Passive-Aggressive Spouse: Signs And Effective Ways To Deal

Recognize the subtle nuances to tide through the turbulent waters effectively.

Reviewed by Dr Nancy B Irwin, PsyD
By Harini Natarajan, Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner

Dealing with a passive-aggressive spouse can test your marriage.

Passive-aggressive behavior is ineffective and is a common trait of a personality disorder (1), (2). Dealing with it is not easy, more so if the person in question is your spouse, whom you love and cherish. Such behavior can tarnish the connection over time and have a negative impact on the mental health of the other partner.

You need to figure out how to deal with your spouse’s passive-aggressive attitude before it reaches a tipping point. While nothing can change instantly, following these suggestions can help you build a stronger and healthier connection. This article covers everything you need to know about passive-aggressive behavior and how to cope with a spouse who exhibits it. Scroll down to learn more!

What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?

What is passive aggresive behavior


The American Psychiatric Association defines passive-aggressive behavior as a “passive expression of the underlying negativism,” which is often expressed by behavioral traits like procrastination, dawdling, stubbornness, intentional inefficiency like forgetting appointments or misplacing important materials. This behavior is an “unconscious wish to be special and to provoke those who fail to acknowledge the specialness.”

In other words, people exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior may not be vocal about their irritation, frustration, or anger. They remain silent, ignorant, stubborn, and do not acknowledge anything you say or do, inflicting hurt and igniting the aggression in you. But how do you know for sure if your spouse is passive-aggressive? Find out the tell-tale signs in the following section.

Signs That Your Spouse Is Passive-Aggressive

1. The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is a sign of a passive aggressive spouse


One of the most common signs of passive-aggressive behavior is the “silent treatment.” Your spouse cannot agree to disagree in an argument or a difficult situation. And the resistance shows in the form of not responding and ignoring you. This non-verbal gesture is their way of showing disapproval and controlling your behavior so that you give in to their demands.

2. Sarcastic Comments

Making sarcastic comments not to lighten the mood but to get back at you is another common sign that your partner is passive-aggressive. Their comments can make you feel aggressive towards them or doubt yourself or your decision.

They could also make these comments under the pretense of “joking.” They may jokingly refer to any of your weakest points or a past mistake. However, you realize that the “joke” was a subtle insult.

3. Forgetting And Procrastinating

Forgetting and procrastination are signs of a passive aggressive spouse


Not giving in to authority or your needs is another way people with passive-aggressive behavior let off steam. Making unreasonable excuses for forgetting to do certain things and procrastinating is a way for them to resist and display dissatisfaction or anger.

4. Stop Communicating

Ever felt like you are talking to a wall? Not getting a proper response or not being heard by your spouse is also indicative that they are being passive-aggressive. Their typical response to sort things out is to “give it time” and not address the underlying issues that are straining your relationship.

5. Provoking Your Weaknesses

Your spouse knows you like no one else. From your greatest strengths to your deepest insecurities – they know it all. And people with passive-aggressive personalities can take advantage and use it to provoke you.

Do you want to know how to deal with a spouse with a passive-aggressive personality? Scroll down for 9 effective ways.

9 Effective Ways To Deal With A Passive Aggressive Spouse

1. Remain Calm And Breathe

Remain calm and take deep breaths. Do not let the aggression inflicted by your spouse’s behavior affect you. This way, you deprive them of the satisfaction they might be expecting out of your reaction. While it might affect you, reacting or picking up fights might not solve the problem in the long run.

2. Write Your Feelings Down

Writing down your feelings is a way to deal with a passive aggressive spouse


It often helps to write your feelings down. It is a great way to vent out and helps release the piled-up stress. Maintain a journal and make it a habit to write whenever you feel that your spouse is behaving passive-aggressively. This way, you will get it out of your system and not pick fights in the heat of the moment.

3. Focus On Yourself

There’s nothing more satisfying than focusing on yourself. Yes, your spouse means the world to you, and you want this relationship to work. But you also need to work on yourself. Make a list of things you want to do or learn. Be it traveling, writing a book, learning a language, supporting a cause, or working out – indulging yourself in activities will keep your mind off the passive-aggressive behavior.

4. Set Boundaries

Set clear and healthy boundaries with your spouse after the dust has settled down a bit. There are two ways to go about it. First, know which information to reveal to your spouse. If you think that your partner takes advantage of your weaknesses and problems, make a mental note to talk about those.

Second, let them know that their hurtful behavior degrades your relationship. Letting them know the consequences of their actions is necessary to prevent them from taking you for granted.

5. Do Not Justify Their Behavior

Do not justify their behaviour as a way to deal with a passive aggressive spouse


It is not always possible to recognize the subtle traits of passive-aggressive behavior. They typically spring from the lack of awareness or fear of being assertive, honest, and direct about one’s feelings. However, that does not mean it is all in your head. Do not justify their subtle hostile behavior by thinking you are wrong in your judgment.

Your spouse may not immediately turn passive-aggressive. They might be subtle about their aggressive behavior and insist that nothing is wrong. However, you know that the feeling that something is wrong does not go away.

6. Do Not Seek Revenge

Seeking revenge will not help your relationship. While it can be tempting to make your spouse walk in your shoes, revenge is not the solution. It will only make your spouse more passive-aggressive and cause more distress.

7. Talk To A Counselor

Relationship counseling is a great way to sit with your spouse on neutral ground and talk about their behavior, how it makes you feel, and seek solutions. The expert guidance will help you speak your mind without creating further distance between the two of you.

8. Show Empathy

Showing empathy is a way to deal with a passive aggressive spouse


Every relationship comes with its set of limitations, and your spouse’s passive-aggressive behavior could be one such limitation. Understanding why your spouse behaves that way and being more empathetic will help you build a bridge instead of burning one.

Knowing about your spouse’s childhood, if there was abuse or neglect, about their parents, financial situation, etc., could reveal why your spouse behaves a certain way under pressure. This way, you will not develop resentment.

9. Identify The Triggers

Identifying the common triggers of your spouse’s passive-aggressive behavior can help reduce the chances of them turning hostile. The triggers could be financial problems, differences in ideology, romantic expression, culinary and fashion tastes, etc. Avoid these triggers whenever possible.

However, that does not mean you need to follow what they think is right. Have a discussion with your spouse about your differences and opinions. Do it when they are more inclined to listen and understand. This may help find common ground and settle the issues.

It can never be healthy to live with a passive-aggressive spouse. You will always be on your toes or a guilt trip, either of which is not good for your mental health. It is, thus, important to be aware of the traits of a passive-aggressive spouse and acknowledge them so that you and your partner can work towards avoiding such negative and destructive behavior.

Don’t let them give you the silent treatment or provoke you. Instead, let your spouse know how they are hurting you in the process and how badly it is affecting your marriage. With healthy communication, you can help them overcome their passive-aggressive behavior. Finally, seek professional help if required.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are passive-aggressive people aware of their behavior?

Many people don’t realize that they are being passive-aggressive. Also, this behavior is not intentional and is not always conscious.

Is a passive-aggressive man capable of love?

A passive-aggressive man is capable of making connections, but only up to a certain point. If you love a person who is passive-aggressive, you will notice that there will be no emotional honesty.

Is passive-aggressive a form of manipulation?

It is considered a form of manipulation or emotional abuse. A passive-aggressive person can get others to do things for them with their behavior.

Can passive aggression destroy your marriage?

Passive aggression is a common behavior pattern in most relationships. This behavior can affect people in their married life. It can hurt the marriage if not dealt with in time.

Key Takeaways

  • Passive-aggressive behavior is the passive expression of disagreement or feelings of discontent.
  • Resorting to the silent treatment or passing sarcastic comments are some ways that people engage in passive aggression.
  • If you have a passive-aggressive spouse, try to stay calm, focus on yourself, and do not justify their behavior.
  • Tactful handling and understanding can help control the situation.
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Dr Nancy B Irwin

Originally from Atlanta, Dr. Nancy Irwin graduated from UWG in 1977 with a Bachelor of Music in Opera Performance. She... more