Passive-Aggressive Traits: How to Recognize and Handle Them in Relationships

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Passive-aggressive traits can be damaging for a relationship. It’s important to figure out if this behavior is present in your life.

Being passive-aggressive is being dysfunctional but in a whole other style. It’s not so much about being loud, violent, or even arrogant. It’s a subtle sort of poison which seeps in under the radar. You have to be quite intelligent to notice the passive-aggressive traits in a relationship.

What passive-aggressive traits look like

In order to understand the passive-aggressive relationship, you must know the indicators. While some people may only exhibit one or two of the passive-aggressive traits, some people are “poster children” for the passive-aggressive mindset. Here’s what you will notice with this personality type.

1. Conflict avoidance

In a passive-aggressive relationship, the avoidance of conflict is normal and routine to the one acting in this manner. Instead of discussing problems and looking for a mutual solution, people with passive-aggressive traits tend to stay away from any type of confrontation.

It can be that they are in denial about their unhealthy actions which cause problems, or they are unwilling to give something up. Either way, they will dip, dodge and run from any serious conversation where relationship matters need to be worked out.

2. Manipulation

On the forefront of the passive-aggressive relationship, you will find manipulative behavior. This type of behavior is used primarily to get what a person wants.

For the person with passive-aggressive traits, these actions work great most of the time, that is, until someone comes along that has dealt with manipulative behavior before.

When a spouse recognizes this behavior, they may call it out. That’s when the passive-aggressive person will try a deeper form of manipulation, even threatening to leave or do something else they think will affect their partner in a negative manner. Passive-aggressive relationships of this nature can be hard to tolerate.

3. Instigators

In a passive-aggressive relationship, you will find that one person is an instigator. This means that one partner, or both, willingly starts fights or arguments.

No matter how trivial the issue may be, the instigator will find a reason why this should be blown out of proportion, and the blame will fall on the peaceful one.

And of course, this will happen in a rather quiet fashion, pushing your buttons and pulling your strings until you snap. When your anger shows, the instigator wins.

4. Sabotage

This is probably the most surprising of the passive-aggressive traits of a relationship. You probably never thought your significant other would gossip about you, resort to back-stabbing, or set you up for failure.

They will do this and more. The act of sabotage helps the aggressor stay free from any responsibility when something goes wrong with you or the relationship.



They are quietly planning and deceiving when you aren’t looking, hoping that their plans will keep you firmly at blame for all that goes wrong in the relationship.

5. Procrastination

How this works is interesting. In a passive-aggressive relationship, you will notice one or both persons taking their time when doing something they really don’t want to do.

This is irritating to the one who really needs these things completed. In truth, this procrastination is done to cause the other partner to lower their expectations.

When expectations of someone is low, they will have to perform less frequently, and even at a lower level of performance. This includes chores, basic spousal duties, and even when providing emotional needs.

6. Quiet resentment and anger

People with passive-aggressive traits are experts on showing anger in a quiet way. Although this may seem like an impossible task, it’s quite the contrary. The ability to exhibit resentment without raising your voice or making angry faces is quite a deed, but when used correctly, it sends a powerful message.

In this manner, the passive-aggressive partner can pull things into their favor with fear. After all, nothing is quite as unnerving as knowing someone is angry, but seeing them smile and be kind.



You will know you’re in a passive-aggressive relationship when you see this strange characteristic.

7. Purposeful negative behavior

Another trait of the passive-aggressive person is ordinary bad behavior. They will do things that they know makes you angry or upset, and they do this to gain leverage.

Usually, this type of behavior comes from an internal issue – it’s something that has not been addressed, and that makes the passive-aggressive person feel hostile.

Instead of exploring these hostile feelings, they rather do negative things in retaliation in an attempt to get their point across.

How to navigate a passive-aggressive relationship

If you find yourself in this sort of relationship, more than likely, you will be hurt and confused. There is one option, and that is to get out of the relationship altogether.

Most of us, however, will want to try and make it work. If so, there are a few tactics you can utilize.

Break through the walls

If you are dealing with a passive-aggressive partner, the only way to understand how they work is to get through the walls they have built. Whether from bitterness or fear, some passive-aggressive people build walls to protect their real feelings.

If you can find a way through, you might be able to address the truth about their actions. As with anything else, this may or may not work in totality.

Refuse to take the bait

If you are dealing with a partner that tends to instigate arguments, then you can choose to refuse…refuse to take the bait to fight. At first, when the instigator sees that you will not argue back, they will become angry.

If you can weather the storm of their anger, you will show them that you will not be manipulated. Over time, they could stop using this tactic and be real with you. It’s always a possibility if you’re willing to hang in there for the long haul.

Don’t let them scare you

Most of the time, passive-aggressive people are harmless, but not always. None-the-less, do not let them scare you into submission. If you truly feel threatened, just leave for a while to let them cool down.

Pay close attention to their temperament and after a while, you can pick up on indicators that let you know whether you are safe or whether you should avoid them.

When you learn these things, you will be able to show your fearlessness more often. This shows them that although you care, you will not be pushed around.

Careful confrontation

As I stated above, if they are avoiding things, they will be adamant about this. So, this means you have to be careful if you choose to confront them.

Yes, issues need to be resolved one way or the other, but a passive-aggressive person will be explosive if cornered, so be careful. If you take your time, dropping bits of wisdom like crumbs, you will see a much better result and a calmer partner.

Passive-aggressive relationships can be healed

While sometimes you have to dissolve unhealthy unions, there are times when these types of relationships can be healed. There are tools and support which can also help you get through these rough times.

Don’t lose hope if you are trying to find a solution. Give things time and see what happens. Just remember, love yourself and learn the difference between when you should keep trying and when it’s time to end the chapter of your life. I think you will know.

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By Sherrie H.

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