How to Deal with a Passive Aggressive Husband

Three Parts:Exploring Passive Aggressive BehaviorResponding to Passive Aggressive BehaviorImproving Marital Communication

It can be really hard to problem solve and work through disagreements when met with passive aggressiveness from your husband. While it’s easy to recognize someone’s anger when he or she explodes, passive aggressive behavior can be more difficult to spot, and may be difficult to understand when the person denies the actions. While you may feel like you have no power to change things, stay calm and remember that you have just as much power in the relationship as your husband does.

Part 1
Exploring Passive Aggressive Behavior

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    Identify passive aggressive behavior. It’s important to identify and understand passive aggressive behavior and not jump to conclusions about your husband’s behavior. The biggest denotation of passive aggressive behavior is a mismatch between someone’s actions and behaviors, especially around anger, and passive aggressiveness can be thought of as a covert way of showing anger.[1] Understanding the behavior can be helpful in identifying what is underlying your husband’s words or actions, and how you can respond to what underlies the passive aggression, and not just respond to the behavior.
    • Passive aggressiveness is different than the occasional defensiveness or lateness. A passive aggressive behavior is purposeful and often becomes a pattern.[2]
    • It’s easy to get sucked into this type of interaction, then feel blamed or at fault when this can be a tactic of manipulation.
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    Look for denial. Someone who is passive aggressive refuses to take responsibility for his behavior. Your husband may lie or blame you to skirt acknowledging that he hurt you (or someone else). Methods like rationalizing, making excuses, and minimizing may be ways of denying his behavior or the impact his actions make.[3]
    • Your husband may “forget” to pick up the dry cleaning, or say you didn’t remind him to get the kids after school.
    • He may pretend that he didn’t do something when there’s obvious evidence that he did.
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    Watch him playing the victim. Somehow, no matter what, he finds a way to make everything your fault and not his. He may blame you for his anger and making him explode or hit you. He finds ways to evade responsibility and blame for hurting other people.[4]
    • Does your husband find ways to twist the truth in order to escape blame? Do you find him constantly blaming you for things that go wrong, even if you had nothing to do with them?
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    Understand withholding. Instead of articulating his wants and needs, he may walk off in the middle of an argument, stop talking to you or try to put an end to a discussion by saying, “Why should I even bother responding? You’re always right.” He may also withhold things like money, sex, or other items as a way to hold power.[5]
    • If your husband gives things away that are yours or throws away things that are important to you, this is also a form of withholding.
    • Does your husband try to exert power over you by withholding emotions? What about withholding things?
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    Recognize chronic lateness.[6] Being chronically late can be one way of expressing passive aggressiveness. It’s a way to say, “This isn’t important to me” or “what I’m doing is more important than what you planned.”
    • Do you find yourself often waiting for your husband to get off the computer or turn off the tv when you have something planned? Does he make excuses about being caught up at work or blaming traffic, more often than not?
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    Keep an eye on incompetency. Doing tasks or chores half-heartedly can be a form of passive aggressiveness. He may procrastinate doing tasks, and then apply minimal effort so that you have to do it over for him afterward.[7] Doing tasks in this way may be his way of saying, “I don’t care about this (or you), and I’ll make it obvious by not doing a good job.”
    • Does your husband often not complete tasks, find ways to put them off, or make excuses for why they were done poorly?

Part 2
Responding to Passive Aggressive Behavior

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    Notice the warning signs. Your husband may start being subtly passive aggressive without him even noticing it. The trick is to pick up on the behaviors before things spiral out of control. You may notice him slipping in his responsibilities ever so slightly, procrastinating more than usual, or finding excuses for things.[8]
    • When you notice these signs, you can disengage from the conflict before more overt passive aggression comes forth.
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    Avoid escalating the conflict. While your first reaction may be to nag him or explode on him for his behavior, resist the urge to do so. You may turn into a parent role, which won’t go well for you or your husband.[9] It’s unlikely you want to parent your husband, and it’s unlikely he wants to be placed in the child role in your marriage.
    • If you feel yourself about to react, stop yourself and take a moment. Think about the way you feel and what thoughts are going through your head. Take a deep breath before saying anything.
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    Be assertive.[10] Don’t play his game. If you start in on the passive aggressiveness, then you will cycle the behavior until both of you are utterly unhappy. Instead, approach him in saying, “We have a problem that we need to work through.”
    • If he is chronically late, say, “We have a difficulty getting out of the house in time when we have places to be. What do you think would be helpful in ensuring we get places on time?”
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    Stand firm.[11] Maybe his lines used to work in guilting you or accepting blame, but put an end to it. Don’t let these tactics work on you any longer. If he says, “I’m not mad” but clearly is, make a request for him to be honest with you and share how he is feeling. If he says, “I was only joking”, make sure you communicate that those kind of jokes are disrespectful and not appreciated.
    • If he says, “Why are you so mad?” Communicate clearly that his behavior is upsetting. “When you don’t communicate with me, it’s really frustrating. I’d like to know what’s going on that feels challenging to you.”

Part 3
Improving Marital Communication

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    State your needs or requests clearly. Instead of getting on his case, be diligent with your own needs and expectations. Don’t make any assumptions about your expectations. If you request him to do something, make sure you make it clear what needs to be done and by when it’s needs to be completed.[12]
    • Get in the habit of writing things down that need to be done. Don’t leave any room for ambiguity. The clearer you are, the less he is likely to find the wiggle room.
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    Don’t blame or shame him. Blaming and shaming your husband isn’t going to get you anywhere you want to be. So, hold off on the accusations and instead, let him know how you are feeling. Tell him what is bothering you, how it affects you (and the relationship), and what you would like to work toward.[13]
    • Instead of saying, “I really hate it when you don’t do the chores I ask you to do, I can’t believe you’re so lazy” say “It really bothers me that I feel I can’t count on you to do chores. It sets things back in the home and makes me feel stressed. Can we find a way to work together and make sure things get done in the house?”
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    Recognize that he probably feels resentment or anger. It’s likely your husband feels resentful or angry and doesn’t feel like he can voice his concern. It’s much easier to make it someone else’s problem instead of his own. He may intend to make you explode in anger so that more blame falls on you than on him.[14] Recognize this pattern and decide whether you want to engage it or not.
    • When both of you are calm, have a real discussion about your feelings. Talk about what is and is not working for you, for him, and for you both as a married couple. Find ways to express your own resentment or anger and encourage him to do the same.
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    Listen to each other. Spend some quality time each week listening to each other, empathizing, and supporting each other. These are skills that may need to be built up, so you may not be an expert yet, but make an effort to do so. Show your husband that he can be emotionally expressive around you and that you will support him. And allow him to take this role for you, too.
    • Practice active listening by repeating or summarizing what your husband says.[15] “I hear you saying that you had a rough day, and would rather not talk about finances tonight. Is that right?”
    • When your husband includes emotional content, empathize with the emotion. “I can see that you’re frustrated” or “Wow, that sounds really stressful, I would feel overwhelmed, too” are ways to communicate that you understand the emotion.
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    Seek out support. If you are struggling to share compassion with your passive aggressive husband and find that fights continue to escalate, consider reaching out for help from a therapist. You can see a marriage therapist or an individual therapist. Therapy can be beneficial in modifying dysfunctional behavior, improve communication, and decrease emotional avoidance[16]
    • Remember that you cannot change your husband, however, you can change how you react to him. A therapist can help you work to respond differently, even if your husband never changes.

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Categories: Married Life | Relationship Issues