What Is Passive Aggressive Behavior?

passive aggressive behavior

Passive Aggressive Behavior – what is it?

Is it hard to just “talk” in a relationship?

Know what to look for when you feel that you can’t have a straight-forward, natural conversation with someone with whom you have a long-term, or day-to-day relationship.
There are many potential reasons for that, but, today I was thinking about passive aggressive (P-A) people. (Some of them are Hijackals* – keep an eye out for those!)

That’s because I was working with a client yesterday who lives with someone like that.  It’s a sneaky, slippery, and somewhat slimy thing to grab hold of in a relationship. And, of course, the P-A person does not recognize the behavior at all. Usually they aren’t even doing it on purpose. It’s a part of some personality disorders. It’s ingrained and, if you describe the behavior that is driving you nuts to them, they deny it. Because they don’t see it!

Is any of this sounding familiar?  Since you’re reading this, my guess is that it is.  Most of us have run into this behavior and found it difficult to work with. That’s why I decided to offer a few insights into how to recognize the behavior. Next post, I’ll give you hints on handling relationships with P-A folks, too.

Now, how do I know so much about this, you might ask?  My Mom was P-A and I was previously–note: previously–married to the poster child for P-A, so, I’ve seen and felt it from many vantage points. The only advantage there was in that history was to be able to recognize the behavior very early on and that’s a big help.  So, I’ll share it with you.

PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE PEOPLE

First of all, the name gives you the same feeling as being in relationship with them does, it’s totally contradictory.

  • They pretend they don’t care or don’t have an opinion, then they aggressively make you wrong for not addressing their feelings or opinions.
    “I don’t care where we eat.” Then, “You know I don’t like Mexican food but you chose it anyway.” Gotcha!!
  • They promise to do something for you, and then they “forget”…repeatedly!  If you ask them why they promised and didn’t follow through, you hear something like “I have better things to do than do errands for you, you know.”   Beginning to sound familiar at all?
  • They often do not express anger, so, it comes out in under-handed ways.  Such as point above, conveniently and consistently “forgetting!”
  • They are never the ones who are responsible for their actions. They truly believe they have no faults!   There is always a nebulous “they” involved, such as “I would not have been late except that the stupid cashier at the grocery store was chatting with every single person in line.” Plausible? Yes, but absolutely failing to take note of the fact that s/he left work far too late to accomplish things in a timely manner.
  • They are so frightened of being dependent on you  that they try very hard to control you. Then, they believe that you will think that they are not dependent on you.
    I don’t care if you help me or not. I’m very used to doing everything around here.”
  • They work very hard at making sure you don’t get your way…no matter how small the request, need or desire may be.  They may even give you the impression that giving you what you want is important to them, but, they just won’t/don’t do it.  And, then, it makes you second guess yourself that maybe you are asking too much of them.  That’s TOO much!
  • They will not acknowledge timelines or deadlines. “I’m not here to do your bidding, or meet your requirements. You just don’t understand me.

So, a few insights into how to recognize a passive aggressive person.  P-A is abuse hidden under seeming acceptable words, but completely unacceptable behaviors. AND, IT’S CRAZY-MAKING!!! If you don’t get a handle on it, it may become passive aggressive abuse.

My suggestion for today: look at your own behavior with them first. If there is something to remedy, do it. If that does not make the relationship equitable and collaborative, you just may be dealing with a P-A person. You can learn more about passive aggressive behavior, Hijackals, and more relationship advice on my YouTube channel, The Relationship Help Doctor.

*Hijackal: a person who hijacks relationships for their own purposes while scavenging them for power, status and control.

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42 comments

  1. Lee Ryan -

    As usual a very good understanding and clarification of P-A behavior. By the way how about the people who talk so softly they are difficult to hear…is this P-A?

    • DrShaler -

      Good question, Lee. People who habitually talk so softly that others have difficulty hearing are often either brought up to speak softly, are concerned about speaking up because they lack confidence, or, they do it to make sure they get your attention. The latter is often used by school teachers in addressing a noisy class. The children usually quieten so they don’t miss anything.

      Is it P-A behavior? It can be, particularly if you talk with them honestly about wanting to hear what they have to say but find it difficult to hear them. Then, you can ask them if they would agree to speak up around you. If they will not, it can be passive-aggressive, or just something they are not willing to do for you.

      Strangely enough, some people will not speak up because they do not understand hearing loss, either. They somehow think that a person with hearing loss could hear “if they really tried.”

      If, though, you are in a long-term family or work relationship with someone who will not speak up, even though they understand the situation fully, it could be P-A. It’s impossible for me to say, though, as there are so many possible scenarios within that interaction.

      I hope that is in any way helpful.

      Cheers,
      Rhoberta

  2. kera -

    I have a thought on this… could PA be directly linked to stress? I don’t think I’m particularly passive aggressive, myself (tho perhaps some would disagree) but i know for SURE than during a particularly stressful year in my life (that ended 6 months ago now) I behaved that way a LOT with my partner… I was VERY passive aggressive…(my favourite was “I don’t care if you help me or not. I’m very used to doing everything around here.”)

    I don’t think i am, so much, anymore. At least, gosh, i sure HOPE not.

    Can it be that simple as eliminating major stressors to allow you to let the light & love in?

    • DrShaler -

      Good question and insight!

      Stress magnifies everything, as you know. What might be an occasional P-A moment can become a full-blown P-A approach. If resentment has built over time, sarcasm sounds like P-A on steroids. It may or may not be.

      Stress makes people forgetful, which then can masquerade as P-A behavior, when it is not. So, I think you have a point, stress ups the ante and augments everything that could have possibly been overlooked or calmly discussed when stress is low. There is occasional P-A, as you’ve pointed out. That’s what you have control over because you can be conscious of it. Someone will point it out to you and you likely–though, reluctantly–may have to agree they have a point.

      Now, if P-A was your major operating system, you would not agree, nor would you listen for long because you would be too busy justifying your position and making the other person wrong.

      And, yes, eliminating major stressors allows your the breathing room to choose to reflect on your values, vision, beliefs and purpose and how you are expressing them in your life. Again, if you are a P-A person as a rule, stress will make it worse, but it’s a little like Winston Churchill’s comment to Lady Astor. She said to Winston Churchill:

      “Sir, you are drunk.”
      “And, you’re ugly, but I’ll be sober in the morning.” he retorted.

      The occasional stressful P-A behavior does not make a P-A person and they will have thought better of it and apologized by morning.

      Does that help?

      Continue to Sow Peace,
      Rhoberta

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  4. Mary -

    This fits my boyfriend to a T….im scared. is there something really wrong with him??

    • DrShaler -

      Hi, Mary,

      It’s not so much that there is something “wrong” with him, it is just that you recognize that he is operating from this mindset.

      Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder has been recognized in the DSM-IV, the official book that psychologists and psychiatrists use to describe mentally-based conditions. It is in question often as to whether it is actually an officially recognized personality disorder. I am telling you that so you know where this information comes from and that it is serious.

      Should you be scared? I think you should be informed. That is the most important thing. Have you read all three of my posts on P-A? That is a very good start for gathering the information you need to make good decisions about your relationship.

      Passive-aggressive people can be very sweet and loving one day, and the most frustrating people in the world the next. They fall into the category, in my mind, of potentially “crazy-making” for those around them. People who live with P-A people have to have strong boundaries, consistently enforced, with consequences for being transgressed. People who live with P-A people who do not have those strong boundaries can feel so uncertain of themselves because the P-A person promotes that to give themselves power. Many P-A people have had great difficulties in their childhoods that have affected them deeply. Many of those refuse to see that there is anything wrong with the way they are in relationship with others. That’s the biggest difficulty in being in such a relationship.

      Because I do not know the specific circumstances of your particular relationship, I won’t say anything further. If you ever want to discuss it, though–which I certainly advise and invite you to do–you can take advantage of my free 32-minute consultation for new clients by CLICKING HERE.

      I wish you well.
      Rhoberta

      Dr. Rhoberta Shaler is the founder of Sow Peace® International and World Class Love™.

      • Anna -

        I left relationship with PA man 3 months ago and last couple before ending i felt so stressfull because of his hot-cold behaviors.Nice, quiet,did not show lots of emotions.One week he loved me, them next 3 days he was busy-silent treatment, like a sinusoide.We lived in different towns,200km away, and 5 mohths ago he asked me to move, and to look for a job closer to him, he is serious and i already planned to change job, so i said yes.We made plans, he talked about whole mohth, …then again silent treatment, i texted him, just short answer and nothing for a week.He kept accusing me that i am going in a rage if he do not talk to me every day? Whole week? And i already found a job closer to him and was ready to move.After that hot again, he exuses that he was busy with his kids.But he could`nt found 5 min to call or to sent text?I felt that i am going to blow, i choosed words because he was so sensitive, he had hard time at work, his kids from previous marriage hated him, his ex wife was mean.If we did not speak 2 days, and we were seeing each other couple of times per month,i was thinking had i said something wrong, why is he like that, silent treatment again, or just busy..in texting communication he used many times not to finnish conversation, he texted for hour and then suddenly stopped, without good night. That hot and cold manipulation was exausted.But i was still in it, in a relationship with nice guy- half robot.And i had a luck,2 weeks before broke up, to found accidently on instagram pics of him without boxers, on his account, took in a mans toilet of some nights club. He said that it is just a funny photo,his naked ass…and started silent treatment again, for a couple of days.No agruing, just withdrawal again, he was a victim.Then hot again…I was tired after almost 2 yaers, was not sure that i can read what he felt, that i can make plans with him. I still feel anger soomethimes when i remember how hard and exausted it was..and long.

        • DrShaler -

          Dear Anna,

          Oh, what a lot of mixed messages you have been receiving from this man. The good news is that you have not moved or taken the new job.

          I do not need to hear any more about your relationship to give you the best advice I can: RUN! This man is showing you who he is. Believe him, and run.

          Make no excuses for him. Accept none from him. He doesn’t love you and it won’t get any better with proximity, in my opinion.

          Start fresh in 2013 as a wonderfully single woman.

          I wish you well.

          Dr. Shaler

  5. SP -

    Hi.
    Unfortunately for me, I do every single thing you described in your article. And it scares me a little bit. I started researching PA behaviour and almost every article i read on it, describes my behaviour. Lately i’ve been having a lot of problems in my relationship, and i know that the problems are my fault. I purposfully do things to get him angry, and i just cant explain to him how much he means to me. Its so hard to show him how I feel. i want to know what to do to get better. Is this a problem that can be fixed? i try my best, bt i cant seem to stop behaving like this. All my family members complain about my behaviour as well, bt i dont think they realize that its a real problem. they used to just think i was a fussy child. any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • DrShaler -

      Hi,
      Oh, a hundred gold stars to you! If you can see the behavior in yourself, you are well on the way to making a conscious difference in your behaviors, responses and relationships. Yes, certainly, there is much that can be “fixed” once the behavior is seen.

      You can stop behaving in a passive-aggressive way. It’s like that old joke:

      “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.”

      I’ve worked with many people who wanted their lives to be enriched, improved and enhanced by eliminating passive-aggressive tendencies. We can work together if you like. I see many clients by Skype video, just like being together…apart! (If that interests you, you can schedule an appointment online by http://www.optimizecenter.com/book-an-appointment/private-sessions-in-person-or-skype )

      I wish you well…and many, many more gold stars!
      Rhoberta

      Rhoberta Shaler, PhD
      The Relationship Help Doctor

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  8. Lucy -

    I think that my boyfriend is passive aggressive. It’s so painful. He’s always doing things to sabotage our relationship. He tells me that it’s me. It’s rare that he recognizes what he’s done to create the problem. He just says to me ” oh your upset again!! ” He can be so harsh sometimes and right now he isn’t speaking to me. This is his way of punishing me. He is loving sometimes and at other time belittling. If I stay I know that I’m in for more pain and punishment. If I leave I know that he’ll act as though he doesn’t care and then he’ll do something to try and punish me for leaving. I’ve asked him to go to therapy with me but he won’t go because he says that he doesn’t have a problem. He says that the problem is me. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to leave. There’s another part of me that wants to leave to preserve my self respect. I need help o that I will never find myself attracted to someone like this ever again. Is it possible for a passive aggressive person to be totally cured or passive aggressive free. I just want to know if there is any hope for our relationship.

    • DrShaler -

      You are in a classic dilemma: live in the constant hope of change, or look at what he’s showing you and make a wise decision in favor of yourself. If you re-read what you wrote, I’ll just bet that you can see clearly what the best thing to do is!

      You ask if it is possible for a passive-aggressive person to be totally cured or free of that behavior. The answer is the same as the old joke: “How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?” Answer: “Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.” When your partner told you that he would not go to counseling, he told you he saw nothing about himself that needed changing. He also told you that he did not value the relationship enough to work on it.

      You mentioned your self-respect. In this life, that is a very important ingredient and you cannot give it away. Claim it back. Set boundaries. Tell your boyfriend that you want to live in a loving, respectful honest relationship and that you think you both need help to do this. Invite him once again to counseling. If he turns you down, you will know that he has no intention of taking responsibility for his behavior and no consideration for you or the relationship. He puts himself first, his opinions and his desires. That is not attractive in a potentially lifetime partner…at least, I certainly hope it isn’t to you!

      I wish you well.
      DrShaler

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  10. EJ -

    Yet another article which has helped me to breathe, thank you for passing on this knowledge, I have felt like I was going crazy. I googled healing after living with a passive aggressive because I felt the crazy, I wondered where the strong confident me had gone, I tried to establish boundaries and he pushed past them. I felt the label of abusive relationship wasn’t enough. Articles on Narcissism fit his behaviour also, is that possible? Thank you again.

    • DrShaler -

      Yes, I know, it is just crazy-making behavior!
      Passive-aggressive behavior is too common, and, we accept it because we are not confident enough to withstand it or stand up to it. That, too, is common. Narcissists and people with BPD (borderline personality disorder) are very likely to engage in passive-aggressive behavior.

      You are welcome. I wish you well.

  11. SK -

    after living with my husband for 17 years, I realized now he has this disorder. I couldn’t quite pin point it until recently and searched on-line…(your article being one of them- and fantastic description to a tee!)- I am on the verge of divorcing as I cannot handle this anymore. I told him it is mental abuse the way he treats me. He’s driving me to my grave early. Starting to get heart issues from living with him. Thanks you for this article (and others that I have searched on Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder. BTW, I have noticed that some articles say that the DSM IV has taken this disorder out of the book and put with Narcisstic Personality Disorder but my husband does not fit that description…only the P-A disorder. Maybe they should revise it again?

  12. michelle kelly -

    I have a similar situation – my partner of 5 years has got me thinking that I am crazy and going out of my mind. 18 months ago I communicated to him that I didn’t feel like I could have another baby (he has no children of his own). Ever since then he has blamed me for ruining his life. We can go weeks without a single disagreement, and then when we are hit with a pressured life situation which we need to tackle and face as a team, he abandons me and brings up his resentment over this issue. He will ignore phone calls, and refuse all my attempts to communicate with him. He recently decided to take on the care of his 15 year old niece who comes from a broken home. When I expressed concern that we hadn’t dealt with this issue together he got angry with me and said he was leaving me for good, that I had ruined his life and that I was mentally unstable. I have since tried to call him to talk things through and he has told me if I try to call again he will have my number barred and call the police.

    I feel completely and utterly devastated that someone I love could treat me this way. My 8 year old boy adores him and he has been like a father to him for the last 5 years. All of a sudden we have been locked out of his life. Yet all I can remember are all the good times we have had together. I feel completely broken by the whole situation.

    • DrShaler -

      Hello, Michelle,

      I’m sorry you are having such difficulties. It seems by your writing that you no longer live together. Is that accurate? Otherwise, he would not be threatening to ban your phone number, I would think.

      Did you have a conversation before your marriage in which you agreed that you would have children together? Did you talk with him before eighteen months ago to give him some insight into your thinking regarding having a child? Or, did you tell him all at once that his behavior is unacceptable AND you will not have a child with him? These make big differences in the approaches I would suggest to your problem.

      A few thoughts:

        The expectation of having a child together is very deep-seated and foundational to a relationship. When that changes–even for the best of reasons, or through medical difficulties, many folks find it difficult to accept. He has to accept that their life is not going to be as he planned or wanted.
        If you have kept him apprised of how you are feeling about him and the relationship as you go along, that open communication should make your final decision less of a surprise, or shock. If not, that’s a lot to take in.
        I like your idea about “tackling and facing as a team” the issues that arise. That is certainly the best way to approach things…when it IS done as they arise, even the small things.
        If having a child is the most important thing to him and you have decided not to do that, it is a major shift…and, for him, it may be one away from the relationship. That was a possibility when you made that decision, no matter how honest and wise it was for you.
        It seems he has a need and a desire to be a father, to your child, to your niece. However, if he is not now maintaining his relationship with your son, that tells you a lot. If you will not do what he wants, he’ll punish you by ignoring your child. That is a whole other view that would need to be considered. You haven’t said how he treats your boy just now, so that’s a question we need to discuss.
        There are consequences to changing your mind over a primary matter in a relationship. We make certain agreements when we marry and our trust is based on keeping those agreements. Trust has been broken, again, perhaps with very good reason, but broken all the same.

      I hope we can talk sometime and I can provide personal insights for you. These are somewhat general, I realize. If you can make an appointment, do so by visiting http://www.optimizecenter.com/join . We can talk through Skype and Skype video from wherever you are. Otherwise, feel free to write again and I’ll do my best to help this way.

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

  13. ntambi -

    my friend soooo wants to get out of it…badly wants that. can it be thru self help books and articles? also is this an inability to submit or fear of being vulnurable?

    • DrShaler -

      Hi,

      Self-help books and articles are a great way to start. Hopefully, your friend is reading all the blog posts I’ve put up on this site as a very good start!

      We cannot see both sides of the relationship by reading books, though. That’s why going for relationship help with an experienced therapist is so important.

      I’m not sure what your question about “an inability to submit or fear of being vulnerable” is referring to. Please tell me more and I’ll provide further insights.

      I wish your friend..and you…well.
      Dr Shaler

  14. Kara -

    Dr. Shaler,

    I have known for years that my husband is passive aggressive and reading your article, well it is as if you were writing about him personally. Only within the past year, after being in a 12 step recovery group for several months, has his behavior really been problematic for me. I feel as though this may be because I was accepting of it before, and also that his behavior has escalated as mine has become more healthy. Your reply to “Lucy” struck a cord with me, especially the advice – “Tell your boyfriend that you want to live in a loving, respectful honest relationship and that you think you both need help to do this. Invite him once again to counseling. If he turns you down, you will know that he has no intention of taking responsibility for his behavior and no consideration for you or the relationship. He puts himself first, his opinions and his desires. That is not attractive in a potentially lifetime partner…at least, I certainly hope it isn’t to you!” I have tried several times to have this conversation with my husband, it always confuses him as he thinks that we are “doing great” and always ends in him agreeing to see our counselor, but never following through. I feel so trapped, we have been married for almost 27 years, and because of religion I feel that I have no grounds to leave. Most of our friends and colleagues think he is a wonderful man, I think it will look poorly on my part if I ended things.
    He does not think he has a problem and therefore does not want to change? If I follow advice on dealing with his PA behavior, is it likely that he will change? I don’t want to be divorced, but I desperately want a healthy relationship. Is it wrong to put a timeline on healing, say, if things aren’t better in a year from now then we will separate? Also would it be wrong to save up money from my own income secretly?
    I see that you offer a free 32-minute consultation, I may have to take you up on that!

    Thank You,
    Kara

    • DrShaler -

      Hello, Kara,

      Sorry for the delay in responding as I know how important it is for you to have some insights on this asap.

      You are welcome to take me up on my offer and chat for a half hour to see what your best next steps are. Talking together usually helps!

      I can understand why you’re having more difficulties after experiencing a twelve-step program. You have likely learned that you have been enabling his behavior for years. Women do that for P-A men because we are basically nurturers. We think that if we just give a little more, be a little more understanding, examine ourselves for what we might be broadcasting, be more considerate of timing, and on and on, our partner will change. We honestly think that we can change someone! That often works with our children. What works better is being the person we want our children to become, and living in a relationship we want our children to emulate!

      P-A men seldom let others outside the home see their tendencies. That’s also why they often prefer to be entrepreneurs and run things. They don’t make stellar employees, usually. So, it’s no surprise that your husband appears “wonderful” to others. Looking “poorly when you part” is going to be in the eye of the beholder. If most of your friends go to the same church you do, they may have judgments. That’s on them. It’s up to you to know what is healthy for you and take that course of action. Putting up with P-A behavior without setting and maintaining boundaries can even make you ill. You internalize your pain, frustration and fear that things will never change. You don’t want that.

      In my opinion, it is not loving to allow others to be unloving towards us. Know your values and create your boundaries. Then, hold fast. I’ll help you with that.

      Let’s talk soon.

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

  15. Larry -

    Is answering a question with a question considered to be passive agressive, I find it, at very least rude.

    • DrShaler -

      HI,

      Answering a question with a question can be several things:

        the person needs time to think of their answer
        the person wants more information before committing themselves to an answer
        the person does not want to be trapped into a conversational corner
        the person wants to outwit you
        the person knows it annoys you
        the person does it to be irritating and controlling
        the person doesn’t know the answer
        the person is passive-aggressive and controlling

      I’m not sure about it being rude. We may not like it but it doesn’t seem rude. People who do not have highly-developed communication skills may be taken aback by someone answering a question with a question. They were hoping for a simple answer without parrying. It’s what you say when that person answers your question with a question that makes the difference. Here’s one way to respond: “You’ve answered my question with a question. Let’s take it one question at a time. My question is simply: _____” See how that goes.

      I wish you well.
      DrShaler

  16. Jenny K -

    Hi,
    My boyfriend of two years seems to constantly think the whole world is against him. For example he thinks its ridiculous that he was given two weeks to do some coursework so he doesn’t bother at all and makes stupid claims about how he was so busy when in fact I know he has been on his Xbox and with friends. He can also be quite controlling of me: he gets very angry if I wear skirts that he considers short but no one else seems to have a problem with them. He also loses his temper really quickly and will never admit he is wrong.
    Do you think he could be P-A? And how could aproach him about this?
    Thanks

    • DrShaler -

      Hi, J.

      People who really care about the quality of their relationships are willing to work on them to learn about themselves as well as to improve their insights and skills in communicating, managing conflict and other relationship imperatives. So, my first question to you is: does that describe your boyfriend? If he is not WILLING and does not see a problem, you might be wanting to think about my second question.

      I have to ask why you would want a boyfriend who is, in your words, “quite controlling” and “gets very angry”? This is not generally good husband material, so I’m thinking he has other great qualities that you think balance out these BIG negatives. Also, he seems to take little responsibility for himself and his actions and their consequences, reading the coursework part of your question.

      Sometimes, you need to have an honest look at your own self-esteem and self-confidence. He seems bent on tearing it down. Are you willing to have that be part of your regular life? You’ve been putting up with it for two years. What are the compelling reasons you are with this fellow? He likely took care in the beginning of your relationship to capture you, court you and carry you off. Controlling men do this. Then, they begin to pick at you and, because it is just a little here and there in the beginning, you decide not to make a fuss. It increases. You finally say something and now it’s your fault. If any of that sounds familiar, we’re on the same page here.

      Yes, he could be passive-aggressive as well but the man you are describing is seemingly more troubling than that. Write back and tell me whether or not he has ever changed as a result of a request you’ve made in the way he treats you. If so, tell me the circumstances. Then, give me another example of one of the more difficult scenes you’ve played in together. Then, I’ll tell you more about what I am thinking.

      I wish you well.
      DrShaler

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  18. Kate -

    Can you please help me? I have a lovely relationship and an extremely loving fiancé. However, during disagreements he can become very verbally abusive and the choice of comments/language hurts and shocks me. I feel that he is scared that he can’t articulate himself properly so throws everything at me to puh my buttons.. Stuff from the past… When he’s been verbally abusive and I’m hurt he normally wants to drop it and go to to sleep etc however, lately I have not been so willing to accept and fight back so there is usually an exchange of disrespectful comments. He has gotten to the point where he has picked me up, lifted me over his head and thrown me on the bed and repeated. I don’t know what to do. 99% of the time we are amazing it’s just the inability to communicate during arguments.

    Thanks kate

    • DrShaler -

      Hello, Kate,

      I’m glad to here that you’re 99% in great shape. That pesky 1% can make all the difference, though.

      You may well be right that your fiance may not feel confident in his communication or conflict management skills. My guess is that he has a quite cumbersome issue or two that he carefully keeps under wraps most of the time. He doesn’t like it, but hasn’t done what he could to recognize and resolve it so that it is no longer triggered–and not verbally abusive! Why I guess this is the vehemence of his words and his physicality.

      I applaud his ability to create relationship in wonderful ways. Now, if he would just get a little relationship help to uncover why he’s so very angry at those moments it would help you both immensely. Is he open to that? If so, he and I could talk via Skype and work that through. (If that interests you or him, you can visit THIS LINK.)

      If not, your question is about what you can do. You’ve started well. In my opinion, it is unloving to allow people to be unloving towards you. You have to have some boundaries, with consequences. I suggest you do not “give as good as your getting”, but rather that you talk about yourself and what you are experiencing in those 1% moments. Make it what I call a whole message. It might be something like this:

      “Right now, I’m feeling scared and at a loss as to why I am being spoken to in derogatory ways. I think that it is best for me to walk away right now to distance myself from this. What I really want is to be able to create a little distance, knowing that once this episode is over, we can talk about it in ways that will help us deepen our relationship. I need to protect myself right now, though, so I’m going (into my room, to a friend’s, for a walk, whatever…) and I’ll be available in two hours to talk about it.”

      When you deliver a whole message, it has an impact.

      Another tip, Kate: when your fiance is in a loving space and you know you can have a reasonable conversation, tell him that you’re going to remove yourself from his outburst the next time it happens. Also tell him that you are doing that to preserve the relationship. He needs to know there are consequences to his outbursts and that you will not stand still and be spoken to that way. Try to get his agreement on this before there is another incident. You can be compassionate about the pain the outbursts come from, however, they cannot be directed at you because they are most likely really nothing to do with you. It’s old stuff that needs to be put to rest.

      I hope he calls me. If not, feel free to make an appointment yourself. If there is not an appointment time that suits you because of different time zones, just email me at RS@ForRelationshipHelp.com and give me a couple of times that will work in Pacific Time.

      I wish you well.
      DrShaler

  19. sherry -

    i’ve been married to my husband for almost two years. we have only live together 6 months out of 20 months.. he is very controlling,and has mood swings gets angry at little things. calls me names insults me is jealous of my friends and family, talks bad about my family.when things don’t go his way he pouts. we live apart because he moved out behind my back when I was at work. he lies to me , makes up stories that he has other woman, acusses me of affairs. I have tried to make our marriage work there is no hope. he also is bipolar.i have filed divorce..one day he will call and say he loves me and doesn’t want a divorce .then the next day he is cussing me out telling me he hates me, this is my second marriage I know what a normal relationship is..this marriage has drove me nuts it is not normal he is not normal. I fell in love with this man.its very hard for me to overcome the mental abuse..thanks sherry

    • DrShaler -

      Hello, Sherry,

      The man you are describing sounds like he may well have more going on than being bi-polar.

      Some men have personality problems that make them excellent seducers…but only as long as it takes to get you into their control. It seems you may have found yourself one of those.

      Congratulations on moving on. Much as you love someone, when they are consistently unloving towards you, it is time to move on. It will take about two years to heal and that’s a great amount of time to look deeply into your own values, beliefs and purpose. Get to know yourself again, at this stage of your life.

      Getting some excellent help with an experienced therapist is a very wise idea for you right now. It will help you heal. I hope you will. If I can help, you can make a time to talk with me at

      I wish you well.
      DrShaler

  20. Pingback: Relationship Issues: It's All About Joining Forces!

  21. Pingback: Passive Aggressive Abuse in Relationships

  22. guest -

    What percent of the population is passive-aggressive…and is this the same as passive-aggressive disorder…as passive-aggressive personality?

    I ask because if I knew that this is not a common type of behavior, and these people are not prevalent in our society. I will feel a little bit comforted by knowing statistics. I am very analytical, like to know statistics, etc. I am still a little traumatized after ending a 5 month relationship with a PA man.

    Thank You.

    • SL -

      Dear Guest,
      In response to your question about the statistics of passive aggressive (PA) men, I think that the likelihood increases when you are dating later in life.

      Also, I think that overachievers are more likely to attract a PA person because I’m learning that a PA person who has issues emotionally connecting with someone needs a person who is used to giving a lot for a little in return. This is coming from someone who is Enneagram “type 2” and has been married to the worst sort of passive aggressor. Even knowing this, I have inadvertently found myself in the same sort of horrible relationship.

      I’m glad you came out of your PA relationship. Best wishes to you. – S

  23. SL -

    Dr. Shaler,

    I recently moved in with my fiance. He is not at all the man I thought he was. I am engaged to a man who withdraws when he doesn’t get his way. He withholds attention – both intimate and otherwise. He pats me very hesitantly with his fingertips on my back whenever I come to him for a hug. I am made to feel like an awkward, distance acquaintance. I have tried to, in a non-judgmental way, express my needs in our relationship. Instead of having an open conversation about both of us meeting the needs of the other, he gets furious and acts like I am simply unhappy with who he is. The last time I told him that I wanted him, he literally sighed and rolled his eyes out of frustration in my arms. He explained, later, that he is very stressed out about work, however he gets angry with me every time I try to suggest ways to find a new job or possibly improve his current situation so that he isn’t stressed out all the time.

    Before I moved in with him, he bought me all the beautiful lace boudoir sets and had gotten hurt that I didn’t wear them more often. Now that I’m living with him, he gets frustrated and angry every time I wear them and I end up feeling like fool for having put them on. He does take medicine for erectile dysfunction, but I don’t think this is the only problem. It is easy, these days, for me to be confused and hurt. I have stopped coming on to him because the continual rejection is hurtful. I think I’m not hard on the eyes. I’m a giver in all senses, so this is a perplexing blow to my self-confidence.

    Another example of his behavior that leaves me confused and upset is that before I moved here, we had discussed a possible date for our wedding – December 1. Mind you, *HE* brought up the date and that he would like to get married in winter. I am easy to please and thought this was fine. He spent a long time on the phone going through his calendar to see when a good day would be. When my friends and family started asking me when we were getting married, I told them that we were tentatively getting married December 1. When my fiance found out that I was telling everyone the date, he was extremely angry at me. He wanted us to have discussed this further – even though I had explained to friends and to him that it was tentative.

    One more thing. I have told him that I am fine with his playing his cell phone video game. He does this all the time at home. Even though he told me that he has no friends, I have explained that I understand if he texts his friends. I am really not a jealous person. So why does he hide his phone screen every single time I walk into the room? It is painfully obvious. I asked him about this the other day – telling him that he knows I don’t care about the game (his ex girlfriend had been frustrated with him about this) and that I don’t mind if he texts his friends. I have never seen him so angry. He said he refused to answer my question. After much conversation, he said sarcastically that he was sorry he had a chronic “phone screen hide” issue.

    This behavior is sinking my self-confidence, is making me think that I am crazy and making me think I can’t trust him. I love this man? Please tell me you’ve seen this before. I feel crushed. I’m on auto-pilot now, doing recon on local apartments and mail forwarding. Half of me wants to be doing this and the other half does not. Please advise.

    • Rhoberta Shaler, PhD -

      Hello, SL,

      Your last sentence, “Please advise,” makes my response short.

      This person is likely more than passive-aggressive. I say this because the examples you give indicate that is the case. Of course, we would have to talk further to help you determine if I am right.
      You can apply for a free Relationship Relief consultation at http://www.optimizecenter.com/free-consultation

      If you want my short answer, it’s simple. This is only going to get worse, and you are going to lose more and more confidence, self-esteem, and sense of self. Read what I’ve written at http://www.forrelationshiphelp.com/high-conflict-couples If it fits, let’s talk. You likely need to extricate yourself from this relationship now. You know that’s true, and I can help you understand and take the steps to do so in ways that will give you clarity, strength, and ironclad boundaries!

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

      Rhoberta Shaler, PhD
      The Relationship Help Doctor
      http://www.ForRelationshipHelp.com

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