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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156 Responses to “The Passive-Aggressive Spouse”
  1. Liesl from United States says:

    I found this after searching for a reason why my husband doesn’t seem to care that I’m sick. In fact it isn’t surprising to find a feed like this because I had learned that he was PA before we were married. At that time we both read Living with the Passive Aggressive Man. Now four years into the marriage, I’m stunned and confused. My husband acts like we never read the book and that I’m nuts for suggesting that he’s PA at all.

    I’m desperate for help because two and a half years ago I was diagnosed with chronic lead poisoning. At the time my doctor said “move”. Instead my husband said he wanted to fix the house. That would have been fine except it never happened. Since then I’ve gotten sicker. The house was assessed by the bank as uninhabitable, and has actually become even more dangerous.

    My husband took a job traveling and is in some sort of dream land. He has never expressed any concern for my health and safety. Instead he complains about money he will lose and wants to blame me. I’ve been desperately looking for a way to find another home with no money for the both of us that will help him feel like his cup is full instead of empty. He’s out of the country and I’m trapped in an unsafe place by myself.

    He called me last night and I told him about different condos I found online that would be great. His response was to question me about scaffolds that he bought and complain about the money he spent on them. He has never acknowledged the fact that I’m sick. I feel like I’m an unloved disposable slave. He seems to value objects but not me. I’m very sick, been trying to stay positive and find a win/win solution, and he’s still wondering why I haven’t set up scaffolds and fixed the house all by myself. I’ve told him over and over that it’s not safe. Is it hopeless? Do I have to die? Is that for better or worse?

    • Robin from United States says:

      LiesI, I’m so sorry you’re so ill. If your husband is going to continue ignoring your illness, you may need to stay somewhere else. He seems to push and push about the costs of a bad home and has no input about your health. You need to do some inner searching and decide if your life is more important than his avoidance of his responsibilities. “In sickness and health” should be a vow taken seriously.

      If you have close family or friends you may have to stay with them until you get a little healthier before you decide a more permanent solution. The fact that you’re this ill can definitely cloud your mind, which could impair your decisions. You need to be an advocate for your health and put yourself first. Best wishes and I pray for your health and recovery.

  2. Jill from United States says:

    Uhg I have been living with this for 21yrs now, took me that long to figure out what was actually happenning. Dumb me… Anyway this is the most difficult thing to live with period!!!!!! They are very hurtful, heartless, careless,and cruel people.:( it is very trying and really plays with your sanity… I have been to counsellors and they tell me to leave him… Run as fast and far away as possible…. Kinda hard to when you have 3 kids and really try to rely on hope and prayers..

  3. Linda M. from United States says:

    I was married to a passive-aggressive man for 10 years, but I didn’t know what was going on. I always listened to his complaints about life, his being miserable, his parents not having money to help him be free financially, hating his work and the fact that he would always be miserable. I tried so hard to help him, but nothing helped. Over the years, he wouldn’t hear what I said to him, would tell me he told me things that he never did, was always late, was always down, didn’t want to enjoy life and have fun, and blamed his parents for a lot of things.

    His father was abusive – he used to beat his mother regularly, really badly, and also hit him and his sister. My husband was emotionally absent, has only one close friend, hardly ever sees his family, and was not in touch with his son from a former relationship for many years. Now that his son is grown, they text each other once in a while and speak once in a while, but my husband has no emotional attachment to his son.

    During our marriage, my husband would stay up till all hours every night watching TV. He wouldn’t come to sleep with me. He would blast the TV, and when I asked him to lower it (I work full-time and get up at 6 am every morning), he would lower it; as soon as I went back in the bedroom, he would raise the volume again. I tried pleading, negotiating and screaming at him over the years out of pure frustration and anger. I felt like I was going crazy.

    In 2010, I lost my only sibling, Lisa, to cancer at 49. Two years later, my mother, Edith, the rock of my life died from cancer. And 11 months after that, my father, Abraham, dies of natural causes. My husband was caring and helpful during those 3 years and I’m grateful for that. But right after that, everything went back to the way it was. My husband always told me that he couldn’t be emotional with me because of the way I am and that we don’t mesh. I always took this to heart and thought if I tried harder, was a better wife, did more for him to try to make him happy, he would be able to be emotional with me. Nothing worked. Ever.

    I was done and couldn’t take it anymore. I started to withdraw from him emotionally, because I needed to protect my sanity. In response, my husband totally shut down – he would talk to me about every day necessities, but otherwise was totally uncommunicative and I felt like I was living with a roommate who I didn’t know. I told my husband we need to go to marriage counseling and he agreed. At the 3rd session, after hearing both of our stories, the therapist asked my husband if he wanted to work on the marriage, and do the hard work that is necessary to have an emotional, loving, physical, affectionate relationship with me. He said that in his life he’s always done what was expected of him. But now there’s a little voice in the back of his head telling him not to do this. My therapist then turned to me and said that I can stay in the marriage the way it is, with a man who is unemotional, unaffectionate, who will continue to do things his way, and isn’t willing to try to change things for the better.

    She told me I can stay married and live this way, if I choose to do so. And I said there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I’ve done this for 10 years and I can’t live like this anymore. My husband refused to go to therapy, with me or alone, after that, and moved out of our apartment one month later. That was in May. I continued to see that therapist and still do. I was a mess when he moved out, cried all the time, was suicidal, and thought I wouldn’t get through this. It was one of the most painful times in my life, especially after losing my whole family. But now, a little over 1 year ago, I feel a lot better (not totally, but I’ll keep working on that), have looked into myself and my issues to try to see why I married and stayed with a man like this for so long.

    I was also able to recognize that my husband not being able to be emotional with me has nothing to do with me or our not meshing. I realized that he has the same problem with everyone – his best friend, his family, his son. He can’t be emotional with anyone because of the abusive family situation in which he grew up. I also realized the reason why he never married any of the women before me, who were smart, professionals, pretty, etc. He had many long and short term relationships, which always ended. And my husband never broke off the relationships – the women did.

    Now I understand how that works: my husband does not end relationships, he stays in them and tortures the other person with the way he acts, until the person can’t take it any longer and breaks up with him. He was engaged once before, years ago, and told me the woman threw the ring at him at their therapy session and called off the engagement. He never understood why. But I understand now – he did to her what he did to me and forced her to break up with him. It’s a sickness. I am so much happier today, with freedom, independence and a better understanding of myself.

    Getting to this place was extremely difficult as I had to deal with my own issues, including why did I stay in such an abnormal marriage for so long, but it was worth it. I encourage other people in this position to get therapy if you’re in this kind of relationship. Anything is better than staying in a relationship where you don’t feel loved, cared for, your feelings are not reciprocated, and you feel like you can never do anything right or make your partner happy.

  4. Deb from United States says:

    I am kind of numb right now – I consider myself to be a pretty smart person, so I really can’t believe it took me so long to figure this one out – but when I started internet searching passive-aggressive husband behavior I started having some serious lightbulb moments. And there is an article out there entitled “What kind of woman marries the Passive-Aggressive man”…talk about eye opener – that’s me in a nutshell.

    I really did think it was me – I really did think it was my fault. I really did think if I just did xyz I could fix this/us/him. I really did constantly search for things to try to make things better, to make myself more lovable – to make him care. I really did think he just had a bad memory. I really did think it was just the blood pressure medication. I really did think……… a million other things that were really stupid when the truth is – he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t really even like me that much to be honest…he is not connected to me…he doesn’t care about me…he never has – and he never will. I felt it in my heart, but I didn’t want to believe it because it was just too awful to consider.

    At least NOW – I know. At least now I can make choices based upon the truth. My biggest hope and prayer is that my daughter DOES NOT end up in a marriage like mine…THAT would really break my heart.

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