How to Tell When Your Partner is Being Passive Aggressive

E.B. Johnson

by: E.B. Johnson (Image via

The longer we ignore the passive aggressive behavior of a partner or a spouse, the more harmful it can become. Rather than coming to mutual terms, we find ourselves festering in a stew of negative emotion and resentment that makes it impossible to connect or value one another on a real level. Don’t accept the poor behavior of a passive aggressive partner. Stand up for yourself and learn to set boundaries that protect your relationship and your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Passive aggressive conflict is toxic.

Passive aggressive behavior — ultimately — comes down to an unwillingness or an inability to honestly communicate and confront negative emotions or thoughts. For example, your partner might say something that hurts your feelings, or disappoints you. Instead of telling them how you feel directly, you give them an, “I’m fine,” and then complain behind their back to anyone who will listen. In the long run, it does nothing to resolve the original issue, and in the short-term it can cause a lot of nasty conflict and injured feelings.

When you refuse to address (or express) the way you feel directly, you end up with even more complex emotions; as well as a cloudiness or confusion that can make it hard to see the right choices. It muddies the waters of our relationships, and makes it harder for us to trust one another and be vulnerable with one another. Passive aggressive behavior is toxic. And it drives a wedge in the places we should be closes to one another.

While we cannot change a passive aggressive partner, we can find better ways to communicate with one another and better ways to protect our wellbeing. Bouts of silence and simmering, insidious resentment aren’t acceptable when it comes to building a partnership we can be proud of. By cultivating a greater understanding of this behavior, we can more accurately and honestly identify it in our lives (and our partners). Don’t avoid conflict with your partner. When we confront our feelings the happy way, it can transform our relationships.

Signs your partner is being passive aggressive.

Think you’re dealing with a passive aggressive partner? Stop settling for the resentment, cold shoulders, and blame games that undermine your love and self-esteem. Be honest about your behavior and begin by looking for these very telling signs of passive aggressive tendencies.

Giving the cold shoulder

When it comes to passive aggressive behavior, the silent treatment is a classic staple. This is a tool that avoidant personalities love to use, because it involves completely shutting out any uncomfortable emotions or actions. Instead of speaking up when you hurt their feelings, they clam up; they shut down. They walk away rather than talk things out, and they compound the negative feelings between you by refusing to work through them with you.

Simmering with resentment

The passive aggressive partner is boiling with resentment, but they never voice this resentment directly. Instead, they might stomp around the house o slam doors whenever you disappoint or upset them. Likewise, they may decide to make snide remarks, or underhanded comments (after the fact) that only further work to splinter your relationship and widen the divides that are spreading between you.

Deploying sarcasm

Does your partner use sarcasm as a defensive weapon whenever they’re upset? Do they lean into snark, or make nasty remarks that cut you to the core — rather than just saying how they feel, or disagreeing with you up front? This constant use of sarcasm is a deflection and one that allows your partner to avoid dealing with whatever issues are boiling beneath the surface. Being sarcastic is far easier than honest when you’re an avoidant person.

Engaging in sabotage

Because the passive aggressive person is too fearful of direct confrontation, they often use sabotage as a means of expressing their anger and disappointment. Maybe they show up late to an event that means a lot to you, or procrastinate until it’s too late to book that birthday trip you’ve been dreaming of for ages. If they are going out of their way to undermine any happiness or victories, you manage to achieve for you — it could be a sign of passive aggressive behavior.

Playing blame games

The passive-aggressive person is — generally — not someone who is fond of taking responsibility for their mistakes. This comes down to their preference for avoidance, which makes it too uncomfortable for them to step up and say, “Oops. I made a mistake.” Instead, they revert to blame games and doing everything they can to cast guilt onto those who accuse or confront them.

Warped intentions

Along the same lines, you may notice false intentions as a common theme with a passive aggressive partner. This is a bit more of a conscious ploy to undermine your security within the relationship. It happens when your partner or spouse commits to supporting you, or performing an action — but in truth has no intention of following through or showing up when they’re needed. Usually, this is out of some perceived sense of wrong or “hurt”. They use it as a means to revenge or to “punish” you for messing up.

Setting up triggers

Passive aggressive isn’t always as passive as the name might suggest. One of the more malicious tactics that a passive aggressive partner may engage in is intended hurt, which they do indirectly by pushing buttons they know will bring up hard emotions. Perhaps they make a poke at a dead parent, or mock one of your previous relationships and the way a former partner treated you (“No wonder So-and-So hit you…”). However, they do it, they do it to cause harm or seek revenge.

Endless victimhood

Don’t be fooled by the examples above. Just as a passive aggressive person can be overtly malicious, they can be subtly manipulative too. A common way many passive aggressive people avoid conflict, confrontation, and responsibility is by maintaining a toxic state of victimhood. They paint the world as a vicious machine, hellbent and set on destroying their lives in particular. Nothing is ever their fault, but they are in constant need of rescue.

Deceitfully playing along

What happens when you ask your partner for their opinion? Do they usually agree to whatever you’re asking, saying “yes” when they really mean “no”? You might find that they agree to go along with your plans one moment, before shifting their perspective entirely. Then, they lash out with snide remarks or the cold shoulder, irritated and aggravated even though they weren’t honest with you in the first place. This deceitful consent is intended to destabilize your perspective and consent.

How to deal with a passive aggressive partner or spouse.

Don’t allow your partner’s passive aggressive behavior to undermine your happiness forever. Step in and protect your own wellbeing by being honest, focusing on your own boundaries, having frank conversations, and growing a backbone when it comes to walking away and seeing to your own needs.Stop playing the games and start being real about your future.

1. Be radically honest with yourself

It’s impossible to address your issues until you know (precisely) what they are. This doesn’t mean taking a quick glance at your relationship and settling on the bare minimum. It means taking a step back and really analyzing your behavior, as well as that of your partner’s, and how you are being impacted by that behavior overall. For that, you have to be brutally honest — and that’s something that doesn’t always come easy.

Find a journal and a few quiet minutes where you can be left uninterrupted.Think back to the last “conflict” you had with your partner. When you addressed a problem with them, how did they react? Did they listen to you as you spoke? Make eye contact? Promise to correct behavior? Or did they stomp off in a rage, shift the blame, then treat you to a silent wall of contempt?

Be honest about your partner’s behavior. Brutally honest. Shove all the excuses and all the allowances aside and look at how they act and react in the bright light of day. Write it down. Every silent treatment, cold shoulder, or instance when they went behind your back to complain. Record it, then record how you feel when these things happen. Look back at the patterns and not them well. Once you see it in black and white, it will help bring you to reality.

2. Build better boundaries

Honesty is a great first step, but it’s just that — a first step. Once you have seen your partner’s passive aggressive behavior for what it is, you have to get committed to take action in the name of correcting this behavior (and limiting its impact on you). Now, this becomes tricky when you understand that it’s not possible to change another person’s behavior. While you can communicate the way you feel, and you can ask for a change, the only person you can control is yourself.

For this reason, you have to look toward your own boundaries for the next step in the process. After identifying your partner’s passive aggressive tendencies, consider the lines you can draw for yourself in order to protect against that behavior. How can you put a wall between yourself and their emotional manipulation? How can you protect yourself from their off-putting blame games and victimhood?

Focus on your own boundaries rather than seeking to control your partner.While you have every right to ask them to correct poor behavior, at the end of the day you can’t force them to do that. So, don’t set out looking to direct the course of their actions. As you begin to correct the effects of their passive aggressive behavior, maintain a self-centric approach as you step into action. That is where the true power for transformation and self-protection lies.

3. Engage in honest conversations

While you are limited in the direct action, you can take when it comes to controlling your partner’s passive aggressive behavior, there are still steps you can take to engage them. Primary among these is having a frank conversation and mastering the art of addressing your feelings in the moment. In order to this, however, you have to commit to being honest about how you’re feeling and how you’re being impacted by their avoidance and victim mentality.

Rather than running away from your partner’s bad behavior, address it when it happens. When they hand you the silent treatment, refuse it. Count to 10, get clear on your own thoughts, then stop them in their tracks. “Why are you behaving this way? What’s wrong?” Question their behavior and question their motive, too. You have a right to know why you’re being treated a certain way.

Be honest about how their behavior is impacting you. Keep it to the facts, however, and avoid blaming language of your own. “When you hand me the silent treatment, it makes me feel hurt…When you don’t show up for me, I feel angry…” Start small and work your way up as you become more comfortable standing up for yourself and the way you feel. All the time, focus in on your boundaries, which you can communicate to your partner for an extra layer of mutual understanding.

4. Don't play any games with them

Beyond having frank conversations, you can (and should) also refuse to engage in the shortsighted and petty games that your partner invests in whenever they’re hurt. This means refusing to give them the emotional response they’re looking for and refusing to give them control over your relationship and the way you feel about yourself. Once you refuse to engage, you put their power over you to an end.

Don’t enable them by becoming a pawn in their blame games. Whenever your partner baits you or tries to place you in a role you don’t belong in, pull back and remove yourself from the situation. Shut down emotionally when it comes to them. Imagine you’re viewing the situation from a third-person point-of-view.

Giving in to the arguments or the provocations will only give your passive aggressive partner or spouse the ammunition they need to keep going. This is especially true for the partner who is entrenched in toxic victimhood. If you snap back, get angry, or engage them in a fight — it will only reinforce their ideas that you’re a vicious monster out to get them, and that they are (indeed) helpless victims in someone else’s nightmare.

5. Grow a backbone

When it comes to dealing with the passive aggressive people in our lives, it’s imperative that we learn how to grow a backbone and stand up for ourselves. No one will protect our wellbeing like we will. No one will look out for our needs, or sympathize with our situations quite like we will. For this reason, it’s imperative that we learn to love and respect ourselves. Because sometimes, dealing with a passive aggressive partner requires the hardest of choices in the name of our own happiness.

Once you’ve clearly communicated your boundaries and had some frank conversations, observe your partner’s behavior and their commitment to change. While none of us is truly capable of transforming overnight, those of us who choose to transform ourselves out of love show signs of it to those who matter most.

If your partner makes no commitment to change — if they do nothing to prove that they want to be better for themselves and for you — know that you may have to walk away. Setting boundaries requires us to also set consequences. Among these consequences is removing ourselves from the partnership when we aren’t being respected and aren’t having our needs meet. Find your backbone and look to yourself as the child you owe everything to. You are the protector of your future, and that means leaving behind those who would hurt you, sometimes.

Putting it all together...

Passive aggressive behavior isn’t just something that happens in the workplace or during Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a behavioral pattern which can also poison our intimate relationships and the lives we’re building together. In order to overcome this behavior, we have to be honest about it and learn to spot its signs in our partners (and ourselves).

Start by getting honest about what’s going on. Look at your partner’s behavior and accept it for what it is. Accept too, the way it impacts you and your own emotions. Once you’ve embraced this, you can make pathways to address it. You have to be brutally honest, though, and accept your partner’s behavior alongside that of your own. Know that you can’t change them and use that knowledge to focus on your own boundaries. Draw the line around actions you are and aren’t willing to tolerate, then communicate those boundaries explicitly and without apology. You have a right to need what you need. Master the art of (uncomfortably) frank conversations; like pulling off a bandaid, it’s something that simply has to be done. Refuse to engage in any blame games and find enough backbone to respect yourself and walk away when the disrespect becomes too great. Loving someone is no excuse to settle for less than you deserve.

#relationships #dating #marriage #psychology #troublesandadvice #self

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Writer. Host. Certified coach. Host of the Practical Growth Pod. Master Practitioner NLP. Get all my books and resources at the link below.

Pelham, AL

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