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Anger Expressed as Passive Aggression

The results of your Anger Quiz Indicate that you may be in a relationship wherein anger is often expressed as passive-aggression.

Being married to a passive-aggressive person can be a highly frustrating experience, especially if you don’t know what you are dealing with. You may just know that your partner sabotages things, they have a million excuses for why they broke a promise or commitment, and they resent your pointing out their deficiencies or irresponsible behaviors.

They seem overly sensitive to actual criticism or what they perceive as criticism. They often do not take leadership roles in the family but then get upset when told what to do what must be done.

They rarely are clear or direct about what they want and why it is important to them.

You may feel as if you are raising another child in your home instead of partnering with another adult to share life’s struggles and demands.

What is Passive-Aggression?
Passive-aggression is a way to express anger or hostility indirectly, because the individual cannot or will not express these emotions directly. When being passive-aggressive, your partner may not yell or shout if angry. Instead, they will often smile and agree with you and promise to do whatever it is you want. But somehow it never gets done, or it is done partially or incorrectly even though they clearly have the capability to do it right.

From the point of view of the passive-aggressive person, often the problem isn’t seen as passive-aggression, but as being married to a partner who is unreasonable in demands, who is constantly picking on them and who can’t be satisfied no matter what. They think that avoiding direct expression of emotion, especially anger, only makes sense in order to keep the peace and stay out of trouble. Better to agree to do it and then not do it than get into an argument about not wanting to do it in the first place. And maybe they will get away with it.

Case Example: 25 year old man comes for a consultation at the insistence of his wife. She is livid because she discovered he had been with another woman during a recent period of separation. She accused him of having an affair.

He insists it was NOT an affair because they were separated. He has no guilt, remorse or second thoughts about what he did.

Why, I asked, is she so angry at you if you indeed were separated?

“Because I guess I agreed that during our separation we would not see other people.”

Why did you break the agreement, I ask him?”

“Because aren’t I entitled to pleasure in life?”

Other examples of Passive-Aggression
There are many examples of passive-aggression ranging in severity and consequences from pretending not to hear your partner ask you to do an unpleasant task—to doing something that is actually self-destructive in order to make your partner suffer.

Here are some of the better examples I have seen throughout the years in may practice:

  • Succumbing to pressure to get married before ready. Then on honeymoon night telling partner that you are not sexually attracted to her.
  • Compiling scores of parking violation tickets. When confronted by partner, promise to pay them, but it never happens. Finally driver’s license is taken away.
  • Agreeing to marriage counseling but not doing anything the counselor suggests to improve the marriage. For instance the therapist recommends spending 10 minutes a day talking to each other. Next session, Passive-aggressive partner says he could not find one day where he had an extra 10 minutes to talk to his wife.
  • Sabotaging a consequence your partner has imposed on a child because you don’t agree with it and then alienate the child from your partner.

How can this impact your marriage or relationship?
Passive-Aggression can corrode the emotional bond in your marriage because

  • It is not honest.
  • The underlying hostility remains to re-emerge again.
  • The underlying issue does not get resolved.
  • It frustrates your partner to the limit who wants now to retaliate.

The goal of most marriages is to develop a securely functioning relationship with each other, with a feeling that you have each other’s back and can trust and depend on each other. Honest, direct expression of anger or frustration is a hallmark of a healthy relationship and healthy communication.

Passive-aggressive expressions of anger, on the other hand, have the opposite goals. The last thing a partner can do is feel secure that they can depend on their passive-aggressive partner. Rather than feeling that the partner has your back, you may be fearful that he/she will stab you in the back.

A passive-aggressive person in the home often causes the partner to turn into someone no body likes- including the partner who may not like themselves as they try to cope with the passive-aggressive.

As the partner of a passive-aggressive, you may begin to “over-function” in your home because “somebody has to do it.” The more you do, the more you may resent it. As you begin to run on fumes you become more furious at your passive-aggressive partner for being unreliable and insensitive.

Next steps
Your options as the partner of a passive-aggressive
Passive-Aggression is a personality trait that can be quit mild and even adaptive in certain situations. But, it also can be quit severe and deeply entrenched which makes it very toxic to the partner. Truth is, if deeply entrenched, it is very diffiuclt for the passive-aggressive to change even if they acknowledge their passive-ahgressiveness and want to change.

Most of the time, it is a matter of the partner first discerning if they can live with the passive-aggressive behavior or not.

Coming soon: Dr Fiore’s audio guide for combating passive aggression in your relationship: 7 lessons for both partners to learn how to be less defensive and how to communicate with a defensive person.