12 Examples Of Passive-Aggressive Behavior In A Relationship

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A partner with passive-aggressive tendencies in a relationship is extremely challenging.

Of course, outright aggression can be incredibly scary and destroy a relationship in an instant, but it’s obvious and impossible to ignore, even if the injured party doesn’t want to accept that reality.

Passive aggression, on the other hand, can be difficult to deal with in a relationship because it can sometimes be tricky to identify or verbalize.

The guilty party can sometimes be doing it unintentionally, and it’s also something that’s very easy to deny.

But it can slowly chip away at the foundations of a relationship, sometimes bringing it down entirely.

But what exactly is passive aggression?

What are some examples of it in a relationship?

And how can this behavior be approached and managed so that it doesn’t cause further problems between you?

Read on to find out.

Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you figure out how best to approach your partner’s passive-aggressive behavior. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.

12 Examples Of Passive Aggression In A Relationship

Passive aggression can be defined as negative behavior that’s displayed through an unwillingness to communicate.

It’s unassertive behavior, when someone refuses to address a problem head on.

Someone who’s guilty of this will only communicate their aggression indirectly, maybe through sarcasm, or through withdrawing emotionally.

They tend to present a show of behaving well or nicely toward you on the outside, whilst actually trying to make you suffer to a lesser or greater extent – whether consciously or subconsciously.

Here are some examples of passive aggression in a relationship. If you recognize any of them in the ways your partner behaves toward you, it’s a clear sign that there are some issues between you that need to be worked on.

1. They relinquish all responsibility for important decisions.

If there’s conflict between you and you’re facing a complex situation, their standard response is just to withdraw entirely, so that you’re left to solve the problem all on your own.

This can cause serious problems as long-term, committed relationships are all about sharing the load and supporting one another, and the partner of someone who is passive aggressive will often feel abandoned.

2. They withdraw intimately.

They show their displeasure with you by withholding their normal physical affection for you, whether that’s caresses, kisses, hugs, or something more.

They almost seem to use physical affection, or lack of it, as a kind of reward or punishment for your behavior.

3. They withdraw emotionally.

When there are issues in your relationship, their default response is to put their emotional barriers up so that you can’t reach them on that level.

They punish you by cutting you off emotionally.

4. They rarely show their anger overtly.

A passive-aggressive partner doesn’t often get angry in the classic sense, either because they’re scared of the emotion, or they just don’t know how to express it in a healthy manner.

They prefer to take it out on your in other, indirect ways.

5. They use hostile humor.

They’re often sarcastic, or they tell thinly veiled hostile jokes, and then laugh when you react badly. After all, they were only kidding.

They might tease you about a certain thing or make comments about the way you look or behave.

6. They give you the silent treatment.

This is a classic passive-aggressive behavioral trait. It might just be the silent treatment, or they might go as far as to pretend that you’re invisible in an effort to punish you for something you did.

7. They sulk and never address their feelings.

Their default response to a situation in which they don’t get their own way is to sulk. You’ve never known them to be honest about when they’re feeling frustrated or angry.

8. They deliberately push your buttons.

They know just how to wind you up, so that you’re the one who appears to be getting angry, not them.

If you’ve done something they don’t like, they’ll goad you into losing your temper so that they can come across as the injured party.

9. They withhold information you need to know.

Another way they might attack you passively is by keeping important information from you to deliberately cause problems between the two of you.

Making you feel excluded and untrustworthy, or making your life difficult by keeping information from you is a classic passive-aggressive tactic.

10. They play the victim.

They manage to turn everything round so it seems like the world, and you, are always picking on them, and they’re just the unsuspecting, helpless victim.

They might exaggerate personal, professional, or health issues or make themselves out to be powerless or weak.

11. They know how to hit you just where it hurts.

They know exactly what your weaknesses are, and they aren’t ashamed of dealing out low blows that they know will hit the mark when they want to make you feel bad.

12. They always deny their behavior.

If you tell them that they seem angry or annoyed, they’ll deny it outright, whilst continuing to sulk.

8 Steps To Deal With Passive-Aggressive Behavior In A Relationship

That may have been a fairly painful list to read, but hopefully you’re not in a relationship with someone who ticks all twelve of those boxes.

Now we’ve looked at a few examples, it’s time to consider how you can move forwards if you’re in a relationship with someone who regularly displays this kind of behavior.

1. Ask yourself if the relationship is worth it.

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself whether you’re truly prepared to put in the work required to overcome this issue between you.

After all, chances are that your partner is going to retain some passive-aggressive tendencies forever.

You can’t expect them to change their way of approaching issues overnight, and figuring out a way forward is going to take a lot of patience and love from both of you.

If you love them and are committed to a future with them, then the hard work should all be worth it.

But love is not always enough. You can love someone and still believe that leaving them is best for the both of you.

Of course, if you do not love them, there’s little reason for you to stay.

2. Think about how you’re currently responding to the behavior.

The way that you respond to passive-aggressive behavior from your partner will have a big impact on how they subsequently behave.

Do you rise to their bait?

Do you let their behavior make you angry?

Do you enable their behavior because you can’t stand confrontation?

Do you feel controlled and limited by it?

Do you seek your partner’s approval?

Or are you able to spot the behavior and avoid enabling it?

Putting your finger on the way you’re currently responding will help you figure out what changes you need to make in order for the two of you to make progress.

3. Figure out where the line is for you.

It’s important to figure out what you will accept from your partner in terms of passive-aggressive behavior, and what’s going too far.

In future, you need to be able to stick to that line and be prepared to tell your partner when they step over it.

Let them know exactly what your expectations are and what the consequences will be for both of you if they don’t play their part.

4. Make sure you’re prepared to confront the situation.

You need to be aware that calling your partner out on passive-aggressive behavior isn’t going to be pretty.

Your partner is used to avoiding confrontation, so they probably won’t respond all that well to you wanting to address the situation head on.

They might withdraw, cry, stall or become irritable with you, and you need to be prepared for that.

5. Be assertive.

The best way to deal with a passive-aggressive person is to respond with assertiveness and clarity.

If you decide that it’s time to address the behavior, you need to be able to point it out clearly, preferably without getting emotional.

Let them know what your expectations are, and repeat them if necessary.

6. Don’t use the words ‘passive aggressive.’

There’s no faster way to alienate your partner than to flatly tell them that you consider them to be passive aggressive.

Rather than using that phrase, focus on how their behavior negatively impacts you or makes you feel.

Give them an insight into what it’s like to be on the receiving end.

7. You do you.

When you’re in a relationship with someone who’s guilty of this behavior, you can sometimes end up running your life around them.

Everything becomes about keeping them happy and stopping them sulking.

But if you want them to work on the behavior, that has got to stop.

You need to get on with your life, making plans and living your life the best way you know how, spending time with all the people you love and focusing on your goals.

They might struggle to see you striding ahead whilst they spend their time sulking, and in that case, it could be the end of your relationship.

But they might find new respect for you, meaning your relationship can start to recover, and even thrive.

8. Stay cool, calm, and collected.

This is not going to be easy, but if you want this behavior to improve and take less of a toll on your relationship, it’s important to stay calm when you’re discussing it.

That way, you can maintain the high ground, and never give them the chance to accuse you of being unreasonable or blowing this out of proportion.

The calmer you remain, the more you retain the upper hand.

That way you have a far better chance of getting through to them and tackling behavior that could, if left unchecked, destroy your relationship.

Still not sure whether your partner is being passive-aggressive or how to deal with it?

Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours.

Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a certified relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.

While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through in their relationships without ever being able to resolve the issues that affect them. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.

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About The Author

Katie is a writer and translator with a focus on travel, self-care and sustainability. She's based between a cave house in Granada, Spain, and the coast of beautiful Cornwall, England. She spends her free time hiking, exploring, eating vegan tapas and volunteering for a local dog shelter.