Value transparency and open, honest communication. So your blood boils when someone looks angry but doesn’t admit it directly. Maybe they give you the silent treatment but then they tell you they are tired. Or, they say something nice with a lack of warmth. It doesn’t look real, but they are defensive when you question their sincerity. Sometimes a person uses humor to express hostility and then accuses you of being “too sensitive.” All of these are examples of passive-aggressive behavior.
If you’re the type of person who likes to talk about things because it helps you feel close, passive aggression is probably one of the things that bothers you the most. Of course, no one likes it when someone gets angry with them, but we know from Dr. John Gottman’s research that people have different values about how they prefer to work on intense emotions. Some people like to talk about it and validate the feelings of others. Others prefer to let things slip to avoid hurt feelings and long discussions. He called these styles of conflict “Avoid” and “Validate.” Both are functional ways of dealing with differences and can lead to long-term relationship happiness. Both styles have risks and benefits. The main risk of conflict prevention style is that if you are not careful, conflict avoidance can turn into passive aggression.
What is the difference between avoiding conflict and passive aggression in romantic relationships?
Conflict-avoiding couples prefer to contain strong emotions and let slip as many problems as possible. The advantage of this style is that these couples save time by not paying attention to irrelevant details of disagreements. However, for this style to be successful in the long run, couples need to find a way to address their main issues. Although they may seem small and insignificant, you can’t ignore some issues. They just don’t go away over time. The longer someone tries to pretend that all is well, the more intense the anger becomes. He finally escalates into hostility. What started out as a well-meaning person trying to avoid hurting your partner’s feelings turns into aggression. Your partner may feel manipulated because he sees the thin attempt to pretend that anger does not exist. If enough time passes, the person may not try to hide their anger at all.
What to do if your partner is becoming passive-aggressive
Here are some warning signs of passive aggression:
- You know something doesn’t work, but it can be hard to put your finger on it.
- You can be sure that your partner is angry with you even if he says no.
- They say they joke, but the joke is not funny.
- You start to wonder if they are talking about you in the back.
- His smiles or kind words seem false and insincere.
You can ignore your instincts and tell yourself that you are only in your own head. If this feeling does not go away, it is best to address it directly so that it does not get worse.
Here are the steps to follow:
- Choose a time and place to talk to your partner. Make sure you are both calm, relaxed, and free from other obligations or distractions.
- Use Dr. Gentle Startup Gottman to raise your concerns thoughtfully and respectfully by filling in the blanks. I feel _ About i need __. Remember that the conversation is about passive-aggressive behavior, not about anger. For example, you might say, “I’m confused and frustrated by the jokes you’ve made about my kitchen. I know it’s hard, but I need you to tell me straight away when you’re angry with me. Then we can talk about it and I can understand what you are feeling.
- Listen carefully to the answer and keep speaking in the first person (e.g., using “I” statements) if your partner is on the defensive. If they say they were just kidding, don’t accuse them of lying. Instead, explain that jokes don’t make you laugh and that you feel hurt.
Passive aggression is a difficult behavior to deal with because it may seem innocent on the outside but it hurts deeply on the inside. If you and your partner experience this in your relationship, you will benefit from working on passive-aggressive behavior as your own problem instead of focusing only on the issue of conflict.
Learn how to manage conflicts with Gottman’s relationship coach. Not sure which Gottman Relationship Coach product is right for you? Gottman Relationship Advisor measures the satisfaction of your relationship and describes your unique strengths and weaknesses.
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