A Description of Passive-aggressive Relationships

In a Passive-Aggressive Relationships, indirect expressions of hostility and discontent dominate the interactions between partners. Instead of addressing grievances or frustrations openly, one or both individuals may use subtle tactics to convey their displeasure, often in ways designed to avoid direct confrontation. This can manifest as sarcastic remarks, intentional forgetfulness, subtle insults, or deliberate procrastination.

Over time, these indirect behaviors can erode trust and intimacy as the receiving partner may feel they’re constantly navigating a minefield of unspoken resentments. The lack of clear communication makes it challenging to address and resolve underlying issues, causing repeated cycles of frustration. This dynamic can result in a relationship environment where both parties feel unheard and undervalued, with tensions perpetually simmering beneath the surface.

(This article is part of the series: Unhealthy Relationship Patterns: Categorizing the 21 types)

The Perspective of Each Partner

Passive-Aggressive Partner:

  • Perception: May view their indirect behaviors as a safer or more subtle way to express discontent without causing a direct confrontation. They might believe they’re being clear in their communication, even if it’s indirect.
  • Emotions: Experiences a mix of underlying frustration, resentment, or discontent. There might also be feelings of apprehension about addressing issues directly.
  • Behaviors: Engages in subtle tactics like sarcastic remarks, intentional forgetfulness, or deliberate procrastination to convey displeasure. Avoids direct confrontation or open communication about grievances.
  • Rationalizations: They might believe that their indirect approach prevents larger conflicts or that they’re protecting their partner or the relationship from more overt confrontations. They may also feel that they’re not being passive-aggressive at all but are just expressing themselves in a non-confrontational manner.

Receiving Partner:

  • Perception: Feels they’re navigating a minefield of unspoken resentments and indirect expressions of hostility. Might feel confused or uncertain about the true intentions or feelings of the passive-aggressive partner.
  • Emotions: Predominantly feels frustration, confusion, and a sense of being undervalued or unheard. Over time, might also develop feelings of resentment or defensiveness.
  • Behaviors: Might attempt to decipher or confront the passive-aggressive behaviors, seek clarity, or even start to mirror passive-aggressive tactics in response.
  • Rationalizations: They might believe that their partner is intentionally trying to hurt or confuse them. Alternatively, they might feel that they’re overreacting or misinterpreting the behaviors, especially if the passive-aggressive partner denies any wrongdoing.

Is it Passive-aggressive Relationship or something else?

The “Passive-Aggressive” relationship type indeed shares traits with several other unhealthy relationship types in the list of 21. Let’s dive into these commonalities and pinpoint the distinctive features of the “Passive-Aggressive” dynamic:

  1. Emotionally Abusive Relationship: Passive-aggressive behaviors can be a form of emotional abuse, where one partner uses covert aggression, silent treatments, or sarcasm to exert control or cause emotional harm. However, the emotionally abusive relationship type spans a broader range of actions, which can be overt or covert, whereas passive-aggressive behaviors tend to be more subtle and indirect.
  2. Walking on Eggshells (or Dysregulated) Relationship: Both dynamics involve partners feeling the need to tread carefully around each other to avoid triggering negative reactions. However, in the walking on eggshells relationship, this cautious behavior is in response to erratic or unpredictable reactions from a partner, while in the passive-aggressive dynamic, it’s in response to hidden aggression manifested in subtle ways.
  3. Coercive and Controlling Relationship: Coercion can sometimes manifest subtly, similar to passive aggression. A partner might use passive-aggressive tactics to manipulate situations or get their way. But a coercive and controlling relationship is characterized by more overt attempts to control, dominate, and manipulate, whereas passive-aggressive behaviors are more covert and indirect.

Unique Indicator for “Passive-Aggressive” Type:

The hallmark of passive-aggressive relationships is indirect expression of hostility or resentment. This can be manifested through actions such as procrastination, “forgetting,” sullenness, or deliberate failure in performing tasks. Instead of openly addressing issues or expressing feelings, a passive-aggressive individual resorts to these subtle behaviors to express discontent, often leaving the other partner confused or frustrated. The intent behind these actions is often to avoid direct confrontation but still convey discontent, creating a climate of uncertainty and suppressed tension.