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Please advise how to counter mild passive aggressiveness.

(85 Posts)
Boobina Tue 29-Nov-16 18:02:57

So DH has a passive aggressive side which drives me nuts. The positive thing is that he acknowledges it, and it embarrasses him, and he tries to be more aware of it. So I can say "that was spectacularly passive aggressive" and he'll say "....yeah, it was a bit...sorry about that...."

But that's not ideal as a way to deal with it, as it feels a bit confrontational to be always pointing out instances so bluntly. Besides who wants to always be wagging the finger and pointing out someone is wrong? Not me.

It also doesn't work when you're seething and instead you hear yourself biting out a snotty comeback which just turns it into an atmosphere.

I'd much prefer to say something that basically punctures the PA behaviour like a balloon without escalating everything. But I have no idea what is the best tone to take!

I find if I'm angered by it, then I just sound angry and unpleasant to my own ears - and I know being forced into the raging harpy role is a classic trap I really refuse to fall into.

So what tone is the most effective to take?

SVJAA Tue 29-Nov-16 18:03:31


SVJAA Tue 29-Nov-16 18:03:47

Sorry posted too soon, was meant to say that face should do it.

SVJAA Tue 29-Nov-16 18:04:27

Fuck me I'm not explaining very well, what I mean is that if you pull a face when he does it it's non confrontational but gets the point across.

goddessofsmallthings Tue 29-Nov-16 19:37:49

If passive aggressive is his default mode I suggest you encourage him to seek counselling so that he can gain insight into why he reverts to this form of behaviour and bring about the necessary change in attitude to you/his dealings others, otherwise it's likely to contnue regardless of how you respond to it,

Joysmum Tue 29-Nov-16 20:23:03

I don't think you can do anything other than calmly and directly highlight the behaviour in a dispassionate manner. That's his cue to apologise and reframe his point.

As he knows he does this you can both talk about this when things are good between you as to what you both feel will be effective in highlighting and defusing when it happens.

StiffenedPleat Wed 30-Nov-16 13:19:07

That's the whole point of passive aggressives: they incite you to express the anger that they can't express by repeatedly failing to meet your needs.

It doesn't sound a very rewarding relationship.

Does he limit his emotional withholding to emotional stuff or does it also have a physical element?

AtrociousCircumstance Wed 30-Nov-16 13:58:17

Nothing you do or don't do will 'manage' this. He has to stop doing it - by actively changing his behaviour. Weak apologies after the fact are pretty useless. He's continuing to do it because it suits him.

Just be as blunt and matter of fact as possible, every time, I suppose: 'That was passive aggressive.' And walk away.

He may not change. You can't twist yourself in knots or craft the 'perfect' response to help this. He needs to know his behaviour is eroding your relationship.

Boobina Wed 30-Nov-16 14:05:00

It's no mystery where it comes from. His family is ridiculous. When I first met them I was awed by how nice they were to each other, unlike my scrappy rambunctious lot.

It actually took years before I realised that never arguing was wierd. They're not even passive aggressive to each other - they're PA about each other to entirely different family members!

He's worked on it a lot - I think he learnt a lot about how much disagreement was normal in my family without the world collapsing.

But he still really struggles to express being pissed off, particularly about small trivial things. It's like only a big thing warrants frankness.

So it leaks out about such small things....

And Im left confused as to whether I'm genuinely responding poorly or not?

Example: He shows me a photo he took of me & DS at the fairground. (Context, he'd been laughing that day about how fat he looked in a photo last week). I look at it and laugh at how now I'm the one who looks fat in the photo! He mutters "Forget it" and leaves the room and goes back to dinnertime mayhem in the kitchen. I go in and say "what was that all about?" He says that he just thought I might like to see a nice picture of a lovely moment we'd all shared, but..... angry
So I say (suddenly seething) that maybe next time he should tell me in advance what is the expected response. He retorts that he's not gonna do that. I say well then he'll just have to damn well allow me to react any way I please.

Oh it was all so ugh and ridiculous and it infuriates me!

And I feel like I need to know what tone is best when this stupid shit happens. It's definitely not every day so I forget about it and then it'll catch me unawares on the hop.

KeepCoolCalmAndCollected Wed 30-Nov-16 14:45:59

IMHO, unless he genuinely recognises how seriously this affects your relationship and seeks help, this type of behaviour will gradually become worse. It will chip away at you, until all your trust has gone
I think it is the worst type of bullying because of the manner in which it is done - i.e. usually slyly and subtly under the guise of appearing innocent.
In terms of your self-control, I take my hat off to you - I think a lot of people would let rip at him.

Boobina Wed 30-Nov-16 15:07:49

I don't really have a temper. Im very very easy going. However I think it's normal to express frustration.

So I've spent years trying to educate him that anger is allowed. He has improved and occasionally gets healthily cross. None of the rest of his family get cross.

But I know there's a voice in his head that claims getting cross is bad, and he needs to remain polite. And that's when the PA stuff comes out cos it has to leak out somehow.

I dislike pointing it out so bluntly. It puts me in a role I don't want - The Behaviour Judge.

DidILeaveTheGasOn Wed 30-Nov-16 15:13:12

I think passive aggressive behaviour is bullying. Yes. I had that very lightbulb moment in my own house this morning.

StiffenedPleat Wed 30-Nov-16 15:41:12

Passive aggression is extremely bullying. Anger is a completely healthy response to someone failing to meet your needs in a relationship/or overstepping a boundary. If something makes you upset and angry and feeling like you're taken for granted, it's completely healthy to give voice to the emotional anger you're feeling. Obviously you don't need to rant but you can say it firmly.

StiffenedPleat Wed 30-Nov-16 15:42:42

People who use covert abuse (PA) to defuse their anger abusers.

TrashcanMan Wed 30-Nov-16 16:07:38

I've found that one of the best strategies of dealing with passive aggression is acting confused, asking the person what do they mean, that you don't understand what they're saying, etc. It gets them to repeat what they have said, when usually they just want to say something with nasty undertones for you to take away and worry about.

Boobina Wed 30-Nov-16 16:20:19

Thanks Trashcan. What do you do though if they respond "Doesn't matter" or something equally infuriating?

Hermonie2016 Wed 30-Nov-16 16:46:07

What response do you think he could give? I just wonder if he knows a 'normal' response.
My stbex is the most PA man, he had a years worth of counselling which only brought the anger to the surface but not ways of dealing with it.

I'm cautious about counselling as it can reinforce a victim mentality as a counsellor relies on insight which PA people don't have.

Maybe encourage him to look at CBT and reading books on changing wiring of the brain.
You are lucky he is trying to work on it.

petalsandstars Wed 30-Nov-16 16:55:06

Sometimes taking it at face value can help.

Random example - i make a drink when DH is in the bath and when he comes in to see my half drunk tea makes PA comment of "don't worry about me, I can make my own" - answer - I'm not worried etc.

If it doesn't get the reaction he stops being a twat.

MorrisZapp Wed 30-Nov-16 17:05:19

Surely there's a big range of human expression between silence and anger.

Anger is appropriate sometimes, but not often in a domestic setting. Disagreement however is normal and commonplace.

My DP frequently comes out with PA crap but I pull him up each and every time by refusing to let it go until he uses words to express what he really meant.

It's boring and I'd rather he didn't do it at all but there's no magic wand. Don't give him what he wants ie to prance around trying to meet his mystical needs. If he doesn't state what he wants, his needs don't exist.

SleepingTiger Wed 30-Nov-16 17:29:54

A large Elephant Gun with tranquillisers.

pklme Wed 30-Nov-16 17:30:00

Just don't respond. It only works for him if you follow it up and demand to know what he meant. If you literally shrug and walk away he will learn to express himself better. Effectively, addressing it means rising to the bait.
You aren't responsible for how he chooses to communicate. If he feels your comment about the photo was inappropriate (can't see why), then he can tell you so.

toptoe Wed 30-Nov-16 17:41:08

Passive aggression is aggressive and designed to control. A person uses control because either they are anxious or they are anti-social. Your dh is the former from what you've said.

His anxiety is what needs sorting out, but you can't do that - only he can.

In the meantime I don't think there is any way to laugh off aggression. You should treat it how it deserves to be treated: the way you already did. Tell him it's not acceptable, each time. Or ridicule it if you want so he realises how ridiculous it is. But the ridiculing can backfire as he may think you are laughing at him - the vulnerable anxious him.

I really have no idea how you live with this as I can't stand any sort of passive aggression. It's belittling and upsetting to be on the receiving end of it, which of course is what the passive aggressor is trying to make you feel. I can't be arsed dealing with people who want to make me feel shit to make themselves feel better.

Maybe you can tell him how crap it makes you feel when he's not in the pa mode. He might see the light and sort it out. Your reaction is not the thing that will change this - his actions are what need to change.

MorrisZapp Wed 30-Nov-16 17:44:36

I must admit I take my mother's pa at face value because I know it pisses her off. I'm damned if I'm going to spend hours trying to tease out the reasons she feels cross. Fuck it. If she says something ie 'I'm fine' then as far as I'm concerned she's fine. No further questions will be forthcoming from me. I'll be my jolly self.

Lweji Wed 30-Nov-16 18:01:33

I'll suggest transactional analysis. It can be good for both, actually.
It should help with training both of you to have a dialogue at the adult level. No PA and no anger.

I think you can find counsellors that to TA, or you could check it online or start from a book.

StiffenedPleat Wed 30-Nov-16 18:14:44

Lweji - Really? NO anger? Anger is a completely healthy alarm system. Anger can be expressed in perfectly reasonable words at normal volume: "these are my boundaries, stop overstepping them". Anger is in itself normal. It's only unhealthy if it's expressed in dysfunctional ways: raging, throwing, violence etc.

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