By Alan Howard
If you live with a passive aggressive partner, I really do understand your pain, as I have been the one causing that same pain in others over the years. Only recently have I begun to understand the effect my passive aggression has been having on other people.
One of the really amazing dynamics of relationships is that people are attracted to their opposites, those who balance them. This dynamic works in mysterious ways, and often without the participants’ knowledge or understanding. So a lazy woman might be with a hard working man, or a quiet man will be with a talkative woman, or a man who resents taking orders will be with a woman who gives orders…
Passive aggression (PA) goes back to childhood, and is a result of controlling and abusive parents who prevented the expression of negative emotions in the child. The child grows up learning that expressing emotions is a punishable offence, and so they don’t. However, they have a feeling of helplessness and anger about their situation, but with no control over it or any authority to do something about it. So they end up becoming the ‘rebellious teenager’, who agrees to doing what they’re told, but finds ways of sabotaging it in order to establish their own sense of control with the situation.
Partners of PAs often have a strong tendency to take on more responsibility in their lives. It’s because of this trait that the PA is attracted to them – they feel they can relax while their partner does all the work. Ironically, it’s also the cause of conflict which results in PA behaviour.
When the more responsible partner feels like they’re doing all the work, they end up asking more from the PA because they feel the PA isn’t keeping up their share of responsibilities. And so, when they ask more, the PA sees them as becoming more demanding, which triggers off the PA behaviour, which in turn triggers more demands.
Partners of PAs are generally hard workers, responsible volunteers, and contributors to society in some way. At home they often take charge, but end up becoming furious at the PA partner for being unreliable and insensitive.
One of the best things you can do for a PA is to understand what they’re actually going through, and why. Treat them as if they are ill – because they are – and be kinder to them. Ask for them to give only what they’re willing to give, and be willing to accept that.
At the same time, you can talk with them about the high standards that you are placing on yourself. Start to move away from those high standards and start lowering them. You’ll actually start to relax more as a result, even if it’s a hard thing to do less in your life. Find more hobbies or interests to take up your spare time. And, because your PA partner is an expert on doing less, they can help you find the balance in your own life.
Even more ironically, when you stop asking your PA partner to do more, and you start doing less yourself, they’ll feel less pressured. When less demands are being placed on them, they have nothing to be PA about, and it gives them space to be more loving.
The way my own partner and I have looked at this is to understand the balance that relationships bring to each other. She’s been able to understand that she demands a lot of herself and others, which had resulted in me feeling pressured to live up to her expectations of activity and responsibility, which triggered my own passive aggression.
I hate being pressured, or living under a cloud of high expectations, and yet I hadn’t learnt the art of assertive communication, and so I was unable to express my needs because of how I was punished as a child for expressing those needs….
When you can be less demanding about responsibilities, your partner will have less reason to be passive aggressive. When you can talk to them about how you want to change your habits and do less, they’ll be more open to helping you. They’re a master of ‘doing less’! When you can start to relate to each other more, you can encourage them to talk more about their feelings, and you can start to learn and understand the nature of their history. When they feel encouraged to open up and be more honest to you, they’ll also start to be more honest to themselves. When you can talk to them about how their own pain has affected you, they’ll begin to see things from your point of view because there’s less need for them to be defensive.
In order to create change, someone has to start the ball rolling.
Of course, you could just leave them as well, especially if it’s just too hard, and gone on for too long… But as long as there’s no violence, and you’re not being physically harmed, then it might just be worth staying. If you leave you will have missed out on the opportunity for both of you to grow from this experience.
Everyone has issues in their lives. Relationships help us acknowledge our issues and heal them. Relationships end because the issues either haven’t been acknowledged, or they certainly haven’t been healed. They’ll stay there to affect us in the next relationship…
If you have a passive aggressive partner, I wish you all the best with whatever you decide to do. I’m here to help along the way.
by Alan Howard