay your mother,” which is bogus as he makes plenty of money. All of this I have completely ignored except fraud which I reported to my bank and they took care of it but they did not press charges against him nor did I contact him.

    My question is when and how do you get them to stop? Before court hearing he would call me trying to make me angry and I would just ignore. If I had to speak with him on the phone I would hang up when he started the blame game. He of course would spin this as well. I would just say I am not angry but I am also not going to take your ugliness so either stop or I will hang up again. This usually made him angrier so I would hang up again then not answer his call. He would respond to how I was being immature by hanging up. This is what he wanted btw so he could leave a voice message and I would not have a rebuttal.

    He continues to break the rules but if I take him to court for this little stuff we all know the spin!!! Do they ever stop? He is so angry that you can see his vessels when he speaks but is smiling the whole time. He seems to be angry because I exposed his lies to his children and friends.

    He was having an affair, totally justified of course because he was unhappy. He continued to lie about it and I confronted him and forced him to admit it to his adult children. This was over 3 years ago. He lives with the OW but refused to introduce her to his children stating that his personal life has nothing to do with his relationship with the kids. This way they can all live in “Never Never Land.” He has never had them over to where he lives so he can continue the lies. All I can say is WOW! I can’t believe this woman does not see the light but my punishment for her since she knew he was married is to not expose him to her. Let her find out the hard way.

    I was hoping that if he was happy then he would leave me alone but that does not seem to be the case. He used to tell me how he never wanted to speak with me again but would call, write or text when he wanted something from me I would say then stop calling me! It is like maybe he can’t be angry with her so he is still taking it out on me? Just trying to understand in hopes to put a stop to the his harassment to me and the way he continues to not only put our kids in the middle but his angry comments. Thank You for all of your help!

    • Brenda from United States says:

      Hi. It sounds like you’re still trying to control your ex husband. The best way to get him to stop is to ignore him. And as far as your checking account, I would change to a different account and file a police report if he touches any of your accounts without permission. You cannot change him you can only change yourself. You are not responsible to show others what he’s really like, including your children. Enjoy your children and let them enjoy you by being happy with whom you really are. Sincerely, Brenda

  6. Terri from United States says:

    I’ve been married to a passive agressive man for 12 years and 4 months. At this point I’m beaten down emotionally to the point that I sometimes don’t want to live just to end the pain. He has never been physically agressive in any way shape or form. To family and friends and his and my co workers and our neighbors he’s the all American super great guy who is caring and kind and giving. He is held in high esteem by all who know him. He is highly educated, extremely smart and workd traveled He holds a Hugh ranking position in his company and excells in his career. He makes a high salary and his work is out if the norm as far as adventure and travel.

    He was 41 yrs old when we married. He had not ever been married before me and has no biological children. I was also 41 yrs old when we married. I was a divorcee of 7 1/2 yrs when we married and I have two biological children. They are each adults and married now. My husband swept me off my feet, charming, attentive and very kind and caring. Our courtship was fast. He would not accept no for an answer. Although I had deep feelings for him and it felt so right… I married him knowing something wasn’t right; I ignored my gut feeling.

    Almost immediately I recognized that he behaved in a way that was passive aggressive. It’s such a sly behavior that it’s hard to pin down. My passive agressive husband always has an explanation/answer and usually it’s perfectly logical OR my fault, therefore making him the shining star and me the demanding one or just plain off my rocker for even questioning anything. Sometimes things are said that he says he never said. When I request something or talk about a concern he twists it up inserts words talks in circles then wants me to explain what the whole thing is about. He is a master mind at subtle put downs and gestures that can go undetected by others.

    The thing is he pulls these tactics at the most critical situations and events. It’s terrible. I feel like I’m going crazy so much of the time. He wants to control me without looking like he wants to control me. I cannot take it anymore. I’ve asked him to get help. I’ve worked myself to the bone to try healthy ways of relating to him. I’ve voiced my concerns for our marraige and that’s always the wrong thing to do. The only way I’ve been able to stay in for so long is because my dependence upon God. I too have issues… I go to counseling and a support group and do all I can possibly do to grow and look at myself and my part in things. It wouldn’t matter if I were 100% perfect in every way he would still continue with passive agressive behavior.

    I need to leave this marrage because I don’t see that things will get better only worse. I’m fearful because the passive agressive is undetected by everyone we know that for me to say a word about it no one would believe me. Each time I even attempt to plan to leave he makes sure I don’t somehow. What can I do? I really don’t believe in or want a divorce. I know that will need to happen though because it’s gone on for so long with no changes. He will not even consider the thought of his behavior being passive agressive. Any thoughts on solutions? I know for 100% that God is the solution and I pray for his will. Has anyone felt like I do now? What have other wives done in this situation? Any suggestions?

    • JoAnn from United States says:

      I myself have felt like this for the last 7yrs out of a 20yr dysfunctional marriage. He had an affair 6 yrs ago that hurt me to my core because of the manipulating and way he treated me during his 8 months or longer affair. I knew things were crazy wrong before that, but this is also a second marriage and I am a Christian trying to live the right way.

      You’re not crazy!!! I have/am in the same boat you are. My last child is 22 and graduating college in December. I am seriously contemplating divorce. Since his affair his behavior has worsened and the emotional abuse is more than I can handle anymore. I have given my “good years” to him and feel as if my married life has been a serious waste. I have so much resentment now towards him that I’m not sure there is any love left.

      I am unsure about what this relationship has been to him all this time. My husband is Mr. Wonderful to most everybody; sings lead in our church praise team. My son and I both were on the team also for 4 yrs but within the last year we both resigned and a great part was because of him and how we feel he is conning our congregation. Living this “LIE” is almost too much for me to bear.

  7. Jackie from United States says:

    What to do, what to do? I went into this marriage knowing my husband has passive aggressive and deflection tendencies. I’m about to lose it though. It’s the small things that irk me. Asking for help with things around the house for days upon days on end only to be attacked with a comment along the lines of ‘Oh, I’m so sorry I work 80 hours a week and am tired”.

    No, that’s not a real life apology, that’s being passive and putting all household responsibilities on me, who also works. I’m a naturally reactive person and respond as such. I refuse to accept that because he willingly works excessive hours that I am being unreasonable when asking for help.

    Another common response is to deflect and make me the bad guy. It’s draining. He’s always right and I’m apparently always wrong when these situations arise. Help??

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