Sometimes, relationships start to break down. It’s not always clear why or easy to pinpoint the exact reason this happens. You may find that you are all of a sudden always bickering with your partner or picking at one another over small things.

Some partners even become passive-aggressive, which can be very difficult to deal with if you’re on the receiving end of it. So, what exactly is passive aggression and how can you address the issue with your partner? Let’s find out.

What Is Passive Aggression?

Passive aggression is described as a behavior where someone expresses feelings or thoughts without openly or directly addressing them. A passive-aggressive person fails to express their own thoughts, feelings, and desires, but attempts to punish or control others through their comments.

For instance, you could notice that your partner seems to be upset about something, or is angered by something, yet when you ask them they reply: ‘I’m fine.’ After this, you may notice that they slam doors, close cupboards as loudly and aggressively as possible, and their body language generally suggests that they are not fine at all.

Someone who is passive-aggressive often learns this behavior growing up. They may have been raised in an environment where they were used to passive aggression, or in a situation where they felt powerless and under someone else’s control. Passive aggression is therefore a way to regain control, but it actually just creates resentment in a relationship and begins to erode it.

Signs Of A Passive-Aggressive Partner

  • Withholding or withdrawing communication or intimacy
  • Backhanded compliments
  • Sarcastic comments
  • Procrastination or conveniently forgetting to do something
  • Saying something is “fine” when it is not

5 Ways To Address Your Partner’s Passive Aggression

To help you cope, we have 5 ways for you to address the problem so that you and your partner get the help and guidance that you need.

1. Understand Where This Behavior Stems From

There’s no excuse for this behavior, but it is important that you understand where passive aggression comes from. Be curious as to why your partner is acting in this way. It could be that your partner feels they cannot share how they truly feel with you. And the sly remarks are the only way they feel comfortable telling you the truth.

Does your partner have low self-esteem? Are they afraid of abandonment? Perhaps they are coping with unresolved trauma. Attempt to (gently) open up a discussion to determine why your partner is behaving in this way.

2. Identify Your Partner’s Passive Aggressive Behaviors

Try to identify your partner’s patterns, behaviors, and actions, as this can help you understand why they default to such behavior. If you feel like your partner tries to punish you for conflicts you’ve already resolved, then there could be some underlying issues that they have not dealt with. If you can identify the problem, you can work towards resolving it together.

3. Accept without Enabling

This is the hard part. You will need to accept what is happening. Marriages and relationships are not simple, and there will be some ups and downs. However, this does not excuse your partner.

When two people love each other, everything is not all sunshine and rainbows. People have their own issues, their own traumas, and coping mechanisms. All of this can create conflict and problems in a relationship. It does not mean that they do not love you. It does mean it’s time to make a change.

4. Do Not Justify Their Actions

Accepting that your partner is acting passive-aggressively is hard, but you should not make excuses for them or try to justify it. Instead, you will need to communicate with your partner. Explain why this behavior is hurting you. Do make it clear that you will not accept mistreatment or abuse, and that it needs to stop.

5. Create Boundaries & Communicate

The final step is to set healthy boundaries. Use your judgment based on your particular situation to decide those boundaries and make sure that you are both left feeling safe and supported.

Remember that this behavior often stems from being vulnerable and hurt, so empathize with your partner and listen to their concerns. Avoid becoming defensive, as it will worsen the situation.

Seek Support

The best way to respond to passive-aggressive behavior is to use clear, assertive language. Confront your partner directly and explain why their behavior is problematic for you and your relationship. Avoid communicating in an angry or defensive manner, as this can lead to more passive aggression and emotional distance. Instead, try to remain calm, clear, and open. Share why their behavior bothers you without blame. You might consider doing so in a safe, nonjudgmental space with the help of an objective therapist.

Couples therapy is a helpful option when communication stalls. Underlying problems and resentment can break down your bond without support and guidance. For help, read more about therapy, and don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation soon.

About the Author

Roma Williams is a Houston-based licensed marriage and family therapist, who is also licensed in the states of Georgia, Florida, and California. Her specialties and clinical interests are systems and relationships. Roma enjoys working with couples, including LGBTQ+ and those who live in polyamorous relationships. As an African American woman, Roma has donated time and efforts to causes championing black women and mental health. Roma also enjoys working with individuals on their relationships with themselves and others. Being a California native, and moving to the south in her adult years, Roma has had plenty of experiences that have shaped her cultural development both professionally and personally. In her spare time, Roma enjoys fashion, all things wine, and traveling.

If you are in Houston or in any part of Texas, Georgia, Florida, or California and are ready to work with Roma click here.

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