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Passive Aggressive Relationships – When Is It Abuse?

Passive Aggressive Abuse in Relationships

Leaving you shaking your head in disbelief, it's like a nightmare where you try to run away and all you ever find are dead ends with no escape. You may even be dealing with a Hijackal®!

It's crazy-making. It's infuriating. It's passive-aggressive behavior!

It requires relationship help!

It's covert, stealthy even! You're really not sure when or if you were hit, or when you may be again. It causes you to question your words, your actions and your motives, as if something were always your fault. You're probably dealing with passive aggressive abuse in relationships!

Trying to actually confront passive-aggressive behavior is also often crazy-making.  Passive-aggressive behavior is based in deep-seated anger and resentment. Unfortunately, the passive-aggressive person is often unaware of what s/he is doing, and when confronted, refuses to acknowledge either the behavior or its results. S/he can be quite upset that you would even think they were the problem, or contributing to it.

Not sure what passive-aggressive looks like?

You can take the free online Passive-Aggressive Checklist and you’ll be able to tell if the behavior you are concerned about is actually passive-aggressive. You can also visit to find out if you’re dealing with a chronically difficult person.

And, yes, passive-aggressive people can drive other folks around the bend. They lack the insight into their own behavior that would allow them to see what they are doing, and therefore they think others simply don't understand them, continuously misunderstand them, or want more from them than is reasonable. Want to learn to recognize a passive aggressive person in a relationship?

What is Passive-Aggression?

Here's the actual psychological definition from the DSM-IV,  the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:

"A.  A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  1. passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
  2. complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
  3. is sullen and argumentative
  4. unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
  5. expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
  6. voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
  7. alternates between hostile defiance and contrition

B. Does not occur exclusively during major depressive episodes and is not better accounted for by dysthymic disorder" (a depressive mood disorder.)

It actually is a personality disorder that is documented in psychological research. You might recognize it when you're affected by someone's passive-aggressive behavior by the feeling of insecurity it creates in you, or by the person's seemingly intentional inefficiency. They are late, forgetful, or punishing, all covert ways of trying to assert control over you or the situation.

Passive-aggressive people are fearful of competition, dependency, and, yes, intimacy. You might recognize that as the "push me, pull me syndrome." Another way of expressing that is the mixed message of "Come close but stay away."

Passive-aggressive behavior is based in anger and resentment. It is crazy-making!

A passive-aggressive person can make chaos out of thin air, and they are secretly delighted in their ability to do so. It feels like control to them, and that is what they long for. Because they cannot approach situations, feelings, relationships or communication directly, they do so indirectly. That causes the chaos.

Oh, yes, at work as well as at home? They make endless--seemingly rational (that's the crazy-making part!)--excuses for why they cannot, or did not, do things that were expected of them. Because they have difficulty playing nicely with others, they tend to drag their feet in any work team project. From not feeling well to not feeling included, from not having the information given to them to not knowing what was expected of them, passive-aggressive people have a reason for everything. They believe these reasons and will actively work to disparage anyone who will not accept their reasons.

Not only are they obstructive, but they are also experts at procrastination.

Of course, they always have a reason. And, they love to play the victim. Passive-aggressive people will go to great lengths to avoid recognizing their own weaknesses, but love to blame others for their own failures. This is a hallmark of the passive-aggressive personality.

Passive-aggressive behavior is crazy-making! But, once you understand it, you can keep your sanity. Once you learn how to respond to and recover from it, you will feel more competent and confident when it arises, too.'

If you have a #Hijackal in your life, or think you might have, get my free ebook, How To Spot A Hijackal, at  Need help to know your next best steps?  If you would like more help, subscribe to my Tips for Relationships, and listen to my Podcasts. Start with an introductory session. Talk soon!

*Hijackal: a person who hijacks relationships for their own purposes while scavenging them for power, status and control. This term was coined by Dr. Shaler.

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  1. k - Reply

    wow – thanks for posting that DSM-IV definition… i have often wondered if i behave passive-aggressively, as certain aspects of personality/behaviour in this series have resonated for me as things i have been known to do…

    but i don’t think i fit the diagnostic profile, so that’s a relief! 😀

    what i wonder, tho, is it possible that PA is a response to OTHER personalities? or a response to certain circumstances? is it likely that a person might only behave passively-aggressive (passive-aggressively??) with CERTAIN people who “bring it out” in them… or maybe circumstances that stir up old issues that cause the PA to feel insecure and thus PA is their automatic response?

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      DrShaler - Reply

      Great question and good insight. Passive-aggressive behavior dies on the vine when there is no one to play with. In other words, you cannot be passive-aggressive alone. It takes two or more.

      One great way passive-aggressive behavior can be triggered in a person who does not generally behave that way is if it is habitual. For example, your father was passive-aggressive and you learned to do the dance with him, unwittingly. You recognize the pattern and play it out when it presents itself again with another person’s face on it. It is a role-to-role response, in a sense.

      When my co-author, G. Charles Andersen, MA, and I write about what we call “social-relational wisdom,” we recognize that all of our traits such as a tendency towards passive-aggressive behavior cannot happen in isolation, but rather in relationship with others. We may actually mimic the behavior of others in cases. That does not get us off the hook, though, for once we are conscious of a passive-aggressive ability within ourselves, we cannot turn a blind eye. We have to do some soul solitude time, and likely get some relationship help, in order to re-align our behavior with our current values, beliefs and vision consistently.

      The sometimes hard truth is that we are still responsible for our words, action, responses and reactions. I applaud your insight into your own behavior. Now, a standing ovation is yours when you live in alignment with your values, vision, beliefs and purpose–regardless of how anyone else behaves! Tall order, I know, but you’re up to it!!

  2. Pingback: I Need Relationship Help | Brandy & The Gang

  3. L - Reply

    I was in a relationship with someone who was EXTREMELY passive-aggressive. I on the other hand, is just plain passive. Bad mix. I eventually ended the relationship after 3 years and a move to another city because I had completely lost myself in always trying to please this person to avoid that behavior. It was exhausting and took a toll on my self-esteem. One year and new relationship later, I am still healing those scars that behavior left behind.

    When relating to patterns, I see that my pattern is that I attract those with that personality…probably because I was raised by a passive-agressive step father who also had a PhD in Psychology. Another nasty mix.

    Thanks for this article.

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      DrShaler - Reply


      You are so right about terminably difficult “mixes!”

      You might enjoy my new ebook, Stop! That’s Crazy-Making! How to Recognize, Respond to & Recover From Passive-Aggressive Behavior & People. The information there can help you quickly recognize the patterns and break them. It’s at:

      I wish you well.

      • Stephen Young - Reply

        I seem to have lived like this for the past 30 years. except for a 3-4 year period where the passive turned physically agressive. I feel inclined to stay in order to allow my daughter to have a mother. However now taht the passive aggressive is targeting towards her as well I’m not quite sure which way to turn.I think the “passive” doesn’t quite describe the aggression more a mental abuse with very subtle and highly honed weaponry. sarcarsim, denegration, complaining, blaming etc. My Dad was a bit of a dictator so my own passivity is hard to shift.
        Thanks for the article – At least I might still be sane!


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          DrShaler - Reply

          Hello, Stephen,

          Kudos to you for recognizing a pattern within yourself. That is the biggest step towards learning how to create a healthier relationship with yourself and others. You’re likely right that you learned it early from interactions at home. We all do!

          I hope you’ll get my ebook, Stop! That’s Crazy-Making! and enhance your understanding. If I can be of any help, you can schedule an appointment at

          I wish you well.

  4. suzaan - Reply

    Hi. Thanks for the article. My husband appears to fit the description of being passive-aggressive, doing things he knows will annoy me, but then professing innocence and excuses. He is also a classic procrastinator, never getting any chores done in the house and rarely helping to clean up after himself. Also, he blames everyone else (especially at work) when things go wrong. The issues at home drive me nuts (he also tells a lot of white lies) and I must admit, I get extremely angry. This in turn makes him tell me that I need to deal with my ‘anger issues’. I have NEVER experienced this level of anger in a relationship before. We have a daughter and I can honestly say that I am only staying in the marriage for her. We fight around her and also sleep in separate rooms. She even thinks this is normal (she is 2 years old). Please help me. I don’t know what to do. He will never go for couples’ counselling and I live in SA. What do I do? Should I leave?

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      DrShaler - Reply


      Yes, you are describing a classic case of passive-aggressive behavior. As you seem to have the full-blown version at your house, and you say he would never seek help, you have three choices once you get your anger under control, and not before :D:
      Learn to accommodate him, step around him, and suppress yourself. (I don’t recommend it when it is as full-blown and pervasive as you describe.)

      Strengthen yourself with clarity of who you are and what you will accept. Communicate this to him clearly, gently and firmly. Tell him that you will no longer take responsibility for things he has agreed to do. He needs to feel consequences. While you pick up pieces he drops, you are enabling him to persist.

      Try the suggestion above for two months. If it makes no difference–it will likely make him more angry at first, then make a plan to leave. Enabling him is not a lifestyle you want, in my opinion. Further, you are teaching your daughter behavior patterns you likely don’t want her to adopt, adapt or inherit. She is taking all this in through her little pores right now. You are teaching her how to be a woman and how to be a woman in relationship. Does that sound like the place to do it?

      If it is helpful to talk with me, we can always schedule a session through Skype video. You might find it helpful. I do wish you well.


    • Rose - Reply

      Omg! After six years of having seperate bedrooms, Dealing with very odd behaviors, Passive aggressive behavior, Compulsive lying,Wrapped up with the viscious cycle my husband seemed to thrive on and then denied…He is now going to a thearapist,was prescribed antidepressants by his health practice doctor and I have support group for myself…What was a secret to him, what was going on under the roof of our house, I brought to light, reached out to people and told…He was angry at first but he had no choice, He caused alot of damage to our family and I was always trying to fix it…No more! Now he has to fix it.

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        DrShaler - Reply

        Dear Rose,

        Good for you both! Secrets, painful behaviors, lack of communication, honesty, trust and respect? Get it out in the open. Only then will you be able to see if your husband wants to be in a healthy relationship. You’ll also have to remember what a healthy relationship looks like!

        His behavior is the truth about him, not his words. So, watch for behavior changes that he maintains. They will show if he is engaged and willing to get the insights, skills and support that relationship help requires.

        Your part in the equation is to have open eyes for new behaviors, no matter how small, and an open mind. There is nothing good that will come from holding his past behaviors as cannon fodder for your next argument, or talking what he has done over and over. When I work with my clients–couples who come to my office or I see through Skype video, I help them release the past pain while developing a plan for who and how they want to be right now. We cannot fix the past, only learn from it. Once the learning is gleaned, look at him as he is now and appreciate any positive changes he makes. Your relationship went six years or more gathering hurt, pain and alienation. Now, he gets a thousand gold stars for engaging in therapy and making changes. You have to change, too. Change into a woman who remembers why she loved him and chose him, and look for glimmers of that guy returning as he gets the help he needs.

        If you would like to talk about this with me, you can make an appointment online at

        I wish you well.
        Dr. Shaler

  5. PJ - Reply

    I have a mother who is passive aggressive. After a horrible accident some 500 miles from home all alone, my mother who watched me start to fall and then blamed me, told me that my sister is borderline personality.

    I dont know what is true and what is not. I just know I had to cut off my relationship with my mom at the age of 89. It was not what I wanted to do, but it was painful and I did it. A few months later I met my boyfriend. I was a little afraid to be involved, but he seemed solid.. until his son got involved, and in a matter of a week his son destroyed “US”. I was not to see his dad again and I was gone. His dad stayed with me but his behavior changed.

    His dad did as his son said.. ” I tell my dad what to do and he does it”……. it was true as I learned.

    My boyfriend and his son are like my sister and mother.. I can not handle another dose of poison.. and the pain to walk away is so intense. It is worse cause he follows me around and I have to see him. He is in pain since I left, but I can cope with more passive aggressive.

    I am in so much pain over this break up, but I keep telling myself not to go back.. its bad.

    I am so alone.. I am so empty!

    •  avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Dear P.J.

      I am sorry that I did not see your note earlier and respond as I can feel the pain you have experienced, and may still be experiencing.

      Passive-aggressive, borderline, narcissistic and anti-social behaviors are very difficult to deal with. We tend to take on too much of the responsibility when living with these folks. We think there is some key we can find–if we only search/work/understand/listen/accommodate enough, then things will get better. That is seldom the case. What has to happen is that we have to take very good care of ourselves and believe what other people are showing us is who they are.

      f>> That is for you for taking care of yourself and walking away. When we recognize the truth of what is going on, we also recognize two things: 1) the person whose behavior we are seeing is mostly unaware of what they are doing, and (2) we cannot change them. We can only change ourselves. It takes great strength to vote with your feet in favor of yourself. >>

      Now, I understand that this very important, positive step, leaves you feeling alone, empty, unheard, unseen and unacknowledged. In fact, there may be people in your life who want to tell you that you did the wrong thing, that you are selfish, unreasonable or offer any other judgement of you. Difficult as this may be, ignore them. Stay true to what you know. People NEVER fail to show us who they are. We are too often unwilling to see what they are showing us and take action. You have done this. You have taken action in favor of a healthier life. Others may not understand. They may see you take a stand in life and they may know that they do not have the strength to do what you have done. There only recourse is to make you wrong, and make them think that they are “the better person” for persisting in putting up with behaviors that they would be better off walking away from.

      That may not be much consolation when you are hurting right now, but in the long run, you are going to take the learning you have experienced and eventually create a healthy, satisfying, mutually-supportive relationship. Good for you!

      Dr. Shaler

  6. Susan - Reply

    Dr. Shaler. I have had it with my mother. She is a world class passive-aggressive, narcissistic manipulator. Do you have any support groups available for families passive aggressives? An Alanon type thing? I’m in San Diego, but North County coastal. So I don’t know if you have, or would consider having support groups through Google+ Hangouts. (Like Skype but 10 people can be on at one time.)

    I need to feel that somebody else understands the depth of the pain and frustration I’m going through. And I need to hear real world solutions from other people about how to deal with this. This isn’t like any other relationship where I can simply end it, she’s my mother.

    Please let me know. I’m seeing a spiritual counselor, I’ve had traditional counseling in the past, but I am at a loss as to how to deal with her short of completely cutting her out of my life, which I don’t really want to do. And since she is nearing 90, it’s difficult anyway.


    •  avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Hi, Susan,

      Sorry for the delay in responding. It’s interesting that you’re asking for a group for those dealing with passive-aggressive folks in their lives as I have been thinking of creating one. I do offer other program by Skype video classes where ten folks can participate and see each other. I’ll be sure to let you know when that begins. We do have regular weekly classes at the Optimize Center for both anger management and for relationship insights. You can learn more about this at

      One of the most important reasons that working through the residue of being in relationship with P-A people is essential is that it colors our own lives and the relationships we have with others. Trust, respect, safety and honesty are all essential ingredients for healthy, mutually-supportive relationships. When we have had experience in which those ingredients were not present, we often tend to take that wariness and dishonesty into the way we view our partners or potential partners.

      I invite you to join in the in-person classes–just call to say when you’re coming–until I create new ones.

      Just a thought: do something good for yourself. Focus on your gratitude and love for your mom and express it to her while she’s here. That’s important. I wrote a book called “What You Pay ATtention to Expands’ and you want to pay attention to the good as this relationship will not go on for decades and you know it. You are wise, though, to start taking care of the legacy of being with a P-A person as soon as possible.

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

  7. Patricia Means - Reply

    I have a severely passive agressive husband. I’ve been living with him for years and stayed to take care of my son who is now a professor on the east coast. Three years ago I put my foot down and told him I wasn’t putting up with any more of his abuse and degrading remarks in front of people. That he had to stop destroying my belongs when he felt slighted.

    When it just inflamed him I called the police after two hours of verbal abuse. After they left he told me that he told the police I was mentally ill and he was the victim.

    Here’s the problem. Unbeknown to me he started E-mailing my son out east when I started threatening him and my son, whom I love like crazy, came home and told me dad was E-mailing him a out how mentally ill I was and he was crying because he thought It was true.

    My husband said I’m never going to be able to call the police again. I’m worried about my son. I don’t know what my husbands done and I can’t seem to convince him I Ok and his fathers trying to cover his lie. I’ve always protected my son by covering up everything now I really scared.

    How do I fix this.

    •  avatar
      DrShaler - Reply


      I’m sorry your are caught in the “he said/she said” trap. That is so common in all kinds of relationships. I can understand your anxiety over losing your son’s understanding, and the losses involved with confronting your husband’s behavior.

      First of all, I applaud your steps to keep yourself safe. Standing up and speaking up when you have allowed things to go on for a long time is a major step. No one should put up with any kind of abuse–verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual–in any relationship. Few folks, though, have the insights, skills and understanding to taken action when abuse occurs over time.

      The description you have given of your husband’s behavior may be more than passive-aggressive, it seems.

        Has your son seen and heard your husband being verbally abusive through his years at home?

      Has your son developed any of the traits you describe his father as having?
      Have you two been in any kind of “contest” for the affections of your son?
      Is your son well-balanced, considerate, communicative and insightful?
      Why would your son believe your husband or you?
      These questions are very important for me to know before I give you further suggestions. I would be happy to talk with you if you would like to make an appointment. We can talk through Skype, with or without video. Here is the link to do that: OR, if you want to respond to this answer and continue the conversation here in this forum, you can do that.

      I can help you walk through this very difficult time. Let’s talk soon.

      I wish you well.

  8. elaine - Reply

    my husband ..ex to be of less than two years is biopolar.. he seems to be passive aggressive also.. ive just had enough of tring to help him. we have went for therpy. he takes his meds..hes still the same.. he blames everything on me that happens..he yells cusses and calls me names..will he ever have a normal relationship..or will he go on to the next victum..

    •  avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Hello, Elaine,

      You are describing passive-aggressive behavior. It is learned behavior that has been reinforced and tolerated. Bi-polarity has little to do with it, although it does seem to exaggerate it often.

      You are wise to know when ending a relationship is the best thing for both of you. The behavior of his that you describe is not behavior that anyone needs to be around. It is, in the true sense, repulsive.

      The answer to your question of whether or not he will have a normal relationship is simple: Not likely! From the little you have shared, I would think that if he meets a woman with strong boundaries, he may try and wear her down but that is unlikely. He’ll move on. What he is likely looking for is someone passive enough to control and but strong enough for him to want to keep off balance so that he can feel powerful.

      Congratulations on finding your way to more emotionally safe ground.

      I wish you well.

  9. Jane - Reply

    We have spent over 2 years after our daughter’s death, trying to work out why she had a breakdown. Finally we have put the missing pieces in the jigsaw. She was living with a passive aggressive person for 10 years. He always wanted his own way, had grandiose ideas, never admitted when he was wrong and we realise now that he pushed her over the edge into a complete nervous breakdown. Our daughter had 2 university degrees to her name, she had the brains and he literally used her to fulfil his dreams.

    Sadly she took her own life in 2010, we will never recover from this and have a life sentence while her partner has the house, her money etc and doesn’t appear to be grieving that much. His toxic family have said some appalling things to us. His mother is very controlling and his father violent and abusive towards us.

    •  avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Dear Jane,

      I’m so sorry for your loss. It is just not in the expected order of things to have our children pre-decease us, is it?

      Passive-aggressive people are VERY hard to live with. That’s why I called my ebook, Stop! That’s Crazy-Making. It’s because it is. And, when it is the man who is passive-aggressive it exacerbates the problem. Why that is so is that women learn from our culture to nurture, take care of, understand and support. Often, their first thought when confronted with passive-aggressive behavior is “Is it my fault?” followed by “Is there something I should be doing or changing that will make this stop?” Those two questions unfortunately are answered with a “Yes.” Yet, there are only two things a woman can do to change this equation:

        get relationship help to establish, express and maintain strong boundaries
        realize that it is not her job to change another human, but rather to live by her own values, vision, beliefs and purpose and express who she is fully

      And, doing that all the while remembering that WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF US IS NONE OF OUR BUSINESS!

      Unfortunately, your lovely daughter may have felt the accumulated effects of being treated poorly and unfairly by this man, coupled with the strains and stresses of daily living and working, AND, not being strong enough in her sense of self to step away and make it stop. All the degrees in the world don’t teach us that, which is also unfortunate. I’m sure you wish that she had been able to stand up to this fellow and act on the strong consequences of him not respecting her boundaries.

      It sounds like this fellow is an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. Most apples do not. For many, there is no need.

      Your use of the word “toxic” really says it all: the situation, the marriage, his family, his attitudes and behaviors are all toxic. You might like to read some of the other answers here to get a greater sense of what others are experiencing, too.

      There is so much more that I could talk with you about that might help. If that interests you, you can make an appointment by creating a login by CLICKING HERE.

      I wish you well in your healing journey, Jane.

  10. Kitty - Reply

    Don’t you just love those “AH HA” moments, when you have figured something out that’s been stumping you for WAAAYYY too long?! I just had one!! What a game changer, lol!!!

    I’m so happy that I stumbled upon your article and website. My husband and I started dating in 2001 and were married in late 2005. He has two daughters from his first marriage who are now 27 & 26 years old. I have a son from a previous relationship who is 17. My step-daughters are quite different from each other and both are night and day different from my son. My husband and I have had several disagreements through the years on how the girls have been allowed to behave, especially the younger one. She has almost felt like a wedge in our marriage. Her and I have always had a love-hate relationship. She seems to deeply resent me and my son off and on for no real apparent reason. I have found myself going through counseling for the past 8 years trying to help me understand how I feel at times with her and how to deal with it. My husband and I have gone through marriage counseling off and on regarding this as well. It’s like he doesn’t see or acknowledge how poorly and disrespectfully she treats my son and I. This article has helped me figure out that she is passive-aggressive and he is just plain old passive. I’m not sure what I am, besides exhausted and done with it all. This article will hopefully help me to stand my ground, help my husband begin to really understand what’s been going on, and hopefully help he and I work together to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with each other and all three of our children and their families.

    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Dear Kitty,

      I’m delighted to hear that you are creating value from something you read on my website. That’s the whole purpose of writing it for me.

      Have you read my ebook, Stop! That’s Crazy-Making, dealing with managing passive-aggressive behaviors. You and your husband would do well with both read that to get on the same page. Then, discuss it in light of your family. You’ll find it in PDF of Kindle formats HERE

      I’m with you: it’s exhausting dealing with what I call “crazy-making” behaviors. The problem is that no one can do passive-aggressive alone! If you remove yourself from the equation with both your husband and your daughter you will find it will make a big difference. You now know that you cannot “get it right” because the M.O. of the passive-aggressive person is to keep you feeling tilted, confused, and caught. As women, we were accultured to nourish and nurture, so we have a tendency to make ourselves into pretzels to try to please, pacify, or at least, prevent escalation of conflict. When we become emotionally grown-up, we realize that no one is to blame for our behavior, nor are we to blame for anyone else’s. That is a big step. Then, we stop enabling passive-aggressive behavior by taking ourselves out of the mix and refusing to “play” or “get played.” Exhaustion will extinguish when you take yourself out of the game and let them try to be passive-aggressive alone. If you think your husband is just passive, do not enable or care take. Let him have his relationship with folks, and you have yours.

      One big thing that high conflict people have–and for this discussion, I include passive-aggressives–is an abhorrence of boundaries. When you do your own self-reflection and align your values, beliefs and purposes with good boundaries that you express and maintain, you’ll find that all these relationships go into upheaval for a bit, then things get sorted and the real relationships emerge. They may not be the ones you were hoping for, but they will be honest, clear and trustworthy.

      If you ever want to talk about it–although I recognize you’ve had much help on your path–you can always talk with me through Skype video or audio. Sometimes it’s a real help to talk with someone who specializes in these high conflict behavior patterns. You can join in at to make an appointment online, or email me with two possible times for you, or call The Optimize Center directly and make an appointment.

      I wish you well.

  11. Kitty - Reply

    Yes, we’ve read everything we could find of yours on this subject and it has all been extremely helpful to us and we’re very thankful for it. You were right on the mark when you said, “One big thing that high conflict people have–and for this discussion, I include passive-aggressives–is an abhorrence of boundaries.” That was exactly the situation here. And, you were right on the mark that being a woman and mom; I was trying so hard to nourish and nurture (or at least what I thought was nourish & nurture) that I made myself crazy trying to please and prevent escalation of conflict. All I was doing was enabling her behavior and backing myself into a corner. But, the biggest thing I realized was that I was more afraid of upsetting my husband than I was of upsetting my step-daughters. My instincts told me that our daughter would give us the cold shoulder and keep our grandchildren from us if I set boundaries and stuck to them. If she did that, I was afraid that my husband would resent me for that because he didn’t seem to see her behavior towards me. She was very covert and sly about it. After going through my own self-reflection and aligning my values, beliefs and purposes as you said, I was able to establish good boundaries that I discussed with my husband. Once we started acting on the boundaries, my step-daughter became increasingly trying and agitated with us. She even lashed out at me on Facebook and sent me a very nasty and enlightening personal FB message pretty much telling me off and asking me to answer her on a slew of accusations and questions she had written out. I replied back that I thought it would be best if her and her husband sat down with my husband and I to discuss it and clear the air. I wasn’t about to start a back-and-forth FB war that would do nothing but aggravate me. She refused to do that and lashed out even worse. At that point, my husband and I decided that we needed to put the boundaries in writing and emailed them to her. The boundaries were in direct response to much of the accusations and questions she had that she wanted us to answer. She felt that my response of wanting to sit down and talk about it was disrespectful to her and showed that I didn’t care enough to even answer everything she wanted me to address. The ironic part was that with her putting it all in writing, my husband got to see just how severe her behavior has been towards my son and I, as well as how damaging this has been to our relationship. He finally got it and was a bit shocked at her perspectives and behavior. Finally, he was on the same page as me and I was beginning to see us as partners again. He agreed that we needed to put the 5 boundaries we wanted to focus on in writing and send them to her. These are boundaries that you shouldn’t have to spell out for an adult. They’re natural boundaries that normal relationships automatically adopt as people mature. And, since she wanted a response, we responded accordingly. Here is what we sent her (and this still didn’t answer everything she asked):

    Kitty and I love you and we want an amazing relationship with you and your family. Because of that, and out of respect for you, we have put together some expectations to help us all have a loving relationship from this moment moving forward:
    1. It’s unfortunate that you feel that you are living in poverty. This is something that we know you will resolve. With that said, Kitty and I are not interested in becoming involved in your financial affairs. We are interested in having a relationship with you that is based on love, not money. We feel it is best for our relationship that we no longer loan you money or assist you in any financial way. We have faith that you and your husband will be able to take care of your family.
    2. It’s sad that your perspective of the way you were parented as a child is different from ours. And, it’s sad that your perspective of the manner in which Kitty and I have assisted you through numerous situations since you have become an adult is different from ours. We are confident that you will resolve to not see us that way. With that said, we are not interested in responding to your crises and demands. We are interested in having a relationship with you that is based on love, not control. We refuse to be controlled by your crises and demands. We have faith that as an adult you will handle your crises without having us as your first resort to go to. Just as Kitty and I have handled situations without involving you, we are hoping that you and your husband will handle your situations without having to involve us, as you are a family. That is what a family does.
    3. It’s sad that your perspective of our intentions and our relationship with our grand children is different from ours. Kitty and I are confident that you will resolve to see us as loving, caring, and well intended grandparents. With that said, we are not interested in fostering or tolerating bad manners and lack of discipline in our home. We enjoy having you and the grand children in our lives; and, when you are in our home, you and your children are our guests. We expect that you will behave in the way it is appropriate for a guest to behave and we expect that you will discipline your children when they are in our home so that they are demonstrating self-control with manners and showing us the respect that we deserve. We also expect that you will require that your children clean up after themselves and will return toys to their appropriate places before you leave our home. We are interested in having a relationship with you that is based on love, not on a sense of entitlement or guilt trips. We will no longer tolerate a sense of entitlement from you, or your disrespect towards us. We have faith that we all can spend quality time together without draining each other’s emotions, patience, time and energy.
    4. It’s sad that you feel as if you and your children are a burden on us. Kitty and I are confident that you will resolve to understand and respect our time and energy. We enjoy having the family over for occasional “Family Gatherings” and occasional “Sunday Family Meals”. During family gatherings, if we choose to serve a meal, we expect that you and your children will sit down and politely eat that meal. If we choose to put together a fun day of activities and games for a family gathering, we expect that you and your children will participate with gracious attitudes so that we can all enjoy ourselves. If you or any of your children do not feel like being gracious at that moment, we expect you to politely and promptly remove yourself or the child from the festivities until you or they can return graciously to join in with enjoyment. We are interested in having a relationship with you that is based on love and mutual respect, not enabling or the fostering of bad behaviors. We feel it is best for our relationship that we no longer be expected to provide entertainment, to plan, purchase, and prepare Sunday dinners on a weekly basis. We have faith that together with you we will create years of cherished memories of our time together.
    5. It’s upsetting that you choose to speak to us and think of us the way you have. Relating to others in this manner can result in you not being treated the way you want. Kitty and I are confident that you will resolve to be respectful so that in return you are treated the way that you deserve. We are interested in a relationship with you that is based on respect, not critical put-downs. We will not communicate with you unless you can speak to us and treat us respectfully. We have faith that together we can build an amazing relationship with you and your family based on mutual respect and consideration for one another.

    Her and her husband called us the next day and tried to have a speaker phone discussion with us. But, she continued to try to blame us for things and wanted us to “play”. When we wouldn’t “play” with her, she started shouting at us to get a response. After awhile of her not getting the reaction she wanted; she asked if we could all go through counseling together. We thought that would be a good idea and scheduled the appointments. Of course, she never showed. My husband and I finished our last session together last week and I finished my last session on my own today. We haven’t heard from our daughter since mid April and haven’t seen our four grandchildren since mid March. So, you were absolutely correct in saying, when you express and maintain, you’ll find that all these relationships go into upheaval for a bit, then things get sorted and the real relationships emerge. My husband and I are taking this time to breath and focus us our marriage. Our home is much more calm and peaceful and I’m feeling more like the matriarch of our family. My husband and I are getting along so much better and know what we need to do if/when the day comes that our daughter decides to contact us, whenever that may be. It will not be back to the same old way things used to be. There will be a sit-down discussion with her and her husband; and, if need be, we will be reiterating the boundaries and expressing that they will be followed. We are very close with our other daughter, grand daughter, and our son and very much enjoy our times with them.

    Thank you again for all of your wonderful advise and writings. I’d still be lost with my head in the sand if I had not come across your article. I was able to relate so well.
    Take care and God Bless!! 🙂

    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Dear Kitty,

      You are so welcome. You have done a very good thing for all concerned, in my opinion.

      Your daughter and her husband may take quite a while to recognize their part in this. If your son-in-law is having the same issues with your daughter and you two are, he may be a catalyst. If he is of the same ilk as your daughter, they may well band together in their blame and misery.

      Whatever happens, I applaud you both for clarifying, expressing and maintaining your boundaries. This is love in action, for yourself and everyone concerned.

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

  12. Marquitta - Reply

    Dr. Shaler I am extremely passive aggressive. I have issues with being dominate in my relationship (passive) but very animate about my feelings when I am done wrong (aggressive) and it is driving my girlfriend crazy. Please help me save my relationship (I don’t want to get dumped…I think im on the verge of that).

    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Hello, Marquitta,

      I’m sorry for the delay in this response to you. It seems that you know you need help. If you’re ready to talk about it, you can book an appointment with me with our online system, at

      I look forward to working with you soon.

      I wish you well.


  13. Thomas - Reply

    I’ve been in a relationship for 3 years now, for the most part things have been great, it wasn’t until a month ago when things took a 180 spin for the worse. Little background info for my significant other. We got an apartment together after 6 months of dating, I proposed to her about 2 years ago, I bought a house a little more than a year ago, and put her name on the house with no financial obligation.

    Now I’ve looked through lots of lists on what defines a “passive aggressive person” and I feel I may exhibit some of these traits but as majority it doesn’t seem to match up with. I’m not a procrastinator, I’m one of those people who like to have things done as early as possible. Just cooked dinner, finished eating, ok I’m ready to do the dishes, why let them stack up for later. I pay my mortgage up a month ahead in advance, I pay every credit card charge, as soon as it posts up on the website, I put away my laundry as soon as its done drying. I have no resentment towards anyone my fortunate than me, in fact I’m grateful for what I have in my life, as there a lot more people in other countries that are 100x worse off than I have it. I’ve never criticized or scorned authority. I’ve never REALLY complained I’ve been misunderstood. Maybe one time I can think of in that I’m a bit of a shy and timid person when it comes to interacting with people I don’t know, much more the case when I’m around people who are all friends/family close knit group instead of everyone being on level ground not knowing everyone. I’ve pointed out to my significant fiance that I may have hard time striking up conversations with her family members, because
    1) we don’t spend a lot of time with them (they live 8 hours away)
    2) I don’t think there’s one thing I have in common with anyone in her family
    3) they are very loud talk over one another type people, where I”m the complete opposite
    So naturally for me, I come off as more the listen in/ wait for people initiate conversation with me before trying to talk over one of them or interrupt them while they are talking. This is one thing that lead to this huge melt down in my relationship last month.

    To get back on topic my fiance says in the past I’ve blamed her for everything. Now to a degree I can kind of see her side and there may be some bit of truth to that. Now she has Attention Deficit Disorder, she can be very clumsy and problematic when it comes to doing things. She was very disorganized and procrastinated a lot. I’ve helped her change things for the better in her life, because I’m the polar opposite, she’s told me that. She tends to cry a lot when we have fights, and most of the time I find myself stepping back, I feel like she’s crying not because she’s genuinely hurt but because she’s seeking attention. I don’t know if the ADD or her in general, she can go from crying one minute to perfectly calm the next minute like nothing ever happened. She can be very loud in arguments in the past, so a lot of times I’ve given her the silent treatment, in that I need to be away from her to calm down think things through, before going back in and trying to engage in conversation with her about the problem in hand. I know this isn’t always right, but immediate conversation following a fight just tends to go in circles over and over and never reaches resolution. Apologies from me to her are met with “OK I accept your apology BUT!….”

    So last month her mother came to stay with us and helped her paint, our home, as my fiance is currently in between jobs for the last 4 months(maybe she’s a little depressed from being home all the time). I came home tired and feeling a little under the weather, I said it looked nice and they did a good job, but to my knowledge later, I found out that they didn’t hear me say that, and her mother felt like I didn’t like the painting being done.
    Then my fiance says I should thank her mother for all the painting she’s done, now I just got home, and not once ever in the 3 years my fiance and I have been dating, have I ever taken/received anything without being grateful and expressing my thanks. But she had the nerve to go off on me for not doing it immediately, I had planned on thanking her for everything before she left to go back home. But it just all rolled down hill from there, I then became uncomfortable around my fiance and her mom, in turn her mom felt uncomfortable being in our home.

    The sad thing was, I was the one that felt most alone and conflicted the whole time, I felt like I couldn’t express myself as it was just going to cause a fight. So the whole week I kept to myself only engaging in small chit chat during some dinners together. This infuriated my fiance, saying I was being rude, and maybe I was, but I felt so uncomfortable, that I didn’t even want to go downstairs when they were in the living room watching tv, just to get a drink of water or a snack. I even contemplated staying in a hotel. My fiance got upset when we argued in another part of the house, away from her mom, that I was using vulgar language and that was rude and disrespectful. Maybe it was, but I felt it was my home, and this was between my fiance and I. Another point of trying to be away I gave my fiance the silent treatment and just wanted to be in complete solitude. Well she didn’t take it very well and actually struck me 3 times in my arm.

    A couple of weeks passed after mom returned home, that my fiance said she felt depressed about being unemployed that she wanted to go visit her mom and dad. So she did but the night before she expressed that she wanted to work on our relationship by going to see a counselor. Now I expressed to her that I wanted to try to work on things ourselves first and if that failed we could go seek out counseling. She wasn’t happy about my proposal. She leaves for her parents home for 4 weeks, she called to check in after she arrived, and said she’d call me back later that night, she never did, and I never contacted her. 6 days go by before she messages me, and she’s angry that I didn’t contact her. That was probably wrong of me to let that much time go by, but I was so hurt/angry/disappointed that she felt like counseling was the only course of action in our relationship, that she didn’t trust me or us to at least try first to help our relationship ourselves.

    Well she came back this past monday, and things between us feel so alien, I don’t know how to act around her or what to say to her, I feel so lost and confused. She expressed feelings of moving to stay with her family, and ending our relationship, but I now I’m starting to think she’s only staying here with me because I’m taking care of her and she doesn’t necessarily want to move in with her parents and then try to live on her own in another state, as that is something she’s never done before.

    I realize this is a long rant, but I just feel I needed somewhere to vent all this off, in fact. it wasn’t until I looked at her browser history that saw this whole “passive aggressive” research she’s been doing last few weeks. She told me she found some kind of illness that matches up to me perfectly except for being late. Guess this is what she had in mind, but she never told me about it.

    I guess I don’t know what to do at this point, I love her, I think she still loves me, she says she does. I asked her if we could work on our relationship first together and if it doesn’t work we’d get counseling, she still doesn’t like that idea, and she hasn’t proposed what to do in our relationship right now. Its almost like she’s just winging it, to see if something else in her life changes (land a job) then she could make a decision.

    So alone and depressed by this whole ordeal 🙁

    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply


      What a frustrating time for everyone concerned!

      My first question may seem strange, but the way that you have written causes me to ask: are you two of different ethnic origins, or very different families? I sense a lot of unspoken things about how things are “supposed” to go. That is a major reason why I always suggest that couples take a program like my “Before You Commmit” course before they live together or make any other commitments to each others. There are several VERY important things that must be discussed, discovered and decided. I’m sorry you didn’t think to take that step because it would have helped you a lot and saved so much pain.

      There are two things that I read in your story that have to be discussed first:

        No one gets to give anyone else the silent treatment in a healthy relationship
        No one gets to be demanding and/or critical of the other persons’ behavior

      You seem to realize that the silent treatment is not a good strategy. It demonstrates lack of communication skills, lack of willingness to engage, and lack of trust in the emotional climate between two people. All that seems true from what you have said. You need new ways to communicate and manage conflict in your relationship.

      Your fiance seems to think it is appropriate for her to demand your gratitude, think her way is the only right way, or use you. That is not relationship material. That’s for people who live alone and want to because no self-respecting person finds that attractive or compelling or loving!

      The statement that your fiance is said to have ADD is a question to me. Has she been diagnosed by a competent professional, after a battery of psychological/educational tests? If not, it is questionable. Is she taking medication for this condition? These things make a difference in my response to you, so I hope you’ll write back so that I can give you further insight regarding that matter.

      It is possible that you behave passive-aggressively emotionally, and are a great guy around the house. The two things do not necessary go together. Passive-aggressive people try to get their needs met indirectly, without being forthcoming about their thoughts, feelings or wants. Aggressive people simply want other people to do what they want them to do, and have no problem trampling on the feelings of others. There is some of all this in your relationship, I’d say.

      You did a generous thing by putting her name on your house, however, it was not a wise thing. You may have thought it was an indication of trust in her and the relationship, however, it may be seen as something different. In any case, it was likely premature–as history has shown, in your case.

      What my advice to you is: work with an experienced therapist. You cannot work this out between yourself. There are too many issues to consider, too much hurt already perpetrated, and too many incidents to work through. A couple cannot see the picture of their relationship because they are in it. It takes an experienced professional to help you with that. Do it right away. (I’m happy to work with you through Skype if that helps. You can book your own appointment online. )

      You are wise to address this immediately. Life is going by and things are not getting better. Get some help.

      I wish you well.

  14. Martie - Reply

    Hi, I fit this passive agressive pattern, except that I am not a procrastinator. However, my behaviour is tearing our 8 year marriage apart, and I notice my seven year old boy is starting to distance himself from me. My husband and I have lost all sense of intimacy, and while I appreciate there might be other reasons contributing, I am sure that my behaviour is not helping.
    Here’s the thing: I do not know how to change, but I know I desperately want to and need to. If this is a personality disorder, which I didn’t realise it was, can it be changed? All of this has me locked up on a very lonely island, and I feel that I am slowly loosing my mind, while destroying those most precious to me in the process. Are you able to make any suggestions, please?

    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply


      I can sense your pain and isolation, and yes, yes, yes, you can change! Kudos to you for stepping up and saying that you recognize the pattern and want to escape it!

      Being a procrastinator is one small aspect of PA (Passive-AGgressive) behavior. PA people procrastinate to show others how they can exert power. “You want me to do it, so I won’t”

      Recognizing yourself in PA patterns, you will also recognize that you came by this quite naturally from the home in which you grew up. Am I right? PA behavior is learned. Have a good think about where you picked up these behaviors. That will be a good beginning.

      Next steps are to consistently replace PA behaviors with non-PA ones. This sounds simple, but it is not easy. It requires consciousness, vigilance and a great willingness to make these important, healthy shifts in perception, perspective and behavior.

      When we feel we have little power in life, we often seek for find some, in some way, in some place. PA behavior reflects this. For instance, PA behavior shows up when a person does not feel strong enough to be direct and say they will not do something when asked. They say they will, and then they don’t. In a convoluted way, although it is alienating behavior, it is a little glimmer of power for them. It does not feel good when doing it, but the little rush of power is there. That’s why, when someone who is willing to confront the behaviors in themselves as you are, it is freeing. You can have the skills and insights to find constructive ways to feel good and exercise power with, rather than over, others and situations.

      Yes, PA is now recognized as a personality disorder, but many people have a trait or two that fits it. It does not necessarily mean that is their only way of being in the world.

      You seem so ready to move beyond the limitations and alienation of PA behavior. I’d be happy to work with you to turn this around and free you into a fuller expression of who you are. We can talk through Skype video and all you need is a computer with a camera. You can make an appointment online HERE.

      Let’s talk soon. I wish you well.


  15. May - Reply

    I have been married for 17 years and just figuring out that my husband is classic, textbook passive aggressive. It is absolutely crazy-making. The examples go on and on and on and on. I realized early on in our relationship (before I had put a name to this disorder), that in order to live a functioning, responsible adult life I needed to take care of everything. There are times that I have exploded, yes, and when I react that way, I am told I am crazy.

    Labor Day weekend came and went and I was punished all weekend because I asked him to wash the floors Thursday night while I did the grocery shopping. I am self-employed, juggling 3 or 4 clients alone, as well as have 2 part-time jobs, and I had declared one day off for the long weekend. We made plans to have a little barbecue and a few drinks Friday night and when I got home from work, he wasn’t home and left no note (which he knows drives me crazy.) He was punishing me for putting a “demand” on him (i.e., wash the floors). When he came home, he sat in front of the TV and didn’t talk.

    I am the bread-winner and consider myself a single parent. There are times when I go on auto-pilot and get everything done but then there are those times when I lose it.

    I’m at wits end and I don’t know where to turn or what to do. Because he will not recognize he has any kind of problem (it’s always my fault, in the end), he will certainly not get help.

    He’s incapable of making a decision, getting off the fence, or helping me with skills he’s strong in. He speaks in tongue, plays mind-teaser games, and gets off subject. He NEVER, and I mean NEVER takes initiative, executes a task or resolves any conflict! (For example, he promised he’d build us a new shed [he’s a master carpenter] 15 years ago! I’m still getting excuses but he has a quiet fit if I suggest buying one!)

    I’m damned if I do (speak up, that is) and damned if I don’t (because I need to take on everything.) I seriously need some advice before I completely lose my mind.

    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply


      Yes, I know how crazy-making this behavior is. I hope you have read my ebook, Stop! That’s Crazy-Making!

      Passive-aggressive people–especially those who are experts at it, like your husband seems to be–are very difficult to be in relationship with or married to. You HAVE to have a very strong sense of who you are, what you want and where your boundaries are. It is usually the partners of the PA people who get help, seldom the PA’s themselves. So, again you are not alone.

      As you are so clear on his PA behavior, I suggest that your next best step is to talk to a well-experienced professional with the expertise in dealing with PA behaviors, and sort this out. You need the insights, clarity and support to take the next steps. Your Labor Day Weekend experience is classic, as you say.

      You cannot change him. You can change yourself, your responses, your expectations, your boundaries, and your perspective. That is what will help maintain your sanity and escape from the crazy-making milieu you have lived in for so long.

      If you would like to work with me, you can make an appointment online easily, and we will talk through Skype video together. Do that HERE.

      In the meantime, ask him to do nothing. He’s likely loving the opportunity not to do what would make your life easier or happier.

      I wish you well and look forward to talking with you soon.


    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply

      Just a further thought for you: You wrote about what he does that “he knows drives you crazy.” What have you done to demonstrate the limits of your willingness to put up with all this? You say you are the breadwinner and you consider yourself a single parent. It seems that you have no partner, just a belligerent extra child. Would you say that is accurate?

      Those behavior will only stop when you stop enabling them. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. And, I can help you stop enabling them which is your best next step.


  16. Doug C - Reply

    I have an extremely passive/ aggressive son that is a habitual liar. He is always respectful around us, is never abusive, or raises his voice. But, he is a sly weasel!- meaning he will always try and get away with antisocial things then lie about it expecting us to believe every word he says. Even when we show him the logic of his lies, He still sticks to his story. Getting him past the “stare” to even answer our inquiries, is like pulling your fingernails out one by one…We are at our wits end.. Plus, He does terrible school work and refuses to memorize simple 4 letter words. We are afraid he that when he grows up, he is 14 now, He will become a sociopath!
    What can we do to get him the help he needs? We are almost at the point where we think he needs to be committed to a special hospital to be evaluated. We had the school evaluate him, but they said he was only BAD..not HDD or any of those designations…
    Thank you for nay help you might pass our way!

    • DrShaler avatar
      DrShaler - Reply


      I know the “being at wits end” feeling of managing teenagers. I used to be principal of a school for at-risk teens, so I have some practical ideas for you. First, though, I want to tell you that we can work together on this problem, whether or not you live near San Diego. We can use Skype video, so, if talking would be better for moving to solution, just visit and you can make an appointment right there. If the times don’t suit you, email me at and suggest one.

      That said, let’s talk about your son’s behavior. I have some important questions:

        Is he an only child?
        What kind of a baby was he, loving, smiling, quiet, noisy, colicky, easy to cuddle, difficult to cuddle?
        When was the first time in his life you noticed “sneaky” behavior? Not just words, but behavior, so it could have been early.
        How did he manage the separation of going to school or daycare?
        Does he, or did he ever, destroy things for pleasure, or hurt animals?
        Does he hold your eye contact readily and frequently?
        What do teachers say about him and his behavior (not learning)?
        Is he physically affectionate with you…even if only when no one is looking?
        You say he is respectful around you. Does he indicate that he is respectful OF you?

      Could you tell me what instruments were used in the school assessment of him? That would help, as BAD is not helpful as a diagnosis or evaluation, is it?

      If you can answers these questions for me, I’ll be better able to give you more specific answers. Until then, I applaud your concern and willingness to search for answers.

      Dr. Shaler

        • Doug C - Reply

          Thank you so much for the reply. I am sorry that I haven’t checked your site sooner. I will work on a detailed reply and get back to you ASAP. Thank you again for your thoughtful questions.

          Doug C

    • Jenn - Reply

      I realize this is an old thread, but I will ask my questions anyway in the hope that there will be a reply.

      Problem: My brother-in-law has always been very hostile to me for no reason (13 years).
      My husband says it is payback for when they were in high school and he picked on his brother’s girlfriend (current wife).
      This seems to go way deeper to me. The BIL has been incredibly mean for no reason. He often vacillates between treating me like I am trash and insignificant to mildly tolerating me.
      Over the past 10 years he has had 4 different jobs. The first he resigned after being repeated passed over for promotion due to his failure to pass his CPA. At his next job he passed his CPA but constantly complained of being bored and not challenged. He was laid off from this position. The following job he accepted he openly hated and felt like he was wasting his time so he went on another job search. The last job he claimed to enjoy. I don’t know if it was the job he enjoyed or the position, but he was recently fired from that job.
      My BIL takes every chance to relish in my husband’s slips or misfortunes. He treats me very poorly and points out characteristics in our children that he negatively associates to being like their father was growing up. Like being competitive or driven.
      The BIL had dreams of joining the FBI and living a life of adventure, but he married a woman who refused to move around for his career, so he is stuck living next door to his mom and dad….forever as far as he sees it.
      My SIL has expressed that her husband has become lazy, irritable and distant. I thought this could be from losing his job, but then I realized he has always been this way.

      My specific question about passive aggression given the back story is this: If the BIL refuses to exercise and eat right because his wife wants him to, is this passive aggressive? His wife is attractive and works hard to keep her figure and appearance, but he crusades against eating right and exercising to the point of being slothful and fat. Is he destroying his health to get back at her? I worry that he hates his life and it isn’t going to get better for the family.

      • DrShaler avatar
        DrShaler - Reply


        Your brother-in-law is demonstrating some passive-aggressive behaviors. Have you done the free Passive-Aggressive Checklist I created? Just click that link if you haven’t. That will help. It’s anonymous and I would invite both you and your husband to take it holding your brother-in-law in mind as you do it.

        It sounds as though your brother-in-law has a grudge against everyone in one way or another. He is blaming the world for his difficulties, and anyone handy is the unlucky recipient of his anger. The behaviors you are talking about are all related to anger, I think. This behavior will not change as long as his family enables it. For example, his wife asks him to exercise and eat well. He refuses and grows, as you say, “slothful and fat”. That is deep-seated anger, so deep that he would rather injure himself than do what she wants. That is more than a demonstration of a passive-aggressive traits.

        He seems to have no deterrents that are large enough to cause him to examine his own anger–even repeated firings! At deeper levels, he needs help. Unfortunately, unless his wife, brother, you and other adults he cares about are willing to set and hold boundaries consistently, he sees no reason to change. He is getting what he wants: he thinks he has power over all of you. And, as he is irritating to you all, he has that. In a very contrary way, that pleases him. He also wants to share his misery but making others miserable. He would like to you feel as bad as he really does, but he will not look at himself so he pours his vitriol on others.

        You are right. He likely hates his life, but he would hate to have to change it because he would have to look at his behaviors and how they affect others. Right now, he feels powerful, blaming everyone and everything else for his life issues, and making everyone else wrong!

        You, your husband and his wife need skills, strategies, solutions and support to engage with him in ways that are healthy for you all. For the first time, I’m offering a Passive-Aggressive Immunity Clinic as a live teleseminar on December 17 and 10 AM PST. You can get some great insights and skills there. It’s 90 minutes on the phone.

        I work with people privately on the phone and through Skype, so, let me know if I can help you in any way. Use this link to book time with me:

        I wish you well.

        Dr. Shaler

    • lisa - Reply

      I have a sister who from reading here sounds like she may be passive aggresive.
      I am not sure how to deal with her behaviouranymore.
      She thinks that our mother treats her differently and gets annoyed saying that my mum doesnt want to spend tine with her.
      Everytime my mother visits I invite her to come and hang out together but she ignores my messages, my mum also does the same inviting hercto do things but she either ignores her or tells her she is selfish.
      She tells others that my mum ignores her and that shes mean to her.
      I feel its a damned if you do and damned ifvyou dont situatio because if I spend any time with my mum she says we are leaving her out and if we invite her she ignores our calls and messages. After 3 invitations in the past 2 weeks that I have sent to her she has ignored them all, so I asked her if I have done anything wrong and she didnt answer the question just said she was busy. Unfortunately my father (who is seperated from my mother) perpetuates the situation and tells my sister that my mum was always jealous of her as a child.( which when I asked my mum she said why would she be jealous of a child)
      I have had this treatment on and off from her for the last 6 years and just when I think everything is fine she starts ignoring me and im left guessing what ive done wrong. I have seen her treat my mother, sister and other relatives like this and in every situation she has said they were the ones being mean to her but all of them have gone out of their way to contact her and she ignores them also.
      I am not sure whether I should ignore or confront this behaviour but I feel I need to put some boundaries in place so she realise she cant treat me like this.

      Any ideas would be appreciated

      • DrShaler avatar
        Rhoberta Shaler, PhD - Reply

        Hello, Lisa,

        I’m so sorry to be answering you with such a delay. We changed our system and it seems your question got missed.

        You are absolutely right to know that you must create, express and maintain solid, immovable boundaries with your sister. She is running the show at the moment because both you and your mother are endeavoring to include her while she clearly has more power–in her mind–by ignoring you. This can indeed be passive-aggressive but it is actually likely more than that. Without spending time with your sister, of course, I could not render a further opinion beyond passive-aggressive behavior.

        I invite both you and your Mom to separately do my free online Passive-Aggressive Checklist with your sister in mind. Do it independently of one another and then compare your scores. You’ll notice that there is a second checklist to do if your score on the first is high enough. This helps define what is going on.

        After you’ve done the checklists and compared notes with Mom, please do come back here and tell me what you learned.

        If you need some guidance in clarifying your boundaries, expressing and maintaining them, I’m happy to help. We can talk through Skype or Google+ Hangout, and you can book the best time for you by visiting

        i look forward to hearing your results and insights.

        I wish you well.
        Dr. Shaler

        Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, is The Relationship Help Doctor. She works with individuals, couples and families. She offers the insights, skills, strategies and solutions to create healthy lives and relationships. Visit: as well as read the blog entries here on

    • Liz - Reply

      My 500 lb sister in law is passive aggressive to her brother who is my husband. I have had no contact with her for 3 years due to her toxic behavior patterns. These are the silly behaviors she engages in to try to gain control in the family, strengthen her identity as perpetual victim, and vent her anger and frustration of having a poor quality of life due to her isolation and weight.

      -Guilt tripping–easily becomes hurt and offended. Dealing with her is like walking on a landmine.
      -Never directly states why she is upset.
      -Never makes any heartfelt attempt to resolve conflict with others and shuts this down when it is attempted. Refuses to engage in constructive dialogue to resolve conflict.
      -Thrives on being passive aggressive and continually upping the intensity of the conflict as if it is fun sport.
      -Plots revenge as if it is sport to her.
      -Crazymaking . She will stir up trouble and then point the finger at other’s upset reactions to prove how awful they are. She acts like a butt, irritates others, and then incriminates others with daring to be irritated. She frames their irritation as the person being vicious and mean to her.

      This is a person who is extremely prone to feeling worthless, insecure, jealous, short changed, unlucky, unattractive, and unlovable. Rather than looking within to change her life and ease her anger, and rid herself of her toxic energies, she continually seeks to find external factors to excuse, justify, and blame others for her undesirable life. She seeks to rid herself of her own toxicity by smearing it bit by bit onto those around her. It is convenient to cling to and hoard grievances against others to sustain a fictional story about a lifetime of victimization and poor poor me. The sad simple truth is that she smokes a pack a day, eats way too much, and moves way too little.

      Why would she ever give up her precious collected insults and injuries? Because without them, she’s just a very fat woman with a food addiction stuck in the house with declining health due to poor choices. With them, there’s an interesting, painful, complicated, horrifying, shocking, wounded, war story wrapped around the fat girl staring back at her in the mirror.

      And the story is needed. And the bad people in the story are needed. And all the pain they caused is carefully guarded and kept close to her heart.

      Because she can’t bear the sole burden, blame, and self loathing of being trapped in her 500 lb self. To assume that responsibility means being confronted with the necessity of change. And the change would take time. And the change would take energy. And the change would be challenging.

      So it is much much easier to just keep eating and to keep on playing the heroine, and to make sure, that her cast around her keeps playing the villain.

      • DrShaler avatar
        DrShaler - Reply


        You have done an excellent job of describing passive-aggressive behavior played out on the physical as well as the emotional and relational levels.

        Actually, I doubt she feels much like the heroine you credit her with being. She is doing what all people who refuse to cultivate the ability to become self-reflective do: projecting everything within themselves that they loathe onto other people. The ego can only look outward. It takes true insight and willingness to pick up the mirror and get in touch with one’s pain, hurt, fears and self-loathing. The ego doesn’t like that, of course. So, project, project, project!

        Thanks for sharing your insightful description of your sister-in-law. It may help others to understand what they are experiencing, too.

        Dr. Shaler

    • K-girl - Reply


      your comment was spot on – that’s exactly the situation I’m in too. I can’t offer any tips on how to deal with it, but I do feel your pain and understand how draining, destructive, consuming it can be to interact with an elderly PA. I feel very trapped in the situation I’m in because the PA in my life is my 81 year old mother.

      Don’t feel guilty for being fed up – you have good reason. The worst part of dealing with an elderly PA is the expectation that the victim should excuse the problem behaviours, protect the PA and not express their own frustration or hurt. It’s deeply painful when the person causing all that chaos, who is motivated by so much hidden venom, is your mother…no matter what her age. I feel very much for you, and hope we both can find solutions to protect us and help us cope with this type of situation. (HUGS)

    • Heather - Reply

      Ok here goes…this is going to be a mess of words but i will have to apologize in advance. I’m starting to go a bit crazy here. After 16 years of and on marriage i have come to the end of it. We separated in March of 2014.I’m questioning everything, I am now wondering if i’ve made all this stuff up in my head. He lied all the time, can’t keep a job, financially irresponsible, struggling financially no food in the house but he’s charging it at work so he can eat. Decided day by day whether he wanted to go to work. I inherited money and each time some money came he didn’t go to work for a few days. I’ve heard from every single employer he was extremely difficult to deal with and he was lazy. He didn’t seem to want to fulfill his share of the work. Used to call me from work every day an whine about all the bad things everyone was doing to him..He was texting me the day my mother died, then proceeded to quit his job that day. Demands an 8 dollar magazine when we have little money then pouts when i don’t get it for him. silent treatment for days and i don’t know why…very little sex if i haven’t cried for it or begged for it… mumbling under his breath from a seated position in front of tv about what my son and i haven’t taken care of around the house that day..every other for that matter Would not help around the house unless it was going get him something in return. Then he’d go on a helping binge and do things i’ve asked him to do then ignore me for hours after. Blamed me for everything that did or did not happen to or for him. No gifts no compliments…tried to drive my friends away with lies about what i’d said behind their backs. (none of it true) Caused me to rage all the time..i was not like that before i met him…He is one of those overly helpful guys who cling to people and jump whenever they make mention of needing help..Invites himself to parties and other events around him that he hears others talking about. (Did that the last New Years we were together with some people he thought were his “work friends” they moved the party to avoid him) i am afraid that now that he’s away from me the “controlling bitch” that he’ll turn into this great guy. Can you shed light on what happens to low functioning (he isn’t very intelligent) people like this.. Will he get his act together did i create this…Another thing…he won’t change his address on some things but has on anything that gets him Canadian government tax credits..he won’t take his name off our bills. I sent him emails about the bills that needed to be changed over…he deleted them after 2 months, but kept the nice one i sent.(i still know his email password he hasn’t chaged it) He hasn’t had any contact with me in over 2 months now.. He had fines on his licence i refused to pay off…he raged about how awful i was as a wife not taking care of it..since his leaving our marriage he’s let that licence expire and become cancelled due to those unpaid fines!! His facebook page is still attached to his old cellphone, he’s got a new one of his own already..that is in my sons possession…What is the purpose in this kind of it to hurt me and keep him in my head or because he doesn’t care about anything that happens here anymore? Will his future be more of the same?

      • DrShaler avatar
        Rhoberta Shaler, PhD - Reply

        I apologize for this very late response.

        You have described a classic passive-aggressive man. Seems he has taken it to new levels!

        Passive-aggressive people learn these behaviors. Often they develop them to survive in their early upbringing. Look at his parents and see how far the apple fell from the tree. He may not be like them, but he may have responded to them with P-A behaviors in order to emotionally survive.

        His needy self tries to insert into social groups, but it is inappropriate and unwanted as evidenced by the party you mentioned. He is unaware of the inappropriateness of his behaviors. Passive-aggressive behaviors are defense mechanisms and their roots run very deep.

        As you have ended the relationship, end all parts of it. No contact except by email or text. That is so that you can download everything he writes to you and document it for further court proceedings. It’s sad to have to take that approach but all that you describe about him tells me that this is essential for you.

        You ask if he will turn into a great guy once he’s away from you. No, because he isn’t capable of being a great guy, at this point in his life. He is going to have to grown up and face reality. He’s not demonstrating any inclination to do so, at least, not in what you describe. Don’t be afraid to let him go. He’s no prize, as all that you have written clearly indicates!

        Immediately separate yourself financially from him. As I am Canadian with dual citizenship, I know something of the new Canadian laws regarding divorce. Look into the new laws concerning inherited monies. He may not be aware of them, so arm yourself with that knowledge. TAKE him off your accounts. Don’t wait for him to remove or not remove himself. Be very pro-active to separate yourself in every way because this is insidious and he is likely to make sure it drags on.

        This man has demonstrated in so many ways throughout your marriage that he does not care about you. Therefore, there is no question that the behaviors will continue you as you proceed with your divorce. I think you need to divorce as soon as possible. He is used to expecting to be taken care of and this will continue, so a drawn-out divorce process is unproductive.

        Yes, his future will be more of the same because that is who he is! I invite you to get some professional help to unpack your experience with this man and sort out the places where you became an enabler of these behaviors. I’d be happy to work with you through Skype to do that.

        I wish you well.
        Dr. Shaler

        If you would like to work with me directly, you can schedule your own appointment online by CLICKING HERE.

        You may also want to subscribe to my Tips for Relationships which you’ll receive about every two weeks. CLICK HERE.

    • sytropin - Reply

      Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll
      just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly
      enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.

      Do you have any helpful hints for first-time blog writers?
      I’d really appreciate it.

      •  avatar
        Rhoberta Shaler, PhD - Reply


        Thanks. I know that it is writing on a consistent basis that makes the big difference. I’ve taken a hiatus to finish my tenth book which goes to the printer this week. Now, I have to begin blogging every week, at a minimum. That’s the key.

        What will you write about?

        I wish you well.
        Dr. Shaler

    • Luke - Reply

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