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How to stop passive-aggressive behaviour

Healthy relationships are built on trust and communication. When someone in a relationship feels like they cannot express negative emotions, behaviours of passive aggression can start to arise.

The term ‘passive’ can evoke connotations of harmlessness, but passive-aggressive behaviour can cause significant harm to your relationship.

Whether you are the person exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviour, or your partner is, there are many actionable steps to take to stop passive aggression causing further problems.

Here we explore how this kind of behaviour manifests and how you can learn to manage its presence in your relationship.

What is passive-aggressive behaviour?

It is important to recognise passive-aggressive behaviour before taking the steps to combat it.

This behaviour can manifest in a variety of ways, depending on the individual and the circumstance.

Some common examples of passive aggression include:

• Backhanded compliments

• Offensive or ‘edgy’ jokes

• Undermining others in group settings

• Sarcasm

• Avoidance or the silent treatment

• Always being late

• Making excuses or procrastinating

Those who display passive aggression use these behaviours to try to mask their feelings of anger or resentment.

These methods of avoidance make it harder for individuals to own up to their negative feelings which make it harder for the cause to be confronted and ultimately resolved.

Why is my partner being passive-aggressive?

The main root of this kind of behaviour comes from a fear of direct confrontation, rejection or conflict. From a young age, many of us learn that extreme expressions of emotion can be inappropriate.

When an expression of anger or insecurity is veiled in civility or indifference, it will look like passive aggression.

This mechanism can originate from being brought up in a controlling household, where emotional expression was discouraged. Many individuals may start to feel that subtly hostile behaviour is the only way to safely articulate how they are truly feeling.

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Stopping patterns of behaviour

Learning how to stop harmful or unhealthy patterns will not be a quick process. Taking the time to understand how and why passive-aggressive behaviour is affecting your relationship will be key when working to move forward.

Recognising passive aggression

Becoming aware of your behaviour is one of the first steps when it comes to unlearning it. If you are the person who becomes passive-aggressive, ask yourself why. Examine your emotional triggers and your reactions to them.

Understanding the effects

Realising that passive-aggressiveness can be just as damaging as other forms of aggression or negativity is crucial.

You will never address the issues that cause anger or frustration if one, or both of you are too fearful to fully acknowledge the underlying problems.

When carried out in a clear and constructive manner, disagreements can be a natural and healthy part of a relationship. Passive-aggressive behaviour is not a healthy or sustainable way of handling your frustrations.

Allow yourself to feel

It is important to make sure that both parties feel like they can be open with their emotions. It’s okay to be angry; we are all multifaceted and have the capability to feel negative and positive emotions simultaneously.

Make it clear that your partner knows you will still love them, even when you exhibit anger. This reassurance may create an environment where confrontation feels less severe.

Don’t be afraid of confrontation

Confronting your partner can be scary or uncomfortable, especially when you are unsure of how they will react, but it can be done productively.

Being direct and honest about your feelings will help to prevent passive aggression bubbling to the surface.

If you are on the receiving end of a confrontation, it will be helpful to remain open and ready to listen. Instead of jumping into an argument, be upfront and ask questions like, ‘What did you mean by this?’, to help prevent misunderstandings.

Being on the same page

Feeling like you are a team is essential for any relationship. Sharing emotions can cultivate bonds of support and understanding.

Cultivating Emotional Support

Being able to vent to your partner without fearing their comments is also important.

Having a daily ritual where you just talk about your experiences or feelings without the express intent of finding a solution can be cathartic and help with strengthening your emotional support system.

Learning to Listen

Give your partner space and time to talk. Avoid assuming you know what they are thinking or feeling and let them use their own words to express themselves.

Developing good listening and communication skills is vital when striving to improve your relationship.

A cup of coffee on a wooden table

Learning how to stop passive-aggressive behaviour will be a long process, but it is important to focus on the future rather than the issues of the past. Try not to dwell on past disagreements and instead, focus on how to enact positive change.

Remainly is an online coupes counselling service that offers video tutorials and guided assignments from our skilled couples therapist, Andreas. If you feel like passive-aggressive behaviour is affecting your relationship, consider getting in touch to develop the tools you need to combat it.

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