Passive-aggressive behavior is the expression of negative feelings in an indirect manner. It might manifest itself in resentment toward others, complaining about not being appreciated, intentionally making mistakes when fulfilling a request, or a sulky attitude. In a marriage, passive-aggressive behavior is a sign of hidden hostility between spouses that is not being dealt with in a healthy way. Breaking the cycle of passive-aggressive behavior will involve establishing a direct approach to dealing with problems in the marriage in which both partners can express themselves in a healthy, open way.
Stop Participating in the Behavior
Take the first step in breaking the cycle of unhealthy behavior by refusing to participate in your partner's passive-aggressive power games. A passive-aggressive person not only wants to make you angry, she also knows that her behavior is upsetting. Pay attention to the instances in which your spouse employs passive-aggressive behavior, and then manage your anger and other negative feelings through self-talk, suggests social worker Signe Whitson in "Confronting Passive Aggressive Behavior" for Psychology Today. When you detect her beginning to break out her arsenal, Whitson recommends saying to yourself, "She's being passive-aggressive, and I don't want to participate."
Confront Your Spouse About the Problem
If you avoid confronting your spouse about his passive-aggressive behavior, you'll only reinforce it, says retired psychologist and media personality Dr. Phil McGraw in the article "How to Spot and Deal With Passive-Aggressives" on his website. Be honest, and let him know that you're struggling with the indirect way that he expresses himself. Try to do this without attacking him -- stay calm, and separate the person from the issue. Tell him that if he truly values your relationship, he needs to make a change.
Set Personal Boundaries
Protect yourself from the impact of your spouse's passive-aggressive behavior by setting clearly defined personal boundaries. These limits should include consequences for her actions, should she continue to behave in a passive-aggressive way. For example, if she tends to agree to things she doesn't really want to do with a sullen, "Fine," let her know that you'll be taking her at face value. You will not try to guess at what she's really feeling, nor will you give in to her indirect demands. If she wants to do something else, she needs to let you know in a direct, honest way.
Make Agreements That Focus on Change
Infuse the situation with some accountability by making agreements with your spouse on things that need to change. When creating these agreements, make sure that the actions that need to be taken are both concrete and doable, and be clear about what constitutes successful fulfillment, recommends counselor Michael Samsel on his website. For instance, if your spouse says yes to everything but then fails to follow through, agree to work on honesty by helping him to feel comfortable enough to let you know when he really doesn't want to do something. Encourage him by rewarding his honesty by not getting angry when he refuses your request.
- Mayo Clinic: What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior? What are Some of the Signs?
- Psychology Today: Confronting Passive Aggressive Behavior
- Dr. Phil: How to Spot and Deal With Passive-Aggressives
- New Living Magazine: Dealing with the Passive-Agressive Personality
- Michael Samsel: Passive Aggressive Behavior
- Photo Credit Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images
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