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. 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. 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. 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:

• 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. 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“)

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 read this Crosswalk.com article, written by Dr. David B Hawkins:

• LIVING WITH A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE MAN

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

CHRISTIAN “NICE” WIVES

Additionally, here is an article that addresses husbands and wives:

IS PASSIVE AGGRESSION DESTROYING YOUR MARRIAGE?

The next question we’d like to address is:

“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.”

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. 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.

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

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.

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

285 responses to “The Passive Aggressive Spouse

  1. This article would have been more helpful if it wasn’t about making it the wife’s responsibility to walk on broken glass and pins and needles and literally try to make things easier for passive aggressiveness husband! That DOESN’T SOLVE anything. Just puts a bandaid on a gash.

    1. Lana, if the passive aggressive husband had come asking for advice, the advice he would be given would be different than that, which is given to the wife. We can either work with things as they are, in the real world, or we can fantasize dreaming that things could be different, and live an even more miserable life. When you do things contrary to God’s ways, you step up the misery quotient. Yes, things can be different. But in the meantime, we need to pray for that difference to happen, and work with what is happening right now (hoping that they will some day change).

      My husband is one of the husbands that eventually changed. But I had to go through many years of putting bandaids on the gashes before that happened. And in the meantime, I grew in maturity and learning how to love as Christ does. That doesn’t mean that I enabled, or excused bad behavior, but I did the best I could with God’s help, with what was handed to me. If my husband would never have changed, I pray I would still be doing what needed to be done as God showed me. We never know the outcome; we instead trust God with the outcome and do what we believe God would have us, not what we would want to conjure up in our minds that He would have us do. Life is messy, and all we can do is clean what we can, and leave the results to God.

      1. I have learned that when I am feeling exceedingly frustrated with a seemingly impossible situation in a relationship, it is good if I can remember to ask myself these questions: How much do I believe in the power of prayer and how much do I believe in the transformational healing power of God, to change both me and the other person? Our God has demonstrated time and again that He is fully able to bring miraculous transformational healing into a person’s life in the blink of an eye. We need to believe in Him… :>)

        1. Thanks M for sharing this. This is so, so true. Too often we forget the transformational healing power of God. I’ve seen miracles… maybe not in my time frame, but I’ve seen them none-the-less. Even seeing my husband Steve wake up, look at his own passive aggressive behavior and change …it has been amazing. One day he didn’t “get it” and the next day he did… after so many years of the PA behavior. God is amazing. And my husband is amazing that he listened to God and is doing his part –it has been a complete turnaround. God can help the PA and help us in ways we too often forget. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  2. The wife should dutifully stay in this toxic relationship so GOD will be happy. What a joke!!! These guys or girls do not change. If you are seeking help get out while you can!

  3. You know this describes a lot of what is going on with Team Love Dove (my wife and I) right now. Enough info to note to look into it more and not too much info to overwhelm. The additional resourses are a bonus.

  4. Maybe I missed it, is there a list of counselors who specializes in this somewhere? Thank you for the article, some helpful information here.

    1. Jessica, sadly there is no list that we can provide. However, if you contact Focus On The Family they have an extensive list of counselors all over the U.S. that they have pre-screened. If you call and ask for their counseling department and tell them what kind of counselor you’re looking for they may have a person that is within driving distance of where you live. Call them at 1-800-A-FAMILY. You may have to leave a message for them to call you back. Hopefully this will help you.

  5. Thank you so much for this article. It has given me so much insight into my husband’s actions and silent treatment when he is upset or angry. Sometimes he can go on for weeks being silent.

    How do you stop enabling someone like this? By virtue of you loving them and supporting them is this not in some way making them think they can keep acting this way? I have only been married a year and I’m already having to deal with such behavior and it is really driving me up the wall. I love my husband but how do I communicate to him that this behavior is not alright or healthy for our marriage?

  6. HI, Well, I believe I read all of the definitions, pitfalls, etc. as well as possible ideas as to how to deal with…..
    I do want to mention that in all of the insights, reasons, etc. the directions are addressed as to how to deal with a passive/aggressive husband….I know that women process things differently than a man, so since I am a man looking for ideas on how to deal with a passive/aggressive wife/spouse, I thought an observation would be to include in each example referring to a man, that you acknowledge that it can also be a woman, and how to best handle that issue if you are a man? Thank You

    1. Hi Tim, I’m sorry that there isn’t as much within this article pertaining to the Passive Aggressive Spouse as you feel you need. But please go back to the article again. I added a bit more in the explanation, as well as adding an additional linked article. Truthfully, there isn’t a lot written on the Passive Aggressive Wife. I’m not sure why. But most of the advice given can be turned around and adapted to one gender or another. We’ll keep adding more in the future if we find that, which will help. In the meantime, please read this article again and see what you can glean from it to help you in your situation. I hope it helps.

      Yes, most women process things differently than men. They have a tendency to go more with their feelings and men have more of a tendency to go with facts (although the reverse is true in some cases). Most women tend to be verbal and need more verbal communication from their husbands, and husbands tend to be quieter and want more space to work through things that upset them. (Again, the reverse is true in some cases.) You may need to look through additional articles dealing with the different approaches on communication posted on this web site to help with this. But beyond that, it will be a matter of trying to switching and adapting the info to work for you. Again, I hope this helps.

  7. I found this article very useful but was very offended when it specifically mentioned if your husband is like this. I am a man struggling with a passive aggressive wife. We often go to church and are trying to work past these issues but I personally feel there isn’t much support for men who are dealing with these issues. I instantly felt like I had failed after reading this article and my wife used it as a weapon against me as it pointed to only men. Please can you update to be more supportive for all people going through these difficult situations.

  8. Hi, thank you for this article with a Christian perspective. I’ve been going through this with my husband. We have been through marriage counseling, marriage builders, marriage books… It seems to work for a while but then old habits start. He knows my triggers (won’t text me back on his lunch hour, retreats to bedroom once I get home from work to watch YouTube videos while I tend to our son, wash dishes make dinner, feed animals, do laundry, help son with homework, get son ready for bed). He comes out once to grab dinner and then takes it back to bed and eats while still watching youtube until he falls asleep.

    Our communication is 5 minutes if that, a day. When I bring up the need to talk, spend time more with family, less time on YouTube, he shuts down. He coverts sex from me, only on his terms, which averages once every 2 weeks. Up until recently, sex was the only way I felt close to him. But now my heart, which I have made known to him is hurting from his lack of communication with me, time with family, affection…. only to get the silent treatment from him.

    I have prayed, cried, become angry, frustrated, confused… I feel like I am in a prison, alone, isolated and depressed. I resent my marriage, 10 years down the drain, hundreds of dollars in counseling, books and classes… down the drain. I silently guard myself to protect my heart now and my attraction to him is diminishing. I have no desire to have sex with him when he hits the 2 week mark anymore. I know my rejection will make matters worse but there’s no spiritual bonding, to him it’s just a physical act. I feel used, unworthy, under appreciated, unloved. He is a self proclaimed Christian, yet never goes to church with me, watches Don Preston videos because he is a Preterist. He is obsessed watching conspiracy theories. He believes all school shootings are hoaxes, the earth is flat, we never landed on the moon, and chem-trails are government secret agenda for genocide… He isn’t the same man I married.

    How can I maintain my sanity staying with him? I don’t know what to do anymore. I pray to God to open his eyes everyday, and everyday the same thing happens.

    1. Dear Jody, How very sad I am for you that your marriage is moving in the direction of this downward spiral. I’m not sure what is happening. It’s difficult to know on this end of the computer. But it appears that he is consuming his time with “entertainment” that is unhealthy for everyone concerned–your son being one of them. This is not a good example for him to see happening either.

      Your husband can proclaim that he is a Christian all he wants, but all you have to go by is the “fruit” of what you see in his life. If he isn’t manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, it is doubtful. Jesus even talked about those who claim to call him Lord, but He doesn’t know them. Our lifestyle and our faith go hand-in-hand. We can say all of the religious things in the world, but if our lifestyle doesn’t speak it, as well, then we have reason to seriously doubt what they say with words. So I’m thinking you are living with an unbeliever. That should influence the way we approach them in life. (Read through the topic “Unbelieving Spouse” that is posted on this web site to better understand what I’m saying here.) He definitely needs a lot of prayer, and so do you and your son.

      I’m concerned with his isolation tendencies to pull himself away from you and allow others to influence him in such irrational ways. He is living out the truth of what God meant when He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” This type of aloneness not only has social implications –especially maritally, but it can also take you down mental trails that can become dangerous if it’s not stunted in some way.

      You may want to ask him (during a non-combative time) if he wants to be married. It appears he doesn’t want to participate in being in a marital partnership at this time. It’s a question he needs to have presented to him. This will help you to know where to put your focus. If he says that he doesn’t want to join you in partnership in your marriage anymore, at least you have clarity in front of you. Right now, it’s just confusing. If he says he does want to be married, then you can talk about what you both need in your marriage. If he says he doesn’t want to be married, then you have other things to talk about and pray about.

      It’s good that he, along with you, worked on the marriage at different times. But more work needs to be done. It is not all “down the drain.” I’m sure you both learned some things. It’s just whether or not it is applied. It can all wake up again if positive choices are made again. We’ve seen marriages that are even worse than yours for longer periods of time than yours revived and turn into great marriages. But at some point there was a wake-up call where both spouses start to partner with the other.

      Right now your husband is obviously not thinking in, or living in a partnering way. Ask God to show you what you are to do with that. He may lead you to some “love must be tough” decision making, supporting it with actions. Don’t wait until all of the love is drained away. (But also know that love can come back again after a long absence sometimes… It’s just best not to go to such extremes when you can prevent it.)

      I believe if I was in your place (although no one who isn’t can ever know they would do things a certain way)… I would do a lot of praying for wisdom as to what can be done with a spouse who doesn’t participate in the marriage –one who is going down some strange trails. I know you say you have prayed, but I’d continue and pray even more. And then I would call the radio program, “New Life Live.” You can search that term to find out a bit about that daily radio program. Steve Arterburn and other counselors talk to callers about the issues they bring up. I (anonymously) would synopsize what’s happening with your marriage and see what guidance they give you. You can then pray about it and see how God leads. But please don’t keep letting your heart fill with resentment. Guarding it is great–a very necessary thing, but more needs to be considered and done. May God give you wisdom and the resolve to do what needs to be done! My prayers are with you.