Passive-Aggressive Behavior ...by Stan Hyman, PhD, LCSW
What to Look For
The intense connections people develop with their love partners can resemble the connections they experienced in their family of origin.
Therefore, the passive-aggressive adult may begin to feel similar feelings in his marital relationship as he did with his own family. As time goes on his behavior may become more pronounced and create frustration for his partner.
Here are some signs that will help you recognize these behaviors:
Unacceptable poor performance:The passive-aggressive partner agrees to do something, actually does it, but carries out the task in such a manner as to be completely unacceptable. An example might be watching the children while the other partner goes to dinner with friends. The passive-aggressive partner watches the children but
forgets to diaper the baby, causing the baby to need special attention when the other partner returns home. Another example might be cleaning the dishes, but not doing an even minimally acceptable job, causing the other partner to either redo them or argue.
Delaying compliance:Here the passive-aggressive partner seemingly agrees with a request but delays actually doing it. This delay is sometimes explained by arguing that he/she will do it on their own timetable despite the fact that the task may be simple or needs to be completed more quickly.
Intentionally causing conflict: In this case the passive-aggressive partner intentionally does not act thereby creating a problem that was easily foreseeable. He will then deny that that was the intention and claim that the result, which causes his partner frustration, anger and resentment, was really not his fault. An example of this might be non-payment of an important bill that could potentially result in a devaluation of the credit score of the partner.
Vengeful behavior:Here the passive-aggressive partner is unable or unwilling to either accept blame, or express anger so behaves in a hidden but vengeful way. An example might be that as a result of an argument that took place a couple of days before, the passive-aggressive spouse is an hour late picking up her partner at the train station. When she arrives she is ready with an excuse about traffic, car problems or the delay of the babysitter.
It is important to remember that passive-aggressive behavior is driven by the fear a person feels that things could get even worse, despite his behavior, if his partner knew about his anger. Therefore he insists that he is not angry.
Passive-aggressive behavior can be changed. It is not simply about confronting it when it shows up, but helping the person to understand that he is loved and that you are willing to work with him to change.
Treatment can be very effective if the passive-aggressive person is willing to learn how and why to deconstruct his/her dysfunctional patterns of behavior. The person is helped to understand the benefits of being authentic in an adult reltionship and recognize that he/she will not lose the love of his partner because he expresses himself truthfully.