Are you dealing with a Passive Aggressive spouse? If you are, you’re probably pretty desperate to find help in dealing with this issue. That is 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.
First of All, Please Note: We’re going to be addressing the issue of living with the passive aggressive spouse. But some of the quotes and articles we link to will single out one gender or the other. Please don’t overlook the advice that is given just because you may be dealing with the other gender. Pray, read, glean, and adapt the advice given, if it’s necessary. The advice is still good, whether it pertains to the husband or the wife. We hope this will be helpful one way or another.
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. They expect 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. But how is passive aggressive defined?
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
- Feeling resentment
- Having a fear of authority
- Has unexpressed anger or hostility
- Resisting other people’s suggestions.
“A person with this disorder may appear to comply with another’s wishes. They 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 they can 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, they feel they 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 for Passive Aggressive Spouse
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, put it in the “Divorce Support” section. This is not something we’re trying to encourage —supporting divorcing your passive-agressive. Instead, we’re hoping to help you to deal 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:
Here are a few other things you might find helpful to read, concerning this type of behavior. Then 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 quiet. 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 it may be yes —I already know what I want to do.” (From the Christiancouples.org” article, “Home Improvement Series XXXVIII – Wired Uniquely?“)
The Passive Aggressive Spouse is Hypersensitive to Criticism
From the Couples Institute, Peter Pearson, Ph.D writes:
“Passive-aggressive people are typically hypersensitive to actual or perceived criticism. This is especially true 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. This 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
Continuing on, 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 a Passive Aggressive Spouse?
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 work on 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“)
Additionally, Concerning the Passive Aggressive Spouse:
Here is some advice from Drs Les and Leslie Parrott that could help you, as well:
“It hurts deeply to accept that your spouse has passive-aggressive tendencies and might not always have your best interests at heart. Once you’ve come to terms with the dynamic in your relationship right now, start taking steps to set boundaries that protect yourself from further passive-aggressive behaviors.
“Depending on the extent of the issue, you may have to start being selective about what you share with your spouse. Deep thoughts, feelings, and aspirations might not be safe to express. You know your spouse best, so use your judgment going forward. You may find that only certain topics need to be off-limits, rather than a broad change to your communication.” (From their article, “5 Ways to Cope with a Passive Aggressive Spouse”)
Dealing with the Passive Aggressive Spouse
Now, 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 read this Growthtrac.com article, written by Dr. David B Hawkins:
And then concerning passive-aggressive wives, Paul Coughlin writes about:
Additionally, here is an article that addresses both husbands and wives:
The next question we’d like to address is:
“How do women love passive-aggressive husbands?”
“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.”
Now, it’s relevant to know that the list goes on to make 11 additional points to help wives who are living with a passive aggressive husband. But many of these points can also be applied to husbands living with a passive aggressive wife. The principles given can pertain to living with a passive aggressive spouse, no matter what the gender is.
To learn more, it’s important to read:
And lastly we encourage you to read these articles written by Drs Les and Leslie Parrott:
In conclusion, I realize this article is not exhaustive in the information it gives concerning the passive aggressive spouse. 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.
Above all, 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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Filed under: Communication and Conflict