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Passive Aggressive Marriage
Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky. Some spouses appear to go with the flow of a more overbearing mate, but all the irritation builds up over time and needs a release in one form or another. They retaliate in seemingly innocent ways. Passive-aggressive behavior is an indirect attack.
My grandfather, for example, would call his walking cane a “stick” which, for some silly reason, bothered my grandmother. “It’s a cane. Why do you call it a stick?” she demanded in exasperated tones. “Where’s my stick? Where’s my stick?” he continued to ask, as though in his old age he had forgotten the right word. But I would detect his slight smirk at her annoyance. No doubt it was his way of getting back at her for withholding the soy sauce at dinner. She knew he loved it but she claimed it was bad for his health. Although she technically was correct, the man lived into his late 80s after a lifetime of eating soy sauce. The real truth was that they were using little passive-aggressive behaviors to even the score between them.
Why do they do it?
Why don’t spouses come straight out with their objections? Silent spouses simply do not like confrontations. They’d rather zip their lips to keep the peace. Perhaps they’re learned that they can’t win an argument with a stubborn spouse so they put up and shut up. But when there is an opportunity to annoy their spouse in return, they will take it. Ah, sweet, silent, satisfying revenge!
Many married people have resorted to passive aggressive acts, even if only on occasion. Continued passive aggressive behavior, however, is a sign of a marriage headed for trouble.
Common passive-aggressive acts
A passive aggressive act is one when a spouse *knowingly* does something that his or her mate will not like but pretends that it was unintentional. Acts that upset or that deliberately thwart plans or enjoyment. The subconscious reasoning is that “since I didn’t get what I wanted, she will not get what she wants” or “since he upset me, I will upset him.” Here are some common passive aggressive behaviors:
• Chronic grumbling
• Getting “ill”
• Picking an argument at a strategic time
• “Forgetting” to do things or forgetting to remember important dates
• Embarrassing the other spouse
• Doing something known to annoy the other person
• Being chronically late and making a spouse wait
* Having an affair
• Using the children to prevent the other person from enjoying an activity
• Withholding *sex*
A typical passive aggressive scenario is when a spouse is forced to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go, he will agree to go, which will appear as though he is giving in, but then he will grumble the entire time which ruins the activity for everyone. Feigning sickness is a common ruse to get out of plans, force a change of plans or demand attention is childish but effective. It might not even be a conscious act. Embarrassing a spouse by making “innocent” jokes and put downs also is an act of veiled aggression. (See BellaOnline Marriage’s Humor that Helps or Hurts Marriage.) Fathers often use the kids to make mothers feel guilty about leaving, going to work or having a night out with the girls or vice versa.
Here are a few tips to curbing these potentially destructive behaviors:
Call a cease-fire
Agree to write each other a note that airs your grievances. Go gently! Focus on facts and refrain from attacking on a personal level. Then, agree not to judge, criticize or defend. Simply accept and appreciate that each of you had the courage to be open and honest with feelings. Just getting it off your chests will be enough to stop the passive-aggressive acts!
Call him or her on it
Point out that you see that he or she is being passive-aggressive. Then, ask your spouse what the real problem is.
Let it slide off your back
When you ignore the passive-aggressive attack, it doesn't achieve its desired goal: to annoy you!
Let it backfire
Let the passive-aggressive person see that these acts hurt him/her not you. Step over the pile of dirty clothes until it becomes a nuisance (as in no clean clothes) for the passive-aggressive person. "What? You have to work late again? Too bad, I was going to buy basketball tickets for us that night." "You gave the kids all that caffeine? I hope you can deal with them because I have an emergency at the office."
The occasional passive aggressive act may not have a serious effect on the marital relationship, but habitually engaging in such behavior causes resentment and bitterness. Couples start tit-for-tat games, blaming each other for starting all the problems. Eventually, mutual respect is lost. It’s far better to take a direct approach to any dissatisfaction in your marriage. If you feel you can’t, it’s time to reflect on why you’re in a relationship where you don’t feel confident enough to let your true feelings be known.
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