Has your spouse accused you of being passive-aggressive? Maybe they say you’re manipulative. Maybe they tell you that you never speak your mind. Sometimes it may seem like you’ve gained the upper hand in disagreements, but it still feels like the relationship never wins. Are you passive-aggressive or being falsely accused? Well, let’s look at a few ways to shed more light on whether you’re passive-aggressive or not.

What is passive-aggressive behavior?

Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D says, “Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.1 

Think of it this way: You’re expressing your negative feelings aggressively, negatively. Often, this asserts your control, power, or desire to punish your spouse. However, it’s done passively or indirectly. If you’re not directly naming it, your spouse may not be sure what the real issue is. 

Aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean loud, forceful, or demonstrative. But it is often intentional and pointed directly toward your spouse.

Different Levels of Passive-Aggressiveness

1. Passive-Aggressive Moments.

Many people have moments of passive-aggressiveness. Sometimes, you just don’t have the emotional energy to deal with a conflict, so you use passive-aggressive behavior to keep control of the issue. You may not demonstrate this behavior often, but every now and then, you might pull it out of your bag of tricks. You probably know it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but the alternative at the moment isn’t worth it. 

2. Passive-Aggressive Habits.

Being passive-aggressive is your primary way of addressing issues with your spouse. You may even find it hard to initiate a conversation about an issue head-on. You may have become “effective” at passive-aggressive behavior. It seems to get you what you want.

3. Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association defines this as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.” 2,3 This person feels impossible to tackle conflict with. Their passive-aggressive nature spreads throughout every part of their life.

What does passive-aggressive behavior look like? 

Here are some ways being passive-aggressive may play out.

1. Sarcastic, snarky comments.

On its own, the comment you make may sound like a compliment. But the context is clearly meant to be negative. You and your spouse haven’t had a real conversation in weeks, but you hear your spouse chopping it up with one of their friends. You say, “You two sure do have a lot to talk about.” On its own, it seems innocent. Perhaps you’re hoping they feel the sharpness of your emotions. You feel neglected, maybe a bit jealous. However, instead of coming out and saying what you feel, you make a sarcastic remark.

2. Half-doing tasks.

Your spouse’s schedule has changed, and they aren’t doing things around the house, leaving it to you. You resent their schedule change, or you feel like they’re taking you for granted. Instead of bringing it up, you half-heartedly do the tasks like yard work, laundry, or cleaning. It’s obviously not up to standard. You’re trying to prove a point.

3. Silence or distance. (I struggle with this one.)

You gain control by not talking about anything of substance. Your conversations become surface-level or just about facts. Nothing personal or vulnerable. You build a wall between you and your spouse. You’re expressing your anger, resentment, displeasure, etc., through silence. This gives you control of the situation or at least makes you feel like you’re in control.

4. Agreeing, but not really agreeing.

Your spouse wants to go to the in-laws, but you don’t want to go. Your spouse knows you don’t want to go, and you can’t even believe they’ve asked you to come along. Instead of sharing your true desire, you agree to go not out of compassion or being a team player but out of resentment. You’re upset because they should know that you’re not ok with going.

5. Ignoring, putting off, or procrastinating.

Your spouse has asked you to do something. Your negative feelings toward your spouse may have nothing to do with what they’ve asked. However, you choose to express your negative emotions by continually putting off their request while never sharing the real reason.

Signs You May Be Passive-Aggressive… Self-Reflection Questions

While you self-reflect, consider…

  1. How do you address conflict in your marriage? Do you clearly communicate your thoughts, emotions, and desires, or do you drop hints? Do you exhibit any of the previously mentioned behaviors? Is ist possbile that you simply avoid conflict while sending sharp signals that there is conflict? 
  2. Do you have negative thoughts about your spouse that motivate how you respond to them? How do they know those thoughts? Or do they? Is it possible you have built-up anger or resentment that comes out through simple requests?
  3. Do you usually control the when and where you deal with marital problems? You may be using passive-aggressive behavior to control or manipulate your spouse instead of working together.

Understanding how you deal with issues in your marriage can help your marriage thrive through difficult times.

If you come to the conclusion that you are a passive-aggressive spouse, that’s progress! Even if you don’t, this can open up meaningful conversations with your spouse to figure out how to handle conflict well in your marriage. The ultimate goal here isn’t about pointing out faults; it’s about transforming conflict in your marriage into building blocks for intimacy. Becoming a better version of yourself in that process is a strong byproduct I’ll take any day. 

How to End Passive Aggressive Behavior in Marriage

How To Improve Bad Communication In Marriage

The #1 Thing That Can Secretly Ruin Your Marriage

Sources:

1What is Passive Aggressive Behavior? What Are Some of the Signs?

2 The Construct of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder

3 How to Recognize and Handle Passive-Aggressive Behavior

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