Can a passive aggressive person change his ways?

can a passive aggressive person change

How can a passive aggressive husband change his ways?

As you continue to read our reflections here, perhaps you understand our basic concept: we think that passive aggressive behavior is a remnant from the past, a behavior that was perhaps necessary to survive in a hostile family environment. We talk a lot about failed attachments, and people stopping to grow up, stuck in interactions of the past, where survival was at stake.
Now we have a supposedly grown up interaction as marriage, that takes place between two people at different degrees of development: one is the grown up willing to experience adult love and companionship and the other is still a defensive child doing the battle for his survival.
No surprise there is so much pain in the passive aggressive marriage! And even knowing this pain, we can't assume that people will change, and automatically be at the level they need to be...
First, the unsuspecting spouse has to discover the raw deal she (or sometimes he) is in.....and this process of accepting having married a child is slow and excruciating.
Second, in comes the expectation that the passive aggressive husband, now understanding the damage that he is causing to the relationship, will grow up and own his personal side in the relationship, feelings and all.
This stage filled with conversations, demands, recriminations and pain takes a long time to develop. The realization that the passive aggressive husband is not willing to change his take in life and hence his communication style by himself, or by pushing him comes slowly. But, it takes a long time for the expectant spouse to give up the impulse to push for change.
Only people in this last stage get to ask: Can a passive aggressive spouse really change?
Here is the short answer that we came up with:
  • There is a basic contradiction:  he knows that he needs to change, but really, he doesn't want to drop this behavior at all, first he needs to feel accepted;
  • This behavior is his favorite defense against the world and against controlling, demanding intruders like women in their lives…
  • His using passive aggression is not even a choice; some people have learned from very early times in their lives that is safer to play dead and be noncommittal in any personal relationship.
  • Probably they have been hurt before, so now they don’t risk opening up. Safety, even at the price of isolation, is the rule.

So, is there no hope?  Is the passive aggressive person going to tackle the task of changing in his own? That would be great...but what's going to motivate him, if he sees nothing wrong in the way he approaches the marriage?

What can you do? Well, you can change your own responses, in such a way that there is less pressure on him to change. Remember, as much as you can tell him that he is behaving in a passive aggressive way towards you, he will not change! He can listen to your request, but for him the usual response will be to "not understand" what it means to change, and worst of all, he will feel again rejected and will behave more silent, withdrawn and non responsive.

In this article by Mark Goulston, you can find a technique that can reduce the hostility between the two:

"Now that you've stopped talking, (and the other person has expressed himself) to show you listened, repeat back what you've heard "So you don't think this will work and it's a bad idea because.... Did I get that right?" Just listen and make sure you've heard it the way the other person meant it.

Then explore just a little bit more. Go for the emotion behind the push back. Empathize. [Say something like,] "Now that I understand your position, I can see why you would be uneasy buying in." Take the resistance that is negative energy and use it, by absorbing it, so the person feels respected and safe, lowers their defenses, and as a result opens up to you.

In this exchange, instead of boxing, the verbal interaction looks more like Jujitsu. You meet the resistance, not with a push or punch but instead with open hands. As the person comes at you with their resistance, with open hands you step aside and embrace the negative movement, use its energy, to move the person where you want them."

Do you want an example?

Usually, you go around him tiptoeing and walking on eggshells up until he gives a superficial consent to some activity. Even then, you are not sure he will deliver…if you use your own old behavior, then you will be there waiting for him to deliver, as if he was some normal person whose words have weight....The new behavior is telling him back, in his own words, what he has just said. It is called "reflective listening" and its purpose is to make the person feel understood....

Where do you go from here? Of course, you still need him to deliver, right? The difference is on the fact that now, having received his own words back, you can either get a firmer commitment, or you (and him) can hear the words as the empty verbiage they are, and stop the waiting. If his words are empty shells, now you can say: I hear you saying that helping my mother in her move is a bad idea for you...I can see that you don't want to be part of this project, so I will do other plans to help her."

If there is any hope that he will change when you remove the pressure, it is here. Giving him your attention to his words is the core of the idea.  What if you still feel that you have no wish whatsoever to carry out this approach? Or you feel that you can’t do anything that could frustrate him by sending him the signal that you will proceed and will proceed without him? Well, you need more than this article; you need to read “Passive Aggressive Husband,” and get all the support you can muster in order to push yourself to grow!

BECAUSE if you don’t reach out and get some strong help, your marital situation will only get worst, you will lose more of your time and your energy doing the same thing that doesn't help you now (“bear and grin,” perhaps?) and your promised change is not coming by itself.

IN SHORT:

No, he will not spontaneously change; you need to change your behavior towards him; if you can’t do it alone, please, get help reading our postings, our ebooks and posting here your questions to get some realistic, easy to apply suggestions to recover yourself. Good luck!

  1. Dave, 26 September, 2013

    Or can a n aggressive wife change her ways?

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