How to Recognize Signs of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Your Spouse

couple arguing

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Aggression is easy enough to identify. We see it all the time in sports or on television shows. But what about what is known as "passive" aggression? One may not realize it, but it's very common and even sometimes unintentional. We'll walk you through how to recognize signs of passive-aggressive behavior in your spouse.

A passive-aggressive person may harbor anger or hostility, but they do not openly express it. They may appear friendly and kind because they are unsure of how to confront the issue. If you are involved with someone who is passive aggressive, you may know feelings of frustration or blame. It also can seem like there is no way around the problem, as it just keeps growing. The behavior can feed into itself by continually covering up how the person is feeling, but it can be overcome with confrontation by the other party. 

What Is Passive Aggression?

Passive aggression is negative behavior displayed in an unassertive way through unwillingness to communicate. Passive-aggressive behaviors involve acting indirectly aggressive, like someone who uses sarcasm to get their point across in an argument.

What to Watch For

The most common negative behavior a passive-aggressive person will display is withholding intimacy or withdrawing emotionally. They withdraw during conflict, which allows them to disconnect from responsibility, and may inadvertently leave the other person to solve the problem alone. This is where serious difficulties in a marriage may originate—after all, a marriage is meant to share burdens and support one another. When there is passive-aggressive behavior in the relationship, everything will feel tainted. 

It is important to know where to draw the line in a relationship. Is their behavior taking an emotional toll? This could be a form of psychological abuse. Communication is the bedrock of any successful relationship, and the lack of it could turn into passive aggression. 

Living With a Passive-Aggressive Spouse

When reflecting on your relationship with your spouse, whether you are the victim or the aggressor, wife, or husband, think back to how long your feelings have lasted. Have you been holding a grudge for some time? Have you felt unimportant since you have been living together? Can you think of any defining moments that come back during arguments? 

Marriage can blur the lives of a couple—not to mention the additional stress of having a family or live-in relatives. It is beneficial to occasionally check in with one another should there be any problems, big or small, in order to avoid the spread of passive-aggressive behavior. 

Becoming Passive Aggressive

Passive-aggressive people are comfortable with an environment where anger is discouraged. This may stem from fears of confrontation or inner feelings of inadequacy. Harvard psychiatrist Martin Kantor suggests three areas that contribute to passive-aggressive anger in individuals: conflicts about dependency, control, and competition. Whatever the root, in the end, everyone suffers. 

Hopefully, you already have healthy habits of self-reflection; during that time, scrutinize these traits in yourself. Are you experiencing feelings that could align with passive aggression? Be honest with yourself in order to collect yourself and heal any relationships that you may not have even noticed had been injured. 

Recovering From Passive Aggressive Behavior

A passive-aggressive person may be unaware of how their behavior affects those around them. It is always healthy to reflect upon and dissect why we behave the way we do; by making this a habit, we can avoid becoming unintentionally passive aggressive. 

Counseling is always a great option for both parties to recover from the damage passive aggression may have on a relationship. While avoiding confrontation may prevent any hard feelings in the short-term, it breeds them in the long-run. Individual and couples counseling have been known to be helpful for those who are willing to seek that support. 

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