What is a passive-aggressive relationship and could you be in one? Read on to learn more about passive-aggressive behavior in relationships.

It is likely that we all have experience of passive-aggressive behavior, even if we did not know it was classified as such.

Many different relationships in our lives can become passive-aggressive.

This behavior is very destructive. Therefore, it is important to understand how you can recognize the warning signs that you are involved in a passive-aggressive relationship. It could be a romantic relationship or a work, family, or unromantic social partnership.

There is a wide range of different passive-aggressive actions. The examples of very mild ones include making excuses for why you have not done what you had agreed to do. Some more considerable and serious would be interfering with an individual’s success and well-being.

You can spot passive-aggressive individuals by looking out for four very common characteristics:

  • Unreasonableness
  • Uncomfortable to deal with and spend time with
  • Have trouble dealing hostility in a direct manner
  • Repeat their manipulative behavior again and again

However, if you have not noted these characteristics, don’t be dismayed as highlighted at the outset. Recognising passive-aggressive relationship for what it is will help you to take the appropriate action.

1. Verbal Hostility That’s Disguised

If an individual you are in a relationship with has a tendency to always speak negatively about others and criticising other people’s expectations, conditions and ideas, they could be passive-aggressive.

Passive-aggressive individuals usually need to put others down so that they themselves can feel superior and dominant. It can be a way for them to feel better about their own issues if they are making other people, including you, feel insecure and inadequate.

2. Hostility Disguised as Humour

Is there a lot of sarcastic humor between you and your partner/friend/work associate/relative? If there is it could be the sign of more serious issues than just off the cuff humor.

Sarcastic jokes are often forms of veiled humor. It could be a way of hiding that your real intent is to put someone down. This kind of humor could make them feel bad by adding ‘just kidding’ or making it sound like a joke.

If you or your partner do this or constantly make jibes and snide remarks about either socio-cultural background, social relations, decisions, behavior, credentials gender or appearance – this is a sign of a passive-aggressive relationship.

3. The Silent Treatment – Stonewalling

Often hostility can be manifested in a passive-aggressive relationship with one party or the other giving their partner what is often known as ‘the silent treatment‘ or ‘stonewalling‘. Passive-aggressive people often use it as a way to express resentment or anger, without actually expressing it directly.

It is never a good idea to dance around a problem or issue and as communication, especially healthy communication, is key to a relationship when this passive-aggressive behavior occurs, it puts your relationship at serious risk.

4. Self-Punishment

A passive-aggressive individual may want to put their point across that they are hurt or angry, without directly dealing with their emotions or the problem itself, by punishing themselves.

It may be that they deliberately fail at something they are doing as a way to level blame at you. Essentially they are making a martyr of themselves, in a manipulative way, to encourage the other half of the partnership or relationship to say sorry or admit wrong.

Very often, self-punishment can be a cry for help or a need for more attention. It is neither a particularly productive or healthy way to get the attention of the other person though.

5. Resistance

Another common sign of a passive-aggressive relationship is when one half uses resistance to get what they want. Power struggles are never good when you are supposed to be working as a team.

This often works hand-in-hand with stonewalling and it can be something as simple as being deliberately stubborn or complicated about an event or situation. The person who is putting up the resistance gains their victory when they cause the other to suffer emotionally.

Although there may be valid reasons (from their point of view at least) why they are putting up resistance, it is a detrimental behavior that cannot be part of a healthy relationship.

6. Playing the Victim

Playing the victim is another form of passive-aggressive behavior. This often manifests itself when one party of a relationship exaggerates or invents personal or health issues in order to get favor and sympathy from the other half.

Victimhood may seem silly and harmless, but the intention is often to take advantage of the other’s goodwill, manipulate their guilty conscience or sense of obligation and duty.

Although passive-aggressive people can be disheartening and tiring to deal with and can make you distrust people’s intentions in your life; there are various techniques and skills you can master to deal with them effectively.

It could even be that you can prevent them from getting you down or making you do what they want. But it also could be that you are able to motivate them to co-operate with you and see the error of their ways.

At least knowing the signs of a passive-aggressive relationship will help you to put changes in place and deal with the problem before it gets to a point when only drastic action has to be taken.


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