A Marriage Educator Shares What Causes Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive Aggression
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In relationships, few things may seem more frustrating than a passive-aggressive partner. If you've noticed that he is particularly stubborn or she's intentionally ignoring your requests, chances are, you've just about had it. Maybe they're even withholding things that they know you need or play the victim in order to get the upper hand. Sound familiar? If so, you're probably at your breaking point with passive-aggressive people.

Being in a relationship with someone who is passive-aggressive may have left you wondering how they got to be this way and what you can do to help limit or minimize the causes of their passive-aggressive behavior. The best place to start is to understand how they became so reliant on passive aggression rather than being direct.

What is Passive Aggression?

Passive-aggressive behaviors are indirectly aggressive ones, rather than directly aggressive. The most common signs include refusing to discuss concerns openly and directly, avoiding responsibility, and being deliberately inefficient.

Just keep in mind that there is no "one size fits all" answer when it comes to people's personalities, and there may be multiple factors that influence someone's behaviors.

Childhood Family Dynamics

Father and son
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Regardless of whether or not someone grew up in a loving and supportive environment, everyone has stories of childhood ordeals (or even trauma). While negative childhood experiences or abusive family dynamics aren't necessarily the determining factor for someone's personality, they can definitely contribute to the way someone handles things as an adult.

If you're wondering what causes passive-aggressive behaviors, know that a passive-aggressive person likely developed negative behavioral patterns as a coping mechanism when she was a child, which stayed with her through adulthood. For instance, people who act passive-aggressive may have deep-seated abandonment issues courtesy of emotionally distant parents. Others may feel abandoned if they were adopted because they think that their biological parents left them or didn't want them.

Inability to Express Anger

angry woman
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We've all heard the expression "children are like sponges," and it is especially true when it comes to teaching kids how to deal with negative emotions like anger. Children generally absorb and mimic the behavior of the adults in their lives, so if your boyfriend is passive-aggressive, his parents probably were too. Children of passive-aggressive parents were likely taught that anger is bad and that the appropriate way to deal with it is to suppress it completely.

Perhaps your boyfriend grew up in a household that didn't outwardly allow anger or conflict because no one knew how to deal with it constructively. If someone's childhood was void of negative emotions like anger and anxiety, that may have made it difficult for him to express his feelings as an adult because he never learned as a child. And when people aren't able to express themselves, their feelings can emerge in passive-aggressive ways.

Fear of Conflict

couple fighting
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In many ways, passive aggression offers a path to the least resistance from anyone on the receiving end. For example, in a subconscious way, your girlfriend weighs the outcomes of being upfront, direct, and maybe even confrontational with you, but she decides that the outcome of her being passive-aggressive is more favorable because it likely won't end in a screaming match or a long argument. Instead, it ends with you being frustrated, which gives her a sense of satisfaction.

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