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5 Reasons Why You Don't Want to Date a Passive-Aggressive Man

Having a passive-aggressive brother, who everyone describes as "super chill," gives me insight on how these guys fool and frustrate women.

If you're thinking of changing a passive-aggressive man, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

If you're thinking of changing a passive-aggressive man, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

By the time my marriage to my passive aggressive husband came to an end I had no self-esteem...The loneliness I experienced in my marriage was worse than any I had ever felt as a single woman.

— Cathy Meyer, certified divorce coach and marriage educator

A Passive-Aggressive Guy Withholds Communication, Making a Woman Go Crazy

If you're dating a passive-aggressive guy, ladies, don't think you have the power to change him no matter how motivated and in love you are. It will only end with you feeling frustrated, confused, and shell-shocked. When it's over, you'll be left in shambles, mourning a relationship that you never truly understood. A worse fate befalls you if you wind up marrying the man and get stuck in a hellhole of silent hostility and hushed retaliation.

Communication is the basis for any solid relationship and the passive-aggressive dude just doesn't have the goods even if he's basically a "nice man." We women types need a steady flow of talk back and forth and a passive-aggressive guy withholds that, causing us enormous distress and discomfort. His refusal to speak can be far more abusive to us in the long haul than a push or shove. Remember, ladies, the passive-aggressive man is far more hurtful in what he doesn't do than what he does do!

What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior in Men?

When one thinks of passive-aggressive behavior in men, the image of a husband leaving the toilet seat up comes to mind. Yet, that innocuous example doesn't represent the deep psychological and emotional harm that many passive-aggressive behaviors cause. These behaviors express anger and retaliation in an “under the radar” manner. They include using sarcasm, procrastinating, complaining, playing the martyr, arriving late, sulking, and giving the silent treatment.

A Passive-Aggressive Guy Doesn't Want to Put in the Time and Effort It Takes for a Good Relationship

When it comes to the pitfalls of dating passive-aggressive men, I know of what I speak because I've watched my younger brother operate for over 50 years. He's the kind of guy casual observers dub laid back, mellow, and chill. They describe him as going with the flow and wonder why he's never been married because he's "such as catch." Yet, for those of us who know him better, he's the perennial bachelor who's ambivalent about being in a relationship, doesn't want to be controlled, and whose life is greatly restricted by his unresolved childhood pain.

As his sister, I see a man who's incapable of forming a meaningful relationship because he doesn't want to put in the time, energy, and communication it takes. He's too defensive and full of shame to appear vulnerable and show his feelings. As a member of the sisterhood of women, I wish I could get the name and number of every lady he's dated and let her know that it wasn't anything she did wrong; it was all him. Then I'd give her these five warning signs so she won't make the same foolish mistake again.

1. He Doesn't Listen.

While visiting my brother's house, I watch him hold the phone to his ear and “listen” to his girlfriend on the other end while simultaneously watching an NFL game. He makes the obligatory yes, no, and uh-huh sounds but barely takes in a thing she says. Hearing only a smidgen of this or that, his lack of active listening sets the stage for future misunderstandings in their relationship.

A man who isn't passive-aggressive would deal with the situation in a direct way, telling his girlfriend not to call during sporting events. A passive-aggressive dude such as my brother, though, plays the part of “Mr. Nice Guy” by being on the phone while secretly seething that his viewing time has been disrupted. He gets his revenge on her by only pretending to listen. While my brother uses TV as his tool of avoidance, other passive-aggressive men use their cell phones, computers, and newspapers.

If a passive aggressive man feels neglected sexually or emotionally, he may watch sports excessively to exact his revenge.

If a passive aggressive man feels neglected sexually or emotionally, he may watch sports excessively to exact his revenge.

2. He Gives the Silent Treatment.

I'll never forget the day of my son's baptism when we invited family and friends to the church followed by a reception at our home. My brother brought his girlfriend and, as I found out later, the two had been arguing about moving in together and now he was giving her the silent treatment. In addition to making it an awkward day for all of us, I realized how petty and childish my brother was—how totally unprepared he was for a mature relationship.

According to psychology professor, Kip Williams, the effects of a man's silence can be both emotionally and physically devastating to his partner. It can make her feel alone, ostracized, and unworthy. This, in turn, can lead to a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in depression and stress. It can make her feel that she's losing control of her life.

Having grown up in the same dysfunctional home as my brother where feelings got squelched and communication skills were limp, I feel tremendous compassion for him. Our mother gave our father the silent treatment on a regular basis when we were kids, sometimes leaving our house for hours without saying where she was going and when she'd come back. We grew up thinking that was normal. We didn't have role models who spoke about their feelings in a calm, honest, and productive manner.

They’re typically raised in families where it’s not safe to express anger—they’re never taught to communicate it in a healthy manner. They adapt by channeling these feelings into other less obvious behaviors; this gives them a sense of power and control. They’re masters at shirking responsibility by hurting you in ways that appear unintentional or unavoidable. Passive aggressive people operate by stuffing anger, being accommodating, and then indirectly sticking it to you.

— Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and author

3. He's Always Late.

Some people think individuals such as my brother, who are always running late, do so to flaunt their superiority. However, psychotherapist, Michael Formica, believes the opposite is true. He writes: "The chronically tardy, in large measure, have a perception that others do not feel them to be important, so they operate in a way so as to impose themselves on a situation—exerting control to feel in control—while in reality they are silently validating their own sense of unworthiness, whether consciously or unconsciously."

These words certainly ring true to me. My brother and I grew up in a home where we weren't made to feel valued and we often felt invisible. As adults, we both struggle with low self-esteem and often avoid social occasions. When my brother arrives late for a date, it's not a reflection of his arrogance but of his extreme apprehension.

Because you can’t have an honest, direct conversation with a passive-aggressive partner, nothing ever gets resolved. They say yes, and then their behavior screams NO.

— Darlene Lancer, marriage and family therapist

4. He Fears Open Communication.

Young straight-shooting people today probably can't appreciate that many of us were taught that such directness was rude when we were kids. My brother and I grew up in the 1970's in a strict religious home and attended Catholic schools where the nuns ruled with an iron fist. We were never encouraged to speak openly and honestly with our parents or other adults. The phrase "little children should be seen and not heard" was the philosophy in our home. My brother and I learned at a young age to hide our thoughts and feelings, protecting our mom and dad from anything they might find “distasteful.”

With his girlfriends, my brother duplicates the mother-son dynamic that began decades ago. He withholds important information about who he is and how he feels. He never risks exposing his true self, fearing disapproval and rejection, no matter how many hours he spends with a woman. The more she pushes him to open up, the more he shuts down.

Women find it frustrating to communicate with passive-aggressive men.

Women find it frustrating to communicate with passive-aggressive men.

5. He Procrastinates.

If you were to visit the home my brother shares with his girlfriend, you'd see a large deck off their living room covered with yellow caution tape and a sign that reads: “Unsafe. Keep off!” It's been like this way for almost four years with little chance repairs will happen any time soon. While it may be a difficult and expensive fix for many home owners, it isn't for my brother; he's an architect and structural engineer!

His expertise, though, doesn't matter in this situation. He won't get around to fixing the deck because he's fuming inside about things his girlfriend has done—bringing home a stray cat, buying an expensive piano, and inviting her girlfriend to stay with them for a month. He's been stockpiling these hurts for years and now he's quietly exacting his revenge. His poor girlfriend, however, doesn't understand what's happening!

Final Thoughts

I love my brother and, in many ways, he's indeed the “good guy” that casual acquaintances see. He's also heavily flawed. I'd never want to be married to him nor would I ever set up one of my friends with him. This is especially true of any pal of mine who hopes to have kids some day. My brother's inability to speak his mind would cause huge problems in any family.

While some view passive-aggressive types as vicious, I have a different perspective having grown up with one. I know my brother is a product of his environment—someone still battling internally with our overbearing mother. He had to give up a lot of control to her as a kid and he doesn't want to do that with another woman. He wants to avoid confrontation at any cost so cutting off communication has become his lifelong habit. So, ladies, don't think you can fix a passive-aggressive man and don't think you'll enjoy his "easy-going" ways. Run, don't walk, away or you'll be faced with a world of frustration and hurt.

What do you think?

If You Must Interact With a Passive-Aggressive Guy, This Book Gives Outstanding Advice on How to Do It Effectively

Questions & Answers

Question: Should I keep dating a guy who gives me the silent treatment?

Answer: When making this decision, don't focus solely on that one behavior (the silent treatment) because that would be a huge mistake. It's better to see the big picture—that his PA personality style is highly impervious to change and will cause you years of grief. Passive-aggressive people such as him express their hostility in a covert way, whether it's giving the silent treatment, using sarcasm, criticizing, or withholding praise. Their behaviors may include procrastinating, arriving late, and happily agreeing to do things when they have no intention of following through on them. They often do these hostile acts with a smile on their faces and an agreeable attitude on the surface, throwing those around them off balance.

Don't ask: “Can I tolerate someone who gives me the silent treatment?” Ask instead: “Can I make a happy life with someone who can't communicate openly and effectively?” If you're being smart and honest, the answer would be an unequivocal “no!” Good communication is essential to any relationship, whether it's in business, with friends, with relatives and, most certainly, in romance.

We all are forced to deal with passive-aggressive folks throughout our lives. Most of us, though, do our darnedest to limit our interactions with them. We've learned the hard way to be resolute or they'll take advantage and drive us nutty. For example, I had a passive-aggressive friend who consistently arrived late for lunch and dinner dates. After a few of these instances, I firmly said: “I'll wait 15 minutes for you and then I'm gone!” I followed through with my threat and from then on her behavior miraculously vanished!

Few of us would willingly enter a relationship with a passive-aggressive individual, let alone a romantic one. Therefore, it's important that you look at yourself and figure out why you find such a person desirable. This may lead you into therapy and, with that, will come a whole new understanding of yourself and your childhood. That knowledge will serve you well as you move forward to new loves.

Question: Why are no solutions offered for the "passive aggressive" person? (Not just RUN AWAY)

Answer: I can certainly offer tips for dealing with passive-aggressive relatives, co-workers, or neighbors as most of us need to do this at one time or another. They would essentially amount to limiting one's time with them and not expecting them to change. However, since this article is specifically about dating a passive aggressive man, I couldn't in good conscience recommend ways to try and make it work. That's because passive aggressiveness is a personality trait that's hugely resistant to change. Being married to a man who behaves in this silently hostile way would be a major source of heartache and frustration for any wife.

Dating is a time to discern whether it's a match that portends a happy and healthy future together. It's not a time to look at a man as a project like so many gals foolishly do. A woman should never be in a relationship with the idea that she'll change her partner. She must accept him “as is.”

If, however, you're hell-bent on staying in a relationship with a passive aggressive guy, you can see if he's open to change. Explain to him that you read an article about passive aggressive behaviors and realized how you sometimes behave that way. Say that you're highly motivated to change this about yourself and request his help. Ask him to point out your passive aggressiveness when it happens.

This is a tactic that will get him thinking about the topic but won't make him defensive. After all, he may have deeps wounds from his childhood that prevent him from dealing with people directly and assertively. He may be frightened to do so.

Therefore, go about this in a gentle way and appreciate any small changes. If he communicates in a straightforward way, be sure to point it out and compliment his behavior. Be a positive role model by handling conflict in a mature and straightforward way without drama. Even if the relationship ends, you will have helped him understand what passive aggressiveness is and how it prevents us from communicating effectively.

© 2017 McKenna Meyers


Gina on November 21, 2019:

Wow....sounds like my ex husband....

Good read

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 16, 2017:

I have a real hard time with passive-aggressive behavior...a real hard time. My patience is very thin with people who won't just come out and say what they mean to say....anyway, I enjoyed the article.

Pathways thru life from Mid West on October 14, 2017:

Ain't that the truth....I was a military wife, stay at home mom....hard to trust other people at times....

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 14, 2017:

I know what you mean, Morlock. When my sons were little, I came into daily contact with many strong, independent women. I hoped to form friendships with them, mom to mom. Unfortunately, the majority of them just wanted to use me for free babysitting since I was a stay-at-home mom at that time. Luckily, I found a few good and decent friends who wanted a reciprocal relationship. It's tough to find kind people whether it's the same gender or the opposite, but it's worth the effort.

Pathways thru life from Mid West on October 14, 2017:

I think you can be both strong and decent. Just before my divorce was finalized I was sworn in by a court judge to be a Guardian Ad Litem for NC courts....I didn't change my sense of right and wrong with or without being in a relationship with a passive aggressive individual....

Pathways thru life from Mid West on October 13, 2017:

I am certainly more at peace than I was then....

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 13, 2017:

Morlock, I'm so sorry this has been your experience with women. Please know if you must be passive-aggressive in a relationship it's not a healthy one. You're not being your true self and you're keeping too much bottled inside of you. A lot of women do get scared, judgmental, and dismissive when men expose their real feelings. But there are also a lot of good, strong women who don't. They appreciate a man who's open and honest. Good luck to you!

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 13, 2017:

lol, pathways. I hope that's a good thing and your life is better now. Being married to a passive-aggressive man or woman is not easy.

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 13, 2017:

James, I think you're right about the nagging. My brother's passive-aggressive behaviors started in childhood as a defense against my mother's constant nagging. He was a defenseless kid and these are the tools he developed to cope. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Pathways thru life from Mid West on October 12, 2017:

I believe 1, 2 and 4 were issues with him.

MorlockIAm on October 12, 2017:

Men have to be passive aggressive around women. Being around women is like being in a mine field. Anything you say is potentially and most likely the wrong thing. Tell her you are stressed and she starts worrying you won't be able to provide, tell her you don't feel like sex and you are having an affair. Tell her you want sex and you are a rapist. Tell her you are tired and you are weak. The constant nagging, the constant always watching everything you say and how you say it. Why is women get to yell and scream and that is just frustration? I don't like being yelled and screamed at thank you. Oh that is a problem too.

Just go away and have a good hard look at yourselves before you start casting stones.

Pathways thru life from Mid West on October 12, 2017:

I can see why my ex husband is now my ex husband

James168 on October 12, 2017:

He probably doesn’t listen and shuts down because of the incessant nagging. He isn’t being passive aggressive, he just doesn’t want to deal with a barrage of BS. Sports....couldn’t care less, but if a guy likes it let him enjoy it and discuss the issue after the game. I think you are mistaking the way guys are with passive aggressiveness . Guys are not girls........