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Passive Aggressive Partner - Why do they act that way and what are your Options?

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If you are the partner of a Passive Aggressive husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend, are you routinely feeling overwhelmed and downcast - finding it impossible to deal with your partner's Passive Aggressive (PA) behaviour?

Are you at a loss to understand why you are being treated this way and weary at the lack of emotional support?

This article provides insight as to why people may develop PA behaviours, looks at options available to the partners of PA people and highlights how to bring more joy into your life if you elect to continue in such a relationship.

Passive Aggressive Behaviour - Where does it come from?

Passive Aggressive behaviour can be defined as conduct which is conflict avoidant. Anger is not openly expressed but manifests itself by way of covert resistance, procrastination, withdrawal, sarcasm and more.

It is said that this personality disorder/behaviour is often developed and learned from childhood experiences when, for one reason or another, a child feels they cannot express dissent without being overly punished or reprimanded by an authority figure such as a parent or teacher.

Therefore their anger leeks out in indirect ways which serve to protect them from being viewed as a wrongdoer. In this way, a child may derive some degree of one-upmanship or revenge on a powerful person.

Question for Partners of Passive Aggressives

Assertiveness can help!

Ambiguity, procrastination ...

... broken agreements, withholding emotional support and/or sex, sabotage, sulking and silent treatment are all common features of passive aggressive behaviour.

For example a passive aggressive child might hide their mother’s wedding ring or some other prized possession to get back at their mother. Or perhaps they might stall/procrastinate and feign misunderstanding and covertly be uncooperative in order to cause inconvenience and delay to a teacher.

Thus begins a likely unconscious decision to act in a PA manner. Years later, some people deliberately act in this fashion as they realise it can get them what they want and allows them to influence and control others without the other person necessarily knowing that they are being manipulated. Eventually such behaviour is standard and engrained and they treat most everyone this way, not just those who have done something to offend them or who have authority over them.

Many PA people simply refuse to contemplate that they might be doing anything wrong and simply do not believe their conduct to be anything untoward.

As the spouse of a PA partner, you don’t necessarily have to have done anything wrong for them to act out. They can just land on something you have or haven’t done, or even something not directly associated with you, and in their mind you are in the wrong. They get upset or angry and have a need to punish you through some covert means because it is their lifelong belief that the full extent of their anger must stay hidden.

Although they may become very efficient at hiding this fact, more often than not, PA people lack self esteem in that they fear they will not be accepted if they present their real selves. Thus some PA people habitually tells others what they believe the other person wants to hear, rather than speak their truth.

Bearing in mind all of the above it is extremely testing to deal with passive aggressive behaviour.

Three Options for the partners of passive aggressive people?

  1. Meekly allow your spouse’s behaviour to overwhelm you and keep you miserable, angry and/or constantly frustrated.

  2. Rise above the provocation and challenging conduct and refuse to allow it to steal your joy in life and not expect your partner to fulfil your every emotional need. Don’t wait for them to make you happy - make your own happiness. No one other person should be the be all and end all of your existence. Resolve to work positively at being happy, knowing that you can indeed be as happy as you choose to be.

  3. Weigh up the good against the bad and if the bad is too bad, just not worth it, or you believe you have tried everything you feel capable of doing (e.g. improving communication between yourself and your spouse, positivity, assertiveness, and/or counselling) then you may choose to detach, terminate the relationship and move on.

If at the start of a relationship you realise your partner is Passive Aggressive, you might seriously consider moving on forthwith to avoid future difficulties. However, more often than not people do not recognise PA behaviour for what it is until after commitments and responsibilities are in place – e.g. marriage, parenthood, debt.

Some people are of a mind that no relationship is ever perfect all of the time. They may ultimately decide that although things are not ideal they are willing to live with the problems which exist and make the best of things by adopting the principles described in option 2. above. Others may choose to terminate their relationship with the PA person - option 3. above.

It is the writer’s hope that those currently enmeshed in option 1. will not remain so for the duration.

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Help if you are leaving/thinking of leaving the relationship.

Passive Aggression - Further Reading

Checklist for Rising Above Passive Aggression

  • Use positive thinking and self talk so that your partner's behaviour no longer overwhelms you

  • Become more assertive, calm and proactive in addressing your partner's bad conduct directly

  • Take full responsibility for your own emotional state of mind – developing pastimes and relationships with family/friends and do not rely solely on your partner for all your joy in life.

  • Know that happiness is a choice – actively choose to be happy and don’t let anyone drag you down with their drama. By all means, listen and ensure your partner feels heard and acknowledged; be sensitive and empathic to your partner's feelings and reasonable wants and needs and help your partner all you can. You will also need to be be self aware. However, ultimately he or she is responsible for their own happiness. If your partner chooses to be sullen, passive aggressive, miserable or mean, know that you are not responsible for their choice to be that way (even if they claim you are totally to blame for their plight).

Again, you do not have to let their unjust, negative, pathetic behaviour devastate you. Rise above it whether you choose to stay or not.


Passive Aggressive Partner – Is their behaviour bringing out the worst in you?

See the link above if you have been wondering if your partner's passive aggressive conduct is bringing out tit for tat passive aggression in you, the difficulty of living with a partner with these traits and the some of the negative consequences of having to continuously walk on eggshells.

Comments - Passive Aggressive Partner - Share your views on the above?

Ebonny (author) from UK on May 30, 2019:

Many thanks for your feedback KP and sincere best wishes with increasing your own peace of mind despite all.



KP on May 26, 2019:

Amazing insight and yet I feel like you were writing this just for me! Everything sounds like my husband! Thank you for the strategies!!

Ebonny (author) from UK on May 24, 2018:

Hi Stella - thank you for your feedback. Sincere best wishes to you going forward.

Stella on May 16, 2018:

I just got the answers i have been looking for. Thank you very much this is very helpful information

Ebonny (author) from UK on December 29, 2016:

Hi Squashed

Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts although I am surprised to note that you feel so offended. I am wondering if you are alluding to a different article of mine which expanded on what types of behaviour on the part of the person on the receiving end of silent treatment might unwittingly encourage more silence from a partner. In any event, I do not believe that not answering back or voicing an opinion makes a person a "bad guy" and yes of course action/inaction in the interests of safety is paramount.

You go on to say that you feel determined to react differently to silent treatment going forward and this is good to hear. Ebonny

Squashed on December 28, 2016:

I just have to disagree with some of this. And to point out that not everyone forced into the silent treatment is PA. My ex was emotionally abusive. And a narcissist. I was not allowed an opinion. I could not raise my voice. I was very controlled. I would have loved to have been able to have the back and forth of a discussion. Never going to happen. I always had to retreat for my own sanity and I'm sure safety. Lord only knows what would have happened if I had challenged him. So I take offense at this article making me out to be the bad guy. I most certainly was not! Please realize there's more to this than meets the eye. Every situation is different. I can assure all of you who read this that I will never not stand up for myself in any relationship ever again. There will be no silent treatment in any relationship going forward!

Ebonny (author) from UK on November 01, 2016:

Hi Celi

I very much appreciate your feedback and am pleased to know that the article has given some food for thought for your journey forward.


Celi on October 29, 2016:

I have easily read hundreds of articles on this subject and none is as good as this. I'm blown away. I don't have a gift with words so I'm finding it hard to explain WHY I think this article is so great so I'll just say what my three yr old said multiple times today... it just is!!

I'm going to print this out and really let it soak it. I know most of this will be brutally hard for me. I don't mind hard as long as the clouds of confusion get blown away. Thanks for clearing my vision. Time to start the journey.

Ebonny (author) from UK on June 04, 2016:

Hi Shawntel

Yes - and when difficult situations arise taking time to stop, reflect and see the bigger picture is always helpful.

Shawntel on June 02, 2016:

Because I didn't know what I was dealing with and it's freeing. Knowledge is power!

Ebonny (author) from UK on April 17, 2016:

Hi Tracy

So sorry to know what you are going through and that you do not have close support at hand. At times like these we have to be our own best friend. Don't be afraid to talk to yourself as you would a close friend - in other words encourage yourself as you would do with someone you really cared about and who was in your situation. Give yourself good advice and act on it!

You might also consider seeing a local counselling but knowing you have to remain strong is a great start. Believe in yourself and your resilience will win through more and more easily although of course you will almost certainly experience ups and downs for a time.

You made that brave first step in asking him to leave. This is HUGE and if you can do that I think that proves you are stronger than you perhaps think and it's good if you can strive to discipline yourself not to dwell too much on the past. Self reflection is an important learning tool but also make a point of spending significant amounts of time planning and looking forward to the future.

Take good care of yourself. Ebonny

Tracy on April 17, 2016:

Gosh, when you are in this situation, you feel that you are the only one, and the loneliness is unbearable, but reading the above gives you a better understanding. After nine year's of being married to a PA and enduring emotional, verbal and physical abuse I asked my husband to leave four weeks ago. During this period I have felt such pain and loss that I feel my heart is going to break, because I truly loved this man with all my heart, soul and being. I have been told to be strong and that things will get better, but he has been my life and I have become so controlled that my previous life seems impossible to reclaim. I have been advised that is best to keep him in the dark, have no contact, because that is the best way to deal with his nature. I have no close friend's or family, I have structured the last nine year's around this man, who I now realise he has never really loved me, just gained satisfaction from controlling me, turning into a feeling of love for himself, he is totally void of any true emotion. I do know I have to remain strong, but I have to say this seems like the hardest thing I have ever had to do, simple things like sleeping and eating are not happening.

Ebonny (author) from UK on March 15, 2016:

April - many thanks for your feedback and for sharing your situation. I am glad to know that you had the courage to reach out for counselling have been able to reflect, grow and develop. It certainly sounds like you are in a good position to make decisions about your relationship and life for the long term. Well done you. :-D

April on February 21, 2016:

Great article. I am currently married to a PA husband and I have been in counseling for close to a year and I've found that the happier I am with myself and raising my self - esteem that I don't want to stay in the marriage. I had hoped that I could grow to love and accept my husband more but instead I love myself more now. After 13 years I want to put my needs first.

Ebonny (author) from UK on June 20, 2015:

Hi Nadi

Sorry to learn of your struggles. I cannot deny that following the tips can be a real challenge, not least because coping with a passive aggressive person can progressively wear you down. However, although it’s easier said than done, I do believe it is worth the effort.

Not sure of your general temperament but I feel confident that if a person can raise their level of positivity overall, it’s possible to triumph over most things in life.

Regardless of whether you can have him understand what you are going through, please do seriously consider using positive affirmations. Coupled with positive thinking and self talk it can help you to follow the above tips. Even if you start off somewhat sceptical, over time this approach can really make a real difference and help you advance more happily in a variety of ways, not least with relationships. Even if the passive aggressive partner does not change at all, by changing their own mindset a person on the receiving end of passive aggression can lead a significantly happier life. Best regards and thanks for your comment.

Nadi on June 18, 2015:

I am facing the agony of being with a passive aggresor...I feel like my life is worthless...he doesnot understand the mental harrasement that I go through in these other time he is the best husband I can have. I am trying to follow the tips....but its so difficult.

Ebonny (author) from UK on March 16, 2014:

Hello Rae

Thank you for sharing your experience. It's good that you feel certain you did the right thing in divorcing and I certainly hope that over time you will find peace of mind and contentment. You are on the right road for your "sanity" and with positivity you will thrive. It's just a matter of time. Best wishes, Ebonny

Rae on March 15, 2014:

Just got divorced from passive aggressive man who got emotionaly, verybally and mentally abusive. This did not show up until after 18 years of marriage, I went another 11 years coping. the silent treatment went from hours to days to weeks. I know I did the right thing in divorcing him....but I am so brainwashed....I am in therapy, but still find myself thinking of him (good and bad). RUN, do not waste your life as I did in this marriage (thinking it would get better). It gets worse, I got out before he got physically abusive....I saw that coming too.

It is still very very difficult for me. I pray every night that the good Lord helps me through these trials and tribulations.

Ebonny (author) from UK on March 06, 2014:

Midget38 - Many thanks for your thoughts, which I entirely agree with.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on March 05, 2014:

This can sometimes be worse than hostile behavior....passive agressives can be very difficult to even communicate with! Thanks for sharing!

Ebonny (author) from UK on February 28, 2014:

Hi MsDora - Many thanks for reading, voting and commenting.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 28, 2014:

Good information and good counsel concerning a very challenging situation. Voted Up!

Ebonny (author) from UK on February 27, 2014:

Hi Ann

Many thanks for your comment and the important reminder that happiness due to others is a bonus. We really do need to be our own "bread and butter" in terms of making our own dreams come true.

Ebonny :-)

Ann Carr from SW England on February 27, 2014:

Great advice for dealing with this problem; I've had experience of this but that's now long gone, thank goodness!

It's true, whatever our relationships, that we should not rely on anyone else for our own happiness, or for anything else for that matter. We need to be complete persons in ourselves. It's a bonus if we have a deeper happiness due to others.

Well-presented hub, dealing with a difficult subject and giving sound advice. Ann

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