Catch Him in the Act: Passive Aggressive Behavior Identified!

Domineering women
Passive Aggressive behavior is a style of communicating negative feelings like anger, resentment, fear, and insecurity without actually expressing those feelings out loud.  The behavior is used almost as a “sneak attack” on the offender, hurting the “offender” without opening oneself up to retribution or vulnerability.


Passive aggressive behavior is used when feeling, but never wanting to say “I am frustrated by what you are asking of me, “ I am mad at you, but don’t want to talk about it,” or “I am afraid of what might happen if I confront you with my angry feelings.” These behaviors protect the person from not only having to open himself up to someone, but also from having to own the feelings.  If he doesn’t say it, he can deny that his own feelings exist.

Passive aggressive behavior commonly appears in 4 forms

  1. Not following through on a task or promise;
  2. Spinning the responsibility or blame onto the target;
  3. Using sarcasm when confronted with critical comments or behaviors;
  4. Sabotaging a threatening project or action by creating “diversions”



No Follow through -
David is upset with Julie for being too tired to have sex the night before, but he doesn’t tell her he is upset. Julie is running late for work, but there are still dishes to be done from last night’s dinner and she hates coming home to a dirty house.  David tells Julie he will take care of the dishes so she is not late to work.  He doesn’t do the dishes, so Julie arrives home to the undone task after all, and David comes homes late making up an excuse for not following through on his promise.

Spinning the blame -

Jack is feeling insecure about Wendy’s new promotion that is requiring her to spend more time networking lately.  Jack and Wendy have plans to order pizza and watch movies every Tuesday.  This Tuesday Wendy has to go to a Happy Hour networking function after work and will be home one hour late.  Jack picks up Chinese on his way home from work and has already eaten by the time Wendy comes home.  When Wendy tells Jack she is upset that he didn’t wait, Jack calmly tells her he thought she would be eating with her work crew.  Wendy is hurt and gets more upset saying Jack spoiled their date. He gets quiet and tells Wendy he was just trying to be supportive of her new job and not make her worry about getting home, that he “was trying to help.”  Wendy is now not only disappointed and hurt, she now feels guilty that she yelled at Jack when he was trying to be nice.  Jack feels better now that not only does Wendy feel bad tonight, she will be less happy with her networking functions after this.

Sarcasm -

Elissa and Sam are out with friends for a night of bowling.  Elissa is having a lucky night and is beating Sam, who is very competitive.  Sam begins to make snide comments about how he is letting Elissa win, how it’s good that she can win at least once a year, even commenting sarcastically how cute her bowling shoes look with her favorite jeans.  Elissa looks hurt and loses some of her laughter and Sam just laughs and asks “Why can’t you take a joke, aren’t we all just having fun?”

Sabotage -

Mark is feeling stressed at work lately and it is getting him down.  He feels he needs more time with his supportive wife Andi because she always makes him feel better.  He doesn’t tell her this.  Andi tells Mark she is thinking of starting a new yoga class 2 nights a week, but isn’t sure because she doesn’t know much about the yoga center.  Mark tells Andi he has heard negative reviews of the center - the teachers are unreliable and that the building has been having problems so the temperature and lights are never quite right.  Mark suggests she wait to see if she can learn more or if the kinks get worked out, knowing this will give him more time with her until he is feeling better about work.

Recognizing the behaviors is a crucial, initial step to being able to protect yourself from the consequences of passive aggressiveness, to you and your relationship.  An awareness of these behaviors and what they may represent is important, but can take some time.  Let's begin to watch if you have developed a need to be the controlling or domineering party here. Watch for examples like these and see if they translate to your relationship. For more information and helpful advice and coaching on what to do once you recognize the behaviors, go to our blog. Remember that you can always ask questions here!

  1. Nora Femenia, 28 September, 2012

    After posting this article, I received a very interesting phone call….Carl, a middle aged man, happily married for 26 years (according to his side of the story) said: “You are right…but left out the most important part of this message, because you should be asking “Why is this behavior happening?” Oh, well, I then had to ask him: So, why are you doing this behavior?…and his answer was:
    “Simply, I will sabotage all her commands…when I feel that she is ordering me to do things as if she was the master and I was the slave, I’d say nice things knowing that I will do nothing!”
    And I had to ask: OK, then, who are you rebelling against? who was the person who was lording over you when you were growing up?
    “Of course, my mother…she was obsessive and would chase me around the house forcing me to do things exactly as she wanted them done! I hated that….and will not tolerate it any longer”
    Very softly, I commented: OK, do you want to have some help differentiating between your mother and your wife, so you can tell your wife, as the grown up man you are now, that you would like to negotiate house work in a way that makes you feel more respected? And, if you can talk to her and she knows what’s underneath your “sabotage,” could you ask for her help as to identify and stop your inner child revenge?
    Finally, he said: “Of course, I see it clearly now….please, can we start by you telling her that she has to stop calling me “passive aggressive”? that would help me a lot….at least temporarily, as long as I need to work through my hidden anger at my mother…”
    Right, then, I ended the conversation with:
    Let’s tell her that, when she sees you behaving in this sabotaging way, she has your permission to say: “Please, little Carl, can you go out to play and let Carl here be my good, loving and helping husband? we can give you something to play with outside, and I promise to talk to you again soon…”

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