Passive Aggressive Behavior In Marriage
In Taking Space I’ve developed a Conflict Scale for couples to figure out how their communication styles combine to create problems in their marriage/relationship.
If you are on the passive end of Relationship Conflict Scale you tend to avoid conflict and deny anger in you and your partner. You may internalize and hold in feelings. People on the passive side have learned to deal with feelings by:
If you manage anger passively you may experience a host of reactions, including:
- physical ills such as headaches and digestive upset
Or, you may get even (and feel some satisfaction) with your partner by acting out in passive-aggressive ways such as:
- forgetting important things
- not following through on what you said you were going to do
- not following up on important conversations
- doing those things that you know will push your partner’s buttons
- withdrawing emotionally, physically or sexually, etc.
When asked you may say, “I just forgot, what’s the big deal?” or “I didn’t think about it anymore.” or “I didn’t think it would upset you.” Many passive partners may just remain silent and say nothing. On the surface they appear to be cooperating, but deep inside they are not. Spending money that you know will trigger your partner is very common in passive fighting. This is often kept secret until it is found out later. Secret affairs could also be another form of passive fighting to get even.
If both partners are on the passive side of this conflict scale, they often say “We don’t fight.” But if you examine this closely, you realize they have a “cold war” with ice walls and emotional distance between them. Yes there is conflict, sometimes intense and even toxic to one or both partners. At times I have heard at least one partner say they are so alone and unsupported since their emotional selves do not get expressed or heard. There may be a lack of support and comfort from a partner since the relational space is not a safe place to express feelings.
What partners must learn to do
Partners on the avoidant side must listen to their body’s signals and frustration and learn to express what they are not OK with in their relationship. Your partner will not read your mind. Partners on this side must become aware of how they fight silently. Issues must be put on the table and partners must learn to tolerate and manage the fear, anxiety, abandonment and other feelings that get triggered with more open and expressed conflict. A new pattern of airing concerns and problems must be developed. Sometimes putting your thoughts, feelings and experiences on paper first can be a good starting point.
In my book Taking Space, I explain various styles of conflict and how you and your partner can develop a better pattern of communication that does not result in conflict or hurt feelings. Passive conflict can be just as damaging as open fighting – and does damage not only to your relationship but to your inner physical and emotional self as well.
What if he yells and hollers and I'm so scared I freeze?
When one partner gets openly angry and the other shuts down from fear, this often means different strategies are necessary for each side. The angry person must accept responsibility for his/her anger and learn better ways to manage it. Remember that passive people are fearful and avoidant of anger and conflict, so you will get nowhere by raging, criticizing, blaming, bullying, demeaning, etc. your partner. This often pushes them further away. Have you ever tried to get a turtle to come out of it’s shell by banging on it?