Passive-aggressive behavior might be easy to pick out in a colleague or friend, but in your spouse, it can be difficult—even though you know them better than anybody. "Passive-aggressive partners are generally codependent, and like codependents, suffer from shame and low self-esteem," says Darlene Lancer, licensed marriage and family therapist. Passive-aggressive spouses do not respond openly when upset. Instead, their anger comes out in ways that sabotage you and your attempt to solve problems in your marriage. Passive-aggressive people view everything as an attack on them; they respond by trying to “get even,” in underhanded ways, and you are their target. If you are married to someone you think is passive aggressive, we outlined some common behaviors you'll likely see consistently in your marriage.
What is Passive Aggression?
Passive aggression is the expression of negative feelings or aggression in an unassertive way through things like procrastination, stubbornness, and unwillingness to communicate.
Punishing You by Being Late
If tardiness is a habit—not a one-time occurrence—for your spouse, they could be passive aggressive. This is especially the case if they ask you to meet for lunch the day after an argument and are 20 minutes late to punish you. "Chronic lateness is a half-hearted way of saying NO. They agree to a time, but show up late" says Lancer. Some people are habitually late; the passive-aggressive person is purposefully late. If you've noticed this behavior in your wife or husband after an argument, more than likely, you are being punished for pissing them off or offending them in some way.
If your spouse knows you are worried about finances, but spends money anyway, they could be passive aggressive—especially if you have a disagreement with them and they whip out the credit cards the next day.
Refusing to Engage in Communication
If your spouse stonewalls your attempts to communicate during a disagreement, they may be passive aggressive. The passive-aggressive fears confrontation out of a sense of unworthiness. A passive-aggressive spouse may stonewall and refuse to engage in conflict out of fear you will leave them if they show anger toward you. Point out a flaw in the passive aggressive, and they will shut down or walk away, leaving you to stew in the problem.
Refusing to Have Sex
If your spouse refuses to have sex in response to something you’ve done to upset them as a form of punishment, it could be passive aggressive. Because a passive aggressive person is unable to articulate what they want, feel, or need, instead, "they retain their power using the silent treatment or withholding material/financial support, affection, or sex. This undermines intimacy as a way to fight against their dependency," Lancer says.
The ultimate sign of passive-aggressive behavior is the spouse who is “fine” with everything. This person loves everything you love. They love everything about you. They leave the choice of which restaurant to go to up to you; you always choose which movie to see or where to go on holiday. This person is highly personable, up until a point where they convince themselves that constantly agreeing with you is actually a sign of your "controlling" nature, essentially placing blame for their complacency.
How Passive-Aggressive Behavior Can Damage a Marriage
When no martial or interpersonal problems are resolved, and no solutions are found to the problems in the relationship and anger builds, it can damage the marriage. Passive-aggressive behavior gets in the way of either spouse being able to deal with what is happening in the marriage, as well as being able to live authentically within the marriage.
Passive-aggressive behaviors damage both spouses. The passive-aggressive partner is their own worst enemy. They marry wanting to connect with their spouse; they marry out of a sense of love. Their reaction to conflict keeps not only their spouse from experiencing an emotional and intimate connection but themselves, too.
The passive-aggressive partner takes no responsibility for the problems in their marriage. They use obstructive tactics to keep from facing and dealing with marital issues, leaving their spouse to carry the burden of the problems. It isn't unusual for those married to a passive-aggressive spouse to suffer from depression or begin to have health problems due to the frustration and stress they turn inward.