If you suspect a friend, co-worker, family member or partner is behaving in a passive aggressive manner, it’s time to take stock. Is your relationship with this person worth the aggravation you’re going to suffer? It’s possible you should give them another chance. Maybe their complaining is harmless and not designed to making you miserable. Or maybe they are going through a rough patch and their constant lateness means nothing. Or they really did forget an important date with you—again.
But if you feel their behavior falls into the destructive passive-aggressive category, what, if anything, can you do about it? Ask yourself some important questions:
- What makes her behave this way? You can’t change her, but you can understand what’s causing her passive-aggressive attacks on you. Often hidden anger, repressed hostility or underlying resentment may be at work. Try to discover—in a calm, rational, non-judgmental way—what is at the root of her feelings. It could be some bad experience that has nothing to do with you has caused her to act passive-aggressively. Maybe out of habit or maybe because she feels powerless to express her true emotions to you. Try to find out why in a non-threatening way.
- Are you enabling his behavior? Many people with passive-aggressive tendencies subconsciously chose partners or friends with whom they can continue their behavior. So ask yourself if you may be encouraging or even eliciting his behavior. Are you a rescuer, who takes on a person as a project, covering for him whenever his behavior does damage? To make yourself feel needed? Or maybe you suffer in silence without letting him know he’s hurting you with his passive-aggression. Because you’re too averse to confrontation to establish boundaries. Or do you trigger his behavior, encouraging him to re-fight past struggles so you can save him. It’s a good idea to take an honest look at what you get out of the relationship.
- Does humor or cheerleading help? Maybe you can jolly your way through the relationship. When your partner brings home the double fudge ice cream after you’ve just told him you’re trying to diet, you can remind him that he better eat it all himself. Maybe make a joke about how he’ll have to go on a diet with you if he keeps up that passive-aggressive grocery shopping. Or appeal to his better nature. Tell him you know he really wouldn’t want to sabotage your diet to make you fail (although he certainly may have, subconsciously). Tell him you know he’s better than that. Get him to think about his behavior and how it affects you negatively.
- What consequences can you establish going forward? It’s hard enough to figure out if someone is behaving passive-aggressively toward you, but it’s even harder for that person to admit it. She may, in fact, be operating on a level where she doesn’t recognize what she’s doing. When you call her on her behavior, she will no doubt deny it or accuse you of being wrong or crazy. The fact is, you’ve identified her behavior and it’s hurting your relationship. If you value her and want to continue you will have to be strong when you talk to her. You will have to ask her to cooperate with you and if she refuses, you will limit your contact with her. Or sever your relationship altogether. Or whatever consequence you deem appropriate. This may take several tries because she will test you. Why should she change when the old way was working so well for her? You have to stick to your guns and show her the old way will no longer work well. It takes confidence and fortitude, but if you get to enjoy a healthy relationship in the end, it’s worth it.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact.