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Toxic Love: Coping With a Passive-Aggressive Relationship

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Kaitlyn has a background in psychology and writes articles that teach you how to lean on your body, mind, heart, and on those around you.

Passive-Aggressive Love

We all have times when we can act a little passive-aggressive, whether it’s agreeing to something but not following through or using sarcasm to make a point. That’s okay. But when passive-aggressive behavior becomes chronic, your relationship can become toxic very quickly.

Most passive-aggressive people are born in families that avoid conflict and don’t discuss topics that could upset others, so passive-aggressive people never learn how to deal with their anger and negative feelings in a healthy, constructive way. Most passive-aggressive people can be hard to deal with, uncomfortable to be around, and can share many similar behavior patterns.

But when you’ve fallen in love with a passive-aggressive person, what can you do?

7 Most Common Passive-Aggressive Tactics and Why They’re Used

It’s important to first learn about the most common passive-aggressive behaviors you may experience and understand why your partner may be doing them.

1. The Silent Treatment

One of the hallmarks of passive-aggressive behavior, the silent treatment, is when someone deliberately avoids any form of communication with you. The purpose of the silent treatment is to gain leverage over you, to put you off balance, to convey through silence and withholding affection that they are unhappy with something you did and that you are being punished for it.

2. Broody Resentment

Broodiness can often be a manifestation of a type of passive-aggressive behavior where resentment and anger are shallowly concealed in silence and prolonged sulky unhappiness.

When asked, your brooding partner may say that nothing is wrong and shut any attempts at discussing their unhappiness down. But despite their denials, their continued negative countenance, emotion, and tone of voice when speaking to you, say that they are upset about something but are just unwilling to talk about it with you.

3. Procrastination

By deliberately procrastinating after agreeing to perform a task, your partner is telling you in a passive-aggressive way that, actually, they don’t want to do that task. They’re hoping that by making excuses, deliberately “forgetting,” and delaying as much as possible, you will give up and lower your expectations of them.

4. Sarcasm

Sometimes, passive-aggressive people will lash out by making negative comments or criticize in barely disguised humor. When you become defensive or get upset by their remarks, they’ll deny any hostile intentions by saying that they’re just joking or complain that you were being too serious and can’t take a joke.

By taking thinly veiled shots at you, your passive-aggressive partner hopes to bring you down so they can maintain a psychological upper hand over you.

The purpose of the silent treatment is to gain leverage over you, to put you off balance, to convey through silence and withholding affection that they are unhappy with something you did and that you are being punished for it.

5. Pretending to Be a Victim

Often used by passive-aggressive people to appear weak with the intention to exploit your guilty conscience, kindness, or protective instincts. For example, they could exaggerate health or personal problems, act dependent, co-dependent, and play at being powerless or a martyr.

6. Deliberately Pushing Your Buttons

There are times when your passive-aggressive partner will deliberately do something they know will upset or annoy you. If you have a pet peeve, they will trigger that peeve as a way to express their feelings of hostility towards you. These actions are often due to deeper issues in the relationship that have not been openly discussed.

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7. Saying One Thing but Doing Another

This happens mostly in longer-term relationships when a passive-aggressive partner has given up on trying to work through some issues in the relationship. So they will resort to agreeing to do something just to avoid further confrontation on a recurring issue.

But just because they said “yes” doesn’t mean they will follow through. They will often procrastinate, make excuses, and try to avoid fulfilling the obligation however they can in the hopes that someone else will do it instead or that you’ll just forget about it.

How to Cope With a Passive-Aggressive Partner

Now that you know where your partner’s passive-aggressiveness may be coming from, there are a few things you can do to avoid escalating the problem and nip any toxicity in the bud.

1. Don’t Take the Bait

When responding to passive-aggressive behavior, make sure that you’re not doing any more than that. It’s important to recognize when a response will fan the flames of emotion and drama that your partner is trying to create. The key to responding without engaging in their toxic behavior is to only reply to the content of each interaction.

For example, if your partner says “thank you” but sounds anything but grateful, just respond to the content and say “you’re welcome” instead of calling them out on the emotional context.

2. Address Each Incident in the Moment

If you’re confronting your partner about their passive-aggressive behavior, it’s likely that it’s not the first time they’ve behaved this way towards you. But avoid bringing up past incidents when you call them out on their toxic behavior. You’ll have a higher chance of getting through to them if you focus on what just happened instead.

Next time your partner behaves in a passive-aggressive manner, call them out on it right away and tell them how that made you feel in the moment.

Next time your partner behaves in a passive-aggressive manner, call them out on it right away and tell them how that made you feel in that moment.

3. Be Assertive Without Being Aggressive

When someone exhibits passive-aggressive behavior, they’re choosing to avoid instead of confronting an issue head-on. So it’s an opportunity for you to do the confronting.

But be careful not to come across as too aggressive or accusatory because you’ll make the other person shut down. Instead, focus on how the issue or situation is making you feel and stay with “I” statements, which will prompt your partner to feel empathy and encourage healthy communication.

4. Is It Worth It?

Sometimes, no matter how much you want the relationship to work or hope that someone will change, your efforts will prove futile. Many passive-aggressive people will never change just because you don’t like their behavior. So it’s also important to recognize when it’s not worth the effort to confront your partner’s toxic behavior in the hopes of saving your relationship.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I think I am a passive aggressive person. How can I control my passive aggressive behavior around my husband?

Answer: In most cases, we act passive-aggressively because we don't feel comfortable talking about the things that bother us.

So the next time you feel like lashing out at your husband, take a moment to understand why you feel upset. Then find a way to talk about your feelings with your husband in a calm manner. Don't be afraid to communicate your concerns to your husband because when you bottle emotions up for too long, you'll start to feel resentful and are more likely to act passive-aggressively.

Disclaimer: Any advice given here should not replace professional counseling or help. If you feel that you or your relationship needs help, don't hesitate to seek professional advice.

© 2018 KV Lo


Marcus Siow on June 13, 2018:

Passive aggressive behaviors may stem from deep seated issues of trust, more primarily communication issues. The behavior itself might be a manifestation of something deeper and it is not necessarily effective in this case to tackle the passive aggressive behavior directly than solving the root cause. Think of it as putting on an bandaid rather than stitching up the wound. Some issues may include:

Lack of Trust: It is the very foundation of every relationship. Without trust, no love can blossom as communication is viewed through tinted lenses. Everything that a person does will not be viewed with objectivity but with assumptions of the worst. A recipe for disaster.

Communication Issues: Passive aggressive approaches, cold wars, inability to understand each other are signs of communication issues. Delving deeper, it is not only about communicating your needs, but also understanding the entirety of how your partner might view a particular situation and come to an mutual agreement of how to proceed.

Neglect: Nowadays, people get into relationships because it is socially admirable to do so. You get alot of situations where people are ‘there’ but ‘not there’. Behavioral manifestations include inability to be present in the moment with your partner, feelings of ‘I should be loving you but I don’t know why I don’t.’

Lack Of Intimacy: A relationship cannot blossom with the lack of physical and emotional intimacy. The polarization of sexuality is the exact reason why male and females are drawn to each other and involve themselves in intimate relationships. Resisting your own sexuality or restricting your partner’s sexuality can create feelings of lack of trust and neglect.

Insecurity: Closely related to trust, behaviors on the surface may seem similar but the intention behind their actions differs greatly. Insecure individuals come from the perspective of ‘Am I good enough’ rather than ‘He/She is up to no good’ and assume the worst as a result.

All these issues are interlinked and can cause each other to occur. Resolving the deepest rooted issue of each relationship can cause subsequent issues to become trivial and solvable. I have written an assessment quiz to find out what issue you are having in your relationship and it gives you clarity into the exact root problem you are facing in your relationship.

You can check out the link here:

Grace Esedeke on February 11, 2018:

This is a very informative read. And sort of revealing as it felt like I was reading about myself.

I have been passive aggressive for as long as I've known myself. It's how I was raised. To avoid conflicts, arguments or anything that'll being fight at all cost.

But it turned out my previous partner was okay with it until I decided I was going to do something about it. And began confronting things. He didn't feel comfortable with the change so we ended the relationship.

This is something I'm currently working on as I personally do not like it.

Thanks for sharing this post.


KV Lo (author) on February 01, 2018:

@LaTrice So true! Thanks for reading. :)

LaTrice from Las Vegas, NV on January 31, 2018:

This article is very informative on how to deal with passive-aggressive behavior in a relationship. Despite the disagreements, it's up to both parties to work together to resolve their issues while standing up for themselves. Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior isn't pleasant, and no one deserves to be an emotional punching bag for disrespect.

Thank you for sharing this helpful article.

Monica on January 30, 2018:

I think nowadays more of the people are agressive and that's a huge problem! We all do it from time to time but it isn't the right thing! We should learn acting calmly! Thank you for sharing this info! ❤

KV Lo (author) on January 28, 2018:

@dashingscorpio That's interesting! I believe there are just as many passive-aggressive women as there are men (in fact, many of my female friends have passive-aggressive tendencies...but I don't tell them I said so!). Like every individual is different, every relationship is different and will have different dynamics, but it could be true that men may be more likely to avoid confrontation in relationships depending on how they were brought up. :)

dashingscorpio from Chicago on January 28, 2018:

I have yet to see an article written by a man on the topic of dealing with a passive aggressive person in a relationship. This makes me wonder are (we) the men; usually the passive aggressive one's in relationships.

Is it some type of coping mechanism to avoid violently lashing out? or is taking the Rudyard Kipling poem to heart?

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on’ll be a Man, my son!"

Maybe some men just want to avoid getting emotionally invested in some of the things that are important to their mate.

Whatever it is I never hear about men complaining about "passive aggressive" women. Most men seem to want to avoid arguments.

Proverbs 21:19

"It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman."

Oftentimes (men) the first to say "I love you" in a new relationship. I've known (women) who believe fighting is good relationships.

"A little drama keeps things interesting."

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