There’s a normal push and pull in a marriage when each person tries to meet his own needs while also trying to meet his spouse’s needs. It’s a delicate balance when trying to do what is good for you but what is also good for the two of you as a couple. Sometimes, when people see this balance isn’t working out, they develop some passive aggressive behaviors in an attempt to get their needs met with the least resistance.
What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?
Passive-aggressive behavior is a behavior that often contradicts what a person outwardly tries to communicate. Sometimes it is obvious and at other times, it is quite subtle. Passive-aggressive behavior often starts when one person feels his needs aren’t being met and he doesn’t trust his partner will meet them either.
Passive-aggressive behavior tends to stem from the following fears:
- I’m afraid my spouse will reject me when I ask for help getting my needs met.
- I’m afraid my spouse can’t meet my needs.
- I’m afraid of how I’ll be perceived if I want to get my needs met.
- I’m afraid I can’t handle not getting what I want.
- I’m afraid of how my spouse will react to my attempts to get my needs met.
These sorts of fears combined with a lack of communication skills often lead to passive-aggressive behavior. When someone is fearful of what will happen or they aren’t sure how to say what they really think and feel, they often resort to trying to meet their own needs in a way that they won’t have to confront their fears head on.
Examples of Passive-Aggressive Behavior
A wife feels her husband doesn’t communicate well with her about his plans. Therefore, she asks a lot of questions about what he is doing, who is talking to, and what his plans are. Her husband feels annoyed that she asks so many questions and he feels she is invading his privacy. Rather than telling her how he feels he just talks to her less in an attempt to win back some of his privacy. As a result of his decreased communication, his wife asks more questions and the cycle continues.
A husband wants to buy a new entertainment center. His wife doesn’t want to spend the money on it. Instead of telling him her concerns, she tries to show him they can’t afford it. She takes all the money from the checking account and transfers it to the savings account to show him that they just can’t purchase that entertainment center now.
A husband dislikes that his mother-in-law comes over so often. She shows up after dinner to spend time with the children before they go to bed. Instead of talking to his wife or his mother-in-law about his feelings, he starts putting the children to bed earlier in hopes she will “get the hint” that they don’t have time to visit with her.
A wife dislikes the fact that her husband has been working long hours at his job. She doesn’t want to tell him that she wants him come home earlier so she starts calling him at the office to say she doesn’t feel well or that there are home repair emergencies in an attempt to get him to come home earlier. She even tells him she might start going to the bars with her friends because she knows that would make him angry.
A wife wants a new car but her husband says they can’t afford it right now. Instead of talking to him about her concerns with keeping her current vehicle, she takes it to the most expensive dealership in town. She tells them about various “clunks” she hears with the motor and discusses how she would like to get the scratches on the bumper fixed. She takes the expensive repair estimate to her husband to prove to him that it would be better to just buy a new vehicle.
Breaking the Cycle
Breaking the cycle of passive-aggressive behavior requires both partners to have trust in one another. Both people have to trust that their spouse will be open and honest. They also must trust their spouse will express their needs in healthy ways and that they will both work together to meet each other’s needs. Building trust can help them overcome the fears that are often underlying passive-aggressive behaviors.
Couples who are stuck in a cycle of passive-aggressive communication can also benefit from learning new communication skills. Learning how to say, “This is what I need,” or “I disagree,” can be very helpful. Couples also benefit from learning new conflict resolution skills to help them approach conflict in healthy ways rather than avoiding conflict altogether.