What is Passive-Aggression?

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.