For example, I could blame my failure to complete agreements on ADD. I might say that I suffer from a condition of temporary and intermittent cognitive slippage.
This is a problem that affects both partners, but in different ways. The passive-aggressive person generally feels they are under assault and no matter what they do, they cannot please their partner.
The other partner believes they cannot depend on the passive-aggressive mate to reliably follow through. Even if I am 80% reliable, as I would sometimes point out to Ellyn, she has no idea what the 80% will be or when it will be completed. This screws up the logistical part of being an effective team which supports being an effective couple.
So what causes this aggravating problem that painfully affects both partners in different ways? Most passive-aggressive folks have two things in common:
1. A highly critical parent or parents ... resulting in a high sensitivity to being judged on performance.
2. A lot of painful disappointments in life.This results in a reflexive coping mechanism that severely restricts their hopes and desires in life. Minimizing desires is a subconscious attempt to avoid getting hopes up and then dashed which triggers a warehouse of painful disappointments stored in the emotional brain.
It becomes much easier for passive-aggressive people to say what they don't want than what they do want. It's like running life's race with your shoelaces tied. But, the frustration of living a life of pinched desires leaks out in being "obstructionistic" — to their spouse, therapist, boss, and anyone else that might have a say, or at least a suggestion, about what they should do. All in all, nobody is happy.
Passive-aggressive behavior can show up in other subtle ways. Hard core passive-aggressive people rarely initiate doing leisure joint activities, buying things, going places, celebrating special occasions, planning surprises or giving compliments; they often have a hard time buying gifts.
So, what can you do? This is a complex question with no easy answer. The solutions to this problem are extremely hard to summarize with the clarity and brevity required for a newsletter column. Next month, I'll describe why passive-aggressive behavior is a systemic problem and what both partners need to do. In the meantime, it should be some small comfort to understand some of the challenges and to recognize what you're dealing with. 5 Ways Couples Can Recover From A Fight
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The Couples Institute