Breaking the Cycle of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Your Marriage

A song by Weird Al Yankovic has this tongue-in-cheek take on Passive-Aggressive behavior:

I knew that we were having problems when
You put those piranhas in my bathtub again
You’re still the light of my life
Oh darling, I’m begging, won’t you put down that knife

You know, I even think it’s kinda cute the way
You poison my coffee just a little each day
I still remember the way that you laughed
When you pushed me down the elevator shaft

Oh, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s this poisonous cobra
Doing in my underwear drawer
Sometimes I get to thinking you don’t love me anymore

Exaggerated as this song may be, sometimes couples are guilty of some degree passive-aggressive behavior. On the surface, things are “okay” when they are actually not. And to express that there is something wrong, we behave in a way that tries to send the message indirectly, act in such a way as to punish our spouse or show our disapproval.

Being passive-aggressive is one way of communicating. However, this kind of “communication” is can be considered dishonest. We deny that we are angry and pretend that everything is just the way we want it when they are actually not.  For instance, a spouse who doesn’t want to clean up the garage will put that undesired task indefinitely. Or, complain and sullenly complete the task. Or, when asked to go for Provo marriage counseling, a spouse will make up excuses to delay the visit or always be late for the appointments.

According to Provo marriage counselors, passive-aggressive behavior is not healthy for a marriage. The first step towards more open and honest communications between you and your spouse is to identify some passive-aggressive behaviors you or your spouse may be doing. With an increased awareness of these behaviors, you can already make efforts towards avoiding the said behavior.

Here are some characters that show passive aggressiveness:

The Turtle. Like the turtle, instead of engaging in dialogue about what’s wrong or what the problem is, this kind of behavior will withdraw from the situation and the argument. Whenever you open up a discussion, this spouse will respond with “whatever” or leave the argument outright. The result is that the issue is not threshed out and there is no real communication.

The Denial King. As they say, “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” Persons who fall under this type of behavior will say, “No problem. I’m not angry. Do whatever you want. I’m fine with it.” But their behaviors belie their smiles and assurances that “it’s ok”. This type of behavior masks the true feelings of anger so that they don’t rock the boat.

The Saboteur.  This behavior will agree and actually do the things he or she does not like, but will do it improperly so as to irritate the person who asked him or her to do it. The act of doing it postpones an argument or disagreement but also results in anger on the part of the person who initiated the task. Another way to try act like the Saboteur is to make the other person wait a long time before a task is done.

The Hasta Mañana Specialist. This behavior will try to put off doing a task even though he or she has already verbally agreed to do it. Another version of this will be to conveniently “forget” the task until it exasperates the other spouse.

The Victim. Instead of accepting responsibility for something or for an action, this type of passive-aggressive behavior will feel that you are unfairly on his or her case. He or she is a victim of unfair treatment. The other spouse is the one who has very high and unreasonable expectations.

Looking at the behaviors, you can see that a marriage can suffer from a lack of communication, an overflow of unexpressed anger and no healthy interactions to solve a certain issue. Now, what can you do to ward off passive-aggressive behavior? Here are some simple steps:
– Remove ambiguity. Be clear and specific so as to avoid misunderstandings or any room for someone to “misinterpret” what you said. Doing so will minimize the potential for conflict.
– Be aware of your behaviors and responses. If you have a spouse who has a tendency to act passive-aggressively, or if you tend to act the same way yourself, be more observant of your own behaviors and reactions. This can be a start of your exploring the patterns that are unhealthy for the relationship/
– Be realistic. Don’t expect too much than what your spouse can give or do willingly. Measure the extent by which he or she will change realistically and work from there.
– Help your spouse accept responsibility for the behavior. It is tempting to shield your spouse from your unhappy feelings (and thus be tempted to be passive-aggressive yourself). However, this will not help your relationship. Using “I” statements rather than “You” statements, tell your spouse how his or her behavior affects those around him or her. Do not let your spouse give excuses for this kind of behavior. When doing this, though, remember that you are pointing out his or her wrong behavior, not attack him or her as a person.
– Fight fair. Avoid trash talking. If things get too hot or off track, you can agree to have a cool down period before you resume your discussion.

These are just simple things you can do. However, it is still recommended that both of you go for Utah marriage counseling to help you be more aware of some passive-aggressive behaviors you may (consciously or unconsciously) be practicing. With the help of an experienced Utah marriage counselor, you can explore the reasons behind the passive-aggressiveness and find ways to resolve these issues.

You can be equipped with a number of communications and coping tools from couples counseling in Utah. With these, you and your spouse can start making headway towards positive communication and away from passive-aggressive behaviors.

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