How to End Passive Aggressive Behavior in Marriage
Newsflash: Sometimes your spouse is going to make you plain mad.
(Not to mention you’ll inevitably do something to annoy the heck out of them.)
Something is said, something is done without you being informed, something is left undone…
And the blood starts to boil.
Being angry is perfectly normal, and usually, things can be worked through. Mistakes and misunderstandings are a normal part of any relationship, especially a marriage.
But it’s how a person responds in their anger that can help find a resolution or derail the marriage train. Passive-aggressiveness in marriage not only throws the relationship off its tracks, but it’s also downright destructive.
Passive-aggressive behavior in marriage is when a person expresses anger or annoyance in an indirect way.1
- One person forgot to put the dishes away. The other says, Wow, look at all these dishes in here. Sure would be nice if they were in the cabinet where they belong…
- One said something that embarrassed the other last night in front of friends. The embarrassed person hasn’t spoken a word to the other since thinking their silence will wake their spouse up to what they did wrong.
- One spouse left their dirty socks on the bed when they came home. The other nonchalantly throws them in the trash can and walks away with a smile.
A passive-aggressive response in marriage is marked with quiet bitterness. It’s often a way to punish the offender emotionally, letting them “wallow in their sin” for a while. The “offended” seemingly avoids the conflict while putting the “offender” in a place of guilt, shame, and discomfort. It’s a power-play, a form of manipulation, and a highly ineffective way of dealing with conflict and strengthening a marriage.2, 3
Just in case I haven’t been too clear on this yet: Passive-aggressiveness is not good for a marriage.4
And yet, we all tend to act passive-aggressively at times. Fortunately, you can avoid it.
How can you and your spouse end passive-aggressive behavior in your marriage?
Talk about the importance of checking your anger before you respond.
It’s essential to pause and examine your emotions. Ask yourself, Okay, how am I feeling toward my spouse right now? I’m obviously frustrated. But am I being bitter? Am I trying to make my spouse feel ashamed or guilty? Am I expressing my feelings in a healthy way?
Agree to avoid dwelling on it.
This is when you replay the thing that has offended you over and over again in your mind. It builds negative energy and makes you even angrier the more you think about it. Decide together to talk about an issue directly, respectfully, and in a timely manner.
Practice addressing an issue directly.
Establish some ground rules for working through more serious issues respectfully. Agree to sincerely express emotions with each other. To avoid ruminating, it might be helpful to have a 24-hour rule. If either of you has any beef with the other, you’ll address it in a civil manner within 24 hours.
Have weekly check-in meetings to resolve hanging issues.
Establish a regular time to meet together over coffee and simply connect. Use that time to calmly get anything out in the open that needs to be hashed out.
- Hey, would you mind putting up the dishes tonight? I think it might’ve been forgotten yesterday.
- Do you remember that thing you said last night? It was a little embarrassing. I know you didn’t mean harm, and I totally forgive you already. But I just wanted you to know how I felt.
- I know this is silly, but leaving socks out really bugs me. Would you mind throwing those in the hamper when you come in from work?
Consider what you each are holding back from the past.
Is there something between you and your spouse in the past that causes passive-aggressiveness to creep into your marriage? Or perhaps from a previous relationship? We sometimes don’t even realize how these events shape how we handle present issues. Wrestling with them isn’t easy, but it helps you.
Choose one of these strategies to work through and talk about as a couple this week. There’s always room to strengthen your marriage, and figuring out how to eliminate passive-aggressiveness is a major step to take toward a healthier relationship.
5 Things To Do When You Feel Disconnected From Your Spouse
Is It Good To Fight In Marriage?
Help! My Spouse And I Can’t Stop Fighting!
The #1 Things That Can Secretly Ruin Your Marriage
2 What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior? What Are Some of the Signs?
3 What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?
4 Exhausting Silence: Emotional Costs of Withholding Complaints
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