What is it like to be in a relationship with a person who is passive-aggressive? I would speculate that it is incredibly frustrating, and irritating. The typical passive-aggressive person tends to avoid direct confrontation but instead chooses to get back at the person indirectly and possibly covertly. They don’t like conflict and would rather take their revenge in a less direct fashion, but certainly harbor their share of anger and frustration. The passive-aggressive type will accommodate others’ needs and neglect their own at times while internalizing resentment and hurt when others don’t reciprocate. The person in the relationship with the passive-aggressive is often confused, hurt, and possibly vengeful themselves. In some cases, the passive-aggressive person is unaware of their behaviors and the impact on others, but often this action is taken intentionally.
Many of us learn communication patterns and styles from past experiences and role models. If we were unable to speak our minds or confront conflicts directly, we may have learned to take a different tact to communicate and express ourselves. We may have feared being honest and direct with others and anticipated the negative and punitive reaction we’d receive. Many people prefer to get back at others in an indirect fashion so they can remain the good guy and not be perceived in a negative light. In some cases people have assumed that their voice wouldn’t be heard or respected so they sought others ways to express themselves. There is a misperception that others will not realize the negative emotions behind the facade and will respond favorably. A passive-aggressive type can smile on the outside yet fume on the inside. So how do we deal with this type of person?
For starters, ask for clarification so that you can better understand what they are upset about and seek resolution. It always helps to assume some responsibility for the conflict and to validate the other person’s feelings. Maybe even give them permission to be upset, hurt, and angry while encouraging them to share directly their concerns. If you respond positively to their negative feelings without defensiveness, justification, and blame, they may work at sharing their feelings more directly next time. Let them know that it’s difficult to change behavior, to acknowledge wrongdoing, and to apologize if you don’t understand what you did wrong. Also communicate with them that their emotions have value and matter to you so they don’t have to hold them in or express them covertly. Lastly, let the passive-aggressive person know that when they are assertive, conflicts can get resolved much quicker and with less pain and confusion. We all can benefit from being assertive more consistently since this type of communication brings people closer together. Take action and positive results will follow.