How to Deal with a Passive Aggressive Relationship
Found yourself tiptoeing around someone else's seemingly benign yet rather manipulative ways? Noticing how charming this person seems but how they fail to actuallydoanything they promise to do? Or, maybe you're having to run around apologizing for this person's constant lateness? If you're constantly facing these types of problems with a particular person, it's possible you're in a passive-aggressive relationship with a spouse, partner, friend, boss, or other close connection. Dealing with discovering that you're in a passive-aggressive relationship can be confronting initially but have courage. If this person is worth sticking with, or the situation requires you to keep dealing with them, fortunately youcanfind ways to manage around the passive-aggressive behaviors.
Are you in a passive-aggressive relationship?
Determine the possibility that you are in a passive-aggressive relationship.The fact that you're wondering is a definite start. However, it's important to be clear on what passive-aggressive behavior is and whether it's an issue in your relationship. (A relationship is considered to be quite broad, including romantic, workplace, friendship, fellow hobbyists, whomever you relate to!) The following steps will help you to tease out this possibility, although you may also like to get some supporting opinions from persons you trust.
Spot the signs of standard passive-aggressive behavior.Some typical passive-aggressive approaches to relating with others include:
- An unwillingness to articulate feelings, especially negative feelings. Instead, they are kept bottled up inside, only to either explode at some really inconvenient point much later on, or be the subject of covert muttering, gossip or irritability (in an attempt to have you overhear without directly speaking to you).
- Agrees to do as you suggest/ask, or even offers to complete tasks, then never does them (this is known as "temporary compliance"). He/she may use procrastination or delay as an art form, an art to frustrate others! Or, he/she does the task to his/her own timetable, or does it in a half-hearted and incomplete way (in the hope you'll never ask again).
- Sulks, goes quiet, pouts, gets moody (says things such as "Fine. Whatever."). The sullenness can last often for hours or more, all because he/she failed to get his/her own way or failed to articulate clearly enough what was wanted and then blames the other.
- Gives sarcastic responses instead of treating issues seriously or listening authentically. This can include subtle ways of putting down your efforts or wants.
- Denies being angry, mad or blue. And yet, there is quite evidently something seething away there. Most of the time nobody has the energy to tease it out, so in there it remains, festering. Another possibility pushing you to the brink of looking like the one who is irritable or angry, allowing him/her to shift the blame.
- Quits. "That's it, I've had it, I am out of here. You never appreciated me anyway." And most probably storms off into the bargain, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to where this all came from (it often occurs after the slightest of provocations––remember that simmering pot of unexpressed needs and wants).
Note the potential signs that you're in a passive-aggressive relationship.Perhaps what you've read has already helped you to decide. You might also like to ask a trusted friend or your therapist for advice, to act as a sounding board. Consider some of the following possible indicators that you are in a passive-aggressive relationship:
- You feel that your time and desires are not respected. For example: You call out "dinner's ready". Your spouse says "In a moment". That moment stretches out to half an hour as he/she "just finishes" some game/writing/TV, whatever. You have gone to the trouble of making a meal. There should be no delay in turning up to share it without a very good reason. Should you find this happening constantly, it's probably passive-aggressive behavior, and it is very controlling.
- You feel that your reasonable requests are being undermined. For example: Your neighbor says that he/she will definitely cut down the overhanging branches that are clogging up your swimming pool. He/she couldn't be sweeter about it, and says "it's a promise". Days turn into weeks, he/she smiles and waves from a distance, but still those leaves are clogging up your pool. Eventually you track him/her down and ask about it and he/she says, "Oh yes, I meant to but my snips were broken. I've had them in for repairs." A week later, you find half the branches lopped to leave jagged sharp edges at eye-level and the rest still firmly in place. Your "friendship" with your neighbor is now questionable.
- You feel that you are being purposefully waylaid, preventing you from doing something you'd like to do. For example: You have loved working for X firm for 8 years. But now it's time to move on, so you ask the owner-boss for a reference for an upcoming interview. Your boss says he/she will be sad to lose you but that he/she understands you need to spread your wings. He/she says he'll be happy to give a reference. You don't get the job, and the feedback tells you that your boss said some really negative things about your performance and skills. You're gobsmacked at having discovered that your boss has no intention of letting you go, but just won't tell you to your face.
Do you want to remain in this relationship?
Be realistic.This person isn't going to change. However, this person is probably quite nice overall. A lot of passive-aggressive people are "nice" because they want to avoid confrontation, seek harmony and would prefer the "problems" just didn't exist. Unfortunately, this "peace and light" calmness has a cost to others; they just don't want it to be a cost to them. This is where the passive-aggressive resistance comes in, because without articulating what a person wants, it doesn't simply just happen. Few people can, or even want to, read minds. Thus, you may be married to, employed by, attached to, really like, etc. this person, and mostly they seem charming, friendly and agreeable, it's just that dreadful passive-aggressive behavior that irritates you so much (and so it should), causing a communications gap and a failure to pull their own weight when needed.
Do a self-analysis of your own feelings and the ways in which you're currently responding to the passive-aggressive behavior.A big part of dealing effectively with passive-aggressive behavior will depend on how the behavior causes you to react. If you can spot the behavior and not let it push your helper/enabler/giving in buttons, then you can start to build the courage to cope and stop letting this person get off without penalty. Some things to consider include:
- Are you enabling this behavior in any way?: If you are non-confrontational too, perhaps living with the passive-aggressive actions is all just a whole lot easier than having to speak your mind or stand your ground. Add to this a desire to ensure that this person continues to like you "just the way you are" and perhaps both of you are dancing around each other without really saying what either of you thinks or wants.
- Do you feel controlled?: If you feel as if the passive-aggressive behavior is limiting your choices and ability to say what will happen in your life, then the behavior is most likely impacting you severely. In this case, it's recommended that you get some help from a trusted person or a therapist, in order to help you treat the reasons behind why you capitulate with such ease to controlling methods. Your own assertiveness and strengths will likely need to be given a boost.
- Are you the target of comments about your thin skin?: Does this person often claim that you're "too hyped up", "unable to take a joke", "wanting things to be too perfect" or "getting upset about nothing"? These are all phrases designed to push back the problem ontoyou, so as to make you look bad. The "calm" exterior of the passive-aggressive person is then seen as charming and sensible. The accusations leveled at you can leave you spluttering. If this happens constantly, you are being set up to look like the baddie in the relationship and this nasty pushback needs to be acknowledged and moved away from.
- Is the need for approval driving you?: Do you want this person's "approval" in some way? If this is a driver in your relationship, it can be a self-enforcing way to keep you tied to the passive-aggressive person's agenda and pace. You don't need anyone's approval. You do need to realize how seeking the approval of such a person leaves you open to being taken advantage of.
Managing around the passive-aggressive person
Ask yourself how prepared you are to stand up to the passive-aggressive person.You are going to be in the position of articulating for both of you what only one of you can be bothered to state with clarity. When you state what you want clearly, or call out the passive-aggressive actions, the repercussions from the passive aggressive person may include: withdrawal, overt anger (unusually but this is corner-backing stuff), irritability, tears and stalling. As well as being prepared to cite the passive-aggressive actions you notice when they directly affect you, you will also need to know your own boundaries and what you will no longer tolerate in terms of being held up, messed around and let down.
- Know what your own values are and your uncrossable boundaries. When you are clear on these, you will know when you're being used (see below).
Behave and speak assertively.This is your best defense against passive-aggressive behavior. State your preferences and needs factually, repeatedly and without backing down. There are many books and articles available to help you to improve your assertiveness if you're not feeling comfortable about this yet. In the meantime, keep these things in mind:
- State the fact(s) and the consequences clearly. Do not explain in great depth and do not use emotional words. Keep it simple, straightforward and clear.
- Rinse and repeat if needed. Stick to the same words and message. This makes it clear that you are firm about your expectations.
- Inform the passive-aggressive person of how his/her failure to contribute/arrive on time/meet a deadline, etc. impacts you. Stick to "I" statements and do not say anything about the other person's character or personality.
- Never mention the words "passive-aggressive" directly to this person. Always focus on how the behavior makes you feel and impacts you, using the exact descriptive words that fit the situation. Nobody likes being called out openly on being covertly aggressive!
Get on with doing what needs to be done instead of hoping vainly that this person will clear the way.Consider making alternative arrangements. Instead of relying on the passive-aggressive person, changeyourapproach andneverrely on them. Not once, not at all, never again. If they manage to catch up/be on time/do the work, etc., see it as an additional bonus but if not, don't let it ruin your plans, needs and desires. Get on with what you need to get on with. If, in the process of getting on with your life, the passive-aggressive person turns out to be completely unable to handle it, you have an answer to your question as to whether it's worth hanging around or not. On the other hand, you may find he/she will find some healthy respect for you and work in with your stronger self.
Skirt around the passive-aggressive person.If he/she is into power play, the easiest answer to this is to refuse to play the game. If you don't engage, you cannot be gobbled up by the spiral of self-defeating non-commitment that the passive-aggressive practices as an art form. Ways to avoid playing include:
- Ignoring the wiles and attempts to get you to put up with the delays, lack of commitment or shoddy performance.
- Going over this person's head. Go to the person whocanget done what you need to get done. Don't worry about how the passive-aggressive person will feel; he/she will be feeling mortified that you've worked out the game. Snap!
- Reminding yourself thatyouare just fine. Tell yourself: "X is game-playing again. This isn't about me, so I won't spend the rest of the evening fuming that he/she failed to cooperate. He/she is just trying to sabotage things again, so I see it for what it is and sidestep it." Go ahead and do what needs to be done.
- Sometimes moving on means that someone else needs to be involved to help finish things. In such a case, don't be afraid to explain how the passive-aggressive person has placed you in this position, so that the problem doesn't reflect poorly on you. Again, stick to facts about being given a firm date but still failing to meet deadlines, etc.; do not call that person names or denigrate their character.
Decide on your boundaries, your non-negotiable crossing points.You can write them down if it helps. Tell the other person when the relevant context arises and say it politely but firmly. For example:
- "I appreciate your offer to finish the gardening by Wednesday. I have a birthday party to hold in it on Saturday and I cannot cope with being made to wait when catering and setting up depends on early readiness. Thus, if you have not finished the garden by Wednesday, Jeeves Garden Services will come in on Thursday to fix it all. I will send the bill to you."
- "It's really great that you love playing Xbox all day. But when I've made dinner, I expect you to respect my efforts by coming to the table on time. If you don't, I won't be keeping your meal warm anymore. You can eat it as you find it."
- "While I appreciate that you add value to the documents we get to our clients, I can no longer be placed in an untenable position of telling clients that their product is not ready on time. The deadline is Tuesday next week. If you have not made that deadline, I will be going ahead and printing the document without your input in it."
- "I love that you want to be a part of my life. However, I've come to realize that I end up doing all the planning for our outings and then, we are usually late to everything we go to even though I am well and truly ready on time. From now on, if you don't want to come, just say so, I can handle that openness. If not, I will be leaving at the precise moment needed to get me to the events on time, whether or not you are ready."
Keep your own inner calm.Ifyoulose it, the passive-aggressive "wins" his/her silly little game. This simply opens the opportunity to accuse you of losing the plot, being unreasonable and making a mountain over nothing. This may seem really hard at first but it's really about practice and actually, it can even be about feeling cathartic because the calmer you are, the less comfortable the passive-aggressive person feels. By not toppling into a blithering heap, you maintain the upper hand.
- Stay calm. Assert on. (In the tradition of those posters. In fact, make yourself one if it helps.)
Stay focused on your own behavior and on maintaining your integrity.It doesn't matter that the passive-aggressive person has a raft of problems and wants the world to be a kinder, gentler placeto them. This kind of thinking is both wishful and immature and won't change things. You are not this person's savior. If this person is to remain a part of your life, make it absolutely clear that it's on your terms too, not only theirs and that relationships are about compromise, collaboration and respect. Respect your own needs and wants, respect what you have striven hard for and do not let the passive-aggressive behavior derail you. With any luck, the passive-aggressive person will lighten up get with you too. If not, it's not your responsibility to mop up and you may need to consider longer-term change.
QuestionI seem incapable of remaining calm in the face of years of escalating abuse by my PA. I cannot abide being ignored and I can't seem to stop trying to talk to him. The more I talk the more he ignores.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhen the behavior has been established for many years, it takes very little to trigger habitual responses and ignoring and not talking is a bad habit. It is typical of the PA to cause anger to transfer to the person their behavior affects, precisely because their failure to interact is a riling situation for people in a close relationship. You are supposed to be intimates and yet, there is no communication; of course you feel angered! If your PA partner will agree to couples counseling, this is one option but you may find it more beneficial to get counseling for yourself or, at the very least, to realize that this is your PA's behavioral problem and not yours. Try to provide assertive statements about your own intentions regardless of the thundering silence and get on with your life. Should this fail, consider ending the relationship; your well-being has been eroded for long enough.Thanks!
QuestionIm living with a passive-aggressive man and am at my wits' end. He never accepts responsibility for anything. It is always my fault. I have threated to leave him many times and end up going back after a day or two. He makes me feel that it is always my fault. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt sounds like you may be in a codependent situation. You could find a decent therapist and/or support group for you or both of you.Thanks!
QuestionMay I know, what does it mean if my boyfriend told me he want me to be passive. Does it mean he is a passive-aggressive type of a person?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, this is likely more about overt dominance. It could mean he wants you to not engage with him on an equal level but to be quiet, submissive and obedient to his needs and will. This is an old-fashioned and outdated notion and is about power and control of another person's life. On the other hand, maybe he is referring to a sexual fetish in which one partner is dominant and the other is passive. Your best bet is to ask him ask him what he means, decide if his answer meets with your wishes in life and walk away if it isn't for you.Thanks!
- Every person behaves in a passive aggressive way at times. It's a defensive and self-protective strategy. It gets out of hand when it's theonlyrelational and coping mechanism that a person adopts, especially when that person works out that it is a great way to avoid conflict but still control people and relationships.
- Working around can often mean working well away from a passive-aggressive person. In the workplace context, this might require moving to a new role, having that person given "special projects" or other ways to limit their impact on you or the workplace's output.
- Covert aggression can turn into overt aggression if the person feels cornered or pushed too far. If you ever feel afraid, do not stay around this person alone.
- Intimacy scares many passive-aggressive persons. They're afraid to let you in for fear you'll know too much and, in turn, seek to controlthem. This is often the hidden reason underneath adopting passive-aggressive behavior in the first place, then it turns into enjoyment of the manipulation it brings with it (often tied to "he/she will never leave me"). If you feel that a relationship that is supposed to be intimate feels distant most of the time, or that there is something you just aren't getting close to with this person, that's a warning sign of deeply repressed anger and fear. Therapy for both of you might be helpful, although it might be like dragging a wild horse to get the other person to accompany you. If they do go, it can be quite cathartic watching the therapist draw them out on their bad behavior; just keep your compassion in place.
- Do not apologize on behalf of the passive-aggressive person. It may tempting, especially with respect to an intimate relationship such as a spouse or friend, but it can be the thin edge of the wedge of letting this person off the hook while you take the blame or soften the blows.
- Be aware that like attracts like. Are you passive aggressive too? Is your workplace filled with passive aggressive types? Did you pick a pastime that attracts passive aggressive types? Are you all playing one another off? Be alert and be truthful with yourself.
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