How to Recover from A Passive Aggressive Relationship

Recover from a passive aggressive relationship

Recover from a passive aggressive relationship and the damaging effects it can have on you.

Sometimes, it is hard to see it clearly, but it is never difficult to feel its effects.  In this three part series, you will get insights about:

In the first post, I helped you to see the patterns of P-A behavior. They are sometimes difficult to discern because they have so many faces. And, the P-A person is a master at turning the tables on you to make anything you perceive as problematic with their behavior ALL YOUR FAULT!  You know that now, and that in itself is a prime factor to look for in their behavior.  Here's an example:

HE: "Oh, you always bring a little too little a little too late, don't you?"

SHE:  "No, I don't see it that way.  I don't agree with you."

HE:  "Oh, now, aren't we the sensitive one today?"

That last line is classic P-A.  He takes no responsibility for making a judgmental remark, or about the accuracy of the remark.  He simply turns the table and makes it her fault! That's one way to recognize a P-A person and that behavior will definitely lead to relationship problems.

[tweetthis]If anything you see as a problem with THEIR behaviour becomes about YOUR problems - it is #passive-aggressive.[/tweetthis]

Using the same interaction, the response she made was a very clear, conscious choice that spoke only about herself and what was true for her. She did not try to please, placate or protect herself.  This was a perfect--IMHO--response.  She spoke directly about herself only. P-A people want to be in control because they need to be in control to feed their anxieties about inferiority.  In the worst case of P-A behavior, they are simply looking to squash anyone, like a bug, to protect their facade of control.  That really requires us to have some compassion--best from a distance, though, if possible.

I invite you to go back and read those earlier posts if you missed them, so that what I share here will have more meaning. Also look at the possibility that you are dealing with a Hijackal.*


Who likes the lingering effects of an encounter with an energy vampire?  Obviously, there are no hands up on that one! A P-A person can be just that, an energy vampire sucking all the air out of the room for you.  Once you have experienced and consciously recognized their energy, you want to neutralize their effect on you immediately.

It takes energy just to break old habits of response and break out new ones.  That old pattern might have been to get sucked into the drama vortex passive-aggressive people constantly require, and then complain about them to someone else later. Not now, though, you're wiser.  You have summoned up your new approach and offered a personally-based response, as in the example above.  If the person was not passive-aggressive, they would not have retorted with the “sensitive” line. Their natural next steps in that conversation might be:

" I'm sorry. That wasn't one of my best moments, was it?  I didn't mean to sound or be so judgmental." OR

" Sorry, no, I’m sure you don’t agree with me, and I can see how harsh/judgmental that sounded. I would like to talk about your participation and collaboration with our team effort."  OR

"I didn't choose the best way to express myself and my frustration. I apologize for that.  I do, though, want to have a conversation about that part of our relationship.  The plans are left up to me, however, they never seem to suit. There is always something wrong with my choices, however, I feel like I am shooting in the dark without input. I’d like to make plans that work for both of us. Could we talk about that?"

Old habits die hard sometimes and mustering up these responses takes some doing in the beginning. And, as the scenario above demonstrates, even when the woman in that example did summon up a grown-up response that demonstrates that she values herself and is willing to have the conversation, the dedicated P-A person soldiers on!

Now, she has some recovery to do. She might be thinking "What hit me? That didn't go the way I hoped it might. Now what?" Fair question.

This is the time to notice what is going on in her body. We take energy hits all the time and our fast-paced culture tells us to ignore them and keep on running.  My advice: Don't! When you take an energy hit, acknowledge it.  It will help you assess whether you can, or should, continue the conversation in the moment. You know, there is nothing that says you have to.  Yes, if it is your boss that behaves this way, you may have to respond. But, if the energy hit is a big one, the response can be simply listening further.  Words may not be the wisest response.

If the energy hit is simply a recognition of their behavior pattern, you might be able to respond right then in one of these ways:

"I would like to talk about the issue behind what made you comment. Are you willing to do that?"  OR

"My sensitivity is not in question. Tell me more the purpose of your assessment of 'too little, too late?'  OR

"If there is an issue you would like to discuss with me, I'm open to hearing it. Otherwise, I am going to let your remark pass."

If you acknowledge that your energy blow was a big one, you may be wise to leave the conversation with a declaration and a question:

"I think there are things we need to discuss, however, I am not prepared to do that now. When would be a good time tomorrow to talk?"



  • You don't have to engage with folks, even when they want you to.
  • You do not have to answer questions just because they are asked.


Recovering from a P-A person's remark  in the moment requires fast thinking on your feet...and practice, practice, practice. It's well worth it!



Hands up anyone who had a passive-aggressive parent, teacher, minister, lover or friend.  Oh, so many hands!

Passive-aggressive people are common...unfortunately. And, what is even more unfortunate, in one way, is that they had us in their grip during our formative years while we needed them for survival!

By now, you've read enough that I've written about our P-A companions to immediately relate to those you've previously met, loved, and maybe, left. But, are you carrying their legacy? That requires some introspection.  Here are some clues that you might still be carrying that charge:

  • You second guess yourself constantly
  • You think more about what "they' might think than about what you do think
  • You are a people-pleaser, even when it negates or discounts your own feelings
  • You have to do what you do as perfectly as matter how small. Nothing is insignificant
  • You make up reasons or excuses in your head, just in case someone asks you a "Why?" question
  • You generally take a passive stance, even physically, while feeling anger and resentment  internally
  • You feel anxious around people, never fully relaxed...even around the ones who really like you and have never hurt you
  • You are afraid to speak up for fear of the other person becoming petulant, sullen,  stubborn, or even worse, silent

You might not know this, but "Passive-Aggressive Personality"  is listed as one of the abnormal personality disorders with the American Psychological Association. It is a diagnosis, not just an irritant, annoyance, or frustration! People who suffer from a passive-aggressive personality have more limited abilities to reason with logical arguments and thoughts, so they belittle, demean, badger, rant, discount and dismiss other people instead.  Once again, it certainly calls for compassion from us. Living in their shoes is constant tension.

Whether we choose to distance ourselves from these folks or not is a personal choice.  Not stepping up and taking charge of our own insights, desires, behaviors, boundaries and choices while interacting with them puts us in the category of being a 'volunteer' rather than a victim, though.

You can learn to keep your sanity, clarity and calmness in your interactions with P-A folks.  AND, you can recover from those in your past by seeing them clearly and recognizing that their behavior had little or nothing to do with who you are and what you do. You were just handy. So, don't take it on.

Yes, I know. That's easier said than done, but put it in perspective. A P-A person has many victims. It is a stance they take in the world in order to feel superior, in charge, in control and on top.  It's a sad way to interact.  So, it's not about you. It's about them. In fact, it never was about you. Knowing that might make it easier to get some help to recover from the energy vampires of the passive-aggressive kind you've met in your life if they seem to still have their fangs in your neck.

NOTE TO SELF:  A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSON CANNOT PLAY ALONE!  If you engage with them in their up/down, "she hit me back first" drama, you are encouraging the behavior. If you set clear boundaries and learn to express your boundaries well, you can limit the relationship problems these people want to create. To interact with them, it is imperative not to debate because they are not under delusions of logic, order and rational thinking. They are always in superior/protective mode. You will need highly honed skills to stay in relationship with such a person in depth over time. ….which is why they are likely in your past.

RECOVERING from a relationship--or, even a one-time hit--from a passive-aggressive person is possible. It takes reflection, time, focus and the willingness to believe that you matter, that you deserve to always be treated with respect for who you are and the boundaries you set.  If you want help doing that, let's talk.

*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. Linda - Reply

    Thank you for the information. I have a P-A spouse (highly intelligent at that) and am sorry to say that I just realized it after 35 years of marriage. These people are so toxic. It is important to take charge and diffuse them; not always an easy task to do but I hope with time, I will find ways to master the technique – I am committed to achieve this.

    • DrShaler - Reply

      Knowing that your spouse is passive-aggressive is the first big milestone. Good for you. The next important step is to establish strong boundaries and maintain them. That is essential if you want to build the respect required in a healthy relationship. Passive-aggressive people have difficulties when they meet boundaries, making them essential in your case. You’ve likely learned that already.

      I’ve recently completed an ebook called Stop! That’s Crazy-Making! and I think you’ll enjoy it. It will be available at next week. It’s only $4.95 and filled with valuable insights for you.

      I wish you well.

      Rhoberta Shaler, PhD
      The Relationship Help Doctor

  2. EJ - Reply

    Hi, I struggle with you suggesting to establish boundaries, in the first year with my ex I tried, but with a new baby I got sick of fighting and I was too tired. Obviously as the baby got older I stood up again, and he now treats me like I’m crazy, I feel like I’m crazy too. Reflecting on your words is necessary for me here obviously. It’s only been four months since separation also. I am scared of the crazy making situation recurring in my life at work and relationships.

    • DrShaler - Reply

      When people consistently behave in ways we find irrational, it is scary. It is difficult to communicate with them, and very difficult to co-parent with them. In my Parallel Co-Parenting program, it is sometimes the case that the couple cannot–and usually one or both will not–communicate rationally, at first. They have a low opinion of their former partner which they seem to want to hold on to, no matter how much the other has changed. So, they continue with the crazy-making! They still have the pain of many unresolved grievances from the ending of their relationships that they still want to air and justify. My task in that case is to remind them continuously that co-parenting requires that the present moment is the only time there is and that they only discuss what is in the highest and best interests of the children with each other.

      The best way to help yourself avoid creating relationship with other passive-aggressive people is to follow some of the guidelines in my ebook. We MUST be able to recognize P-A behavior as soon as possible…and know how to respond in the healthiest ways.

      Regarding boundaries, they are essential for all of us, in all relationships. If you know your values, vision, beliefs and purpose and consciously do your best to demonstrate your alignment with them daily, you will establish boundaries that can be maintained.

      I wish you well.

  3. Casandra - Reply

    My Passive-Aggressive ex boyfriend keeps leaving and entering the picture, but finally has recognized that his fear of commitment comes from witnessing his parent’s failed marriage. In the past few weeks, we have had several healthy conversations about this, without him being vague for the first time in ages! However he still refuses to do anything about it – like counseling. He claims that he wants to set me free so that I can meet other men, yet emails me everyday and wants to meet at least once a week. While I know he likes me immensely, he is also extremely close to his mother who without even meeting me has already dismissed me! Yet he idealizes her – in some ways he has become her substitute husband, and consequently relationships with other women make him see them as a burden. I was wondering if I can make him see how his unhealthy attachment to his mother is effecting our relationship? Or will that worsen things. At least he has made progress to start communicating and acknowledging his fear after an entire year of making me cry and confused. Is there any hope?

    • DrShaler - Reply

      Good for you for two reasons: you have been close enough to him for him to value your opinion, and you spoke up for yourself. My guess from what you have written here is that the likelihood of you effecting changes that would allow for a healthy relationship are slim. And, if you did, he would eventually resent you for doing so. That’s why counseling is so effective. The ideas often come from the counselor and both parties are free to entertain them more readily. When the insights come from one partner, if the other has any sense of competition, inferiority, or passive-aggression, they may be considered, even acted upon, but eventually resented. The seemingly unhealthy relationship he has with his mother is likely just as you described. When mothers co-opt their sons into the husband role, nothing good comes from it.

      Is there any hope? I think a better question is how much of your life, time and energy are you willing to invest? You are not his therapist, and he doesn’t want you to be. That seems clear. My advice to you is to back up, get a good perspective on the possibilities, and then take action. If you need help to think this through, let me know and we can book some time to talk…or you can book time directly at

      I wish you well.

  4. Casandra - Reply

    Just to add a little to what I said earlier – I read this article and I thought as if you had met him in person! He never used to acknowledge his faults, and still in many ways prides himself for being a perfectionist. He doesn’t have any close friends, engages in self-involved activities only and often uses sarcasm as a tool when I confront him with problems in our relationship. He knows that I want marriage in the long run, says I will make a good and supportive wife to any man in the world, and yet in a strange way blames me for all the drama in the past. He says that he is scared of commitment in general and with me especially, given the fact that he nearly put me in depression.

  5. Kferman - Reply

    I am struggling and continue to struggle with the aftermath of having been with someone who is PA. The relationship lasted 2 years (on and off, a lot of push/pull). I ended it many times only to return but this last time was the last. I had, had enough and could see how impossible it was to try to connect or even compromise with someone like this. What i am struggling with the most however is the lack of empathy, emotion I feel in having left him and not really getting any closure. It’s as if it doesn’t matter to him that i left, how i felt, how much it hurt to just want some answers. He withheld affection, sex and seemed for the most part so selfish in his ways. I tried so hard to be understanding, caring, loving, patient you name it! But I was dying a slow death with almost no reciprication (or I should say, it was more so on his terms only and whenever “he” felt like it). He was a liar, a cheat and so many other bizarre things that i am still finding hard to understand. Everything you think you know about love and relationships (such as wanting to get closer to someone, giving love,) was the complete opposite with him. The closer we got, the more he ran away. The more i wanted to be involved, the less he was willing to give me anything that I needed or asked for! It was like a sick game. If i wanted something– i would have to do the opposite which was pretend that i didnt need it or want it that bad (such as more cuddling for example) to see if he would be willing to “give” it if it was under less pressure (or as he would perceive it– less “demanding”).

    Right now i am struggling with letting my ego just let this go. It’s like im still waiting for him to say “im sorry” or… “I did care about you”. Not to get back with him but just because it is really hard for me to just think that someone has no heart or cant feel. For some reason i cant seem to allow 2 years and the fun time we did spend together and the connection (that i thought we had) was all a big lie or joke.

    Is it really that he never cared about me? Is it true that i was just more like a piece of furniture— there only for his use. And once you become “useless” or too much of a hassle (or what he would consider nagging) then you are discarded like nothing??
    I am stuck i know in trying to get this validation.
    I just need to understand better how is it that another human being doesn’t have the capability to feel and love? How do they simply “pretend” to care and be this great person (which is who he showed me in the beginning) only to wake up and realize that you were only in a dream (or should I say nightmare!?) Did I really mean nothing?

    Sorry for the long post……….just trying to still recover I guess.

    Thank you in advance!

    • DrShaler - Reply


      I think you may well be struggling with the aftermath of someone who is more than passive-aggressive. This person seems to be more disordered than that. As I will never meet this man you were involved with, I’ll offer no diagnosis, of course. What I will do, though, is tell you a few things about people who behave as you describe to help you see that, although the hurt is personal to you, he was treating you impersonally because that is all he may have been capable of doing.

      Here are some very, VERY broad stroke generalizations to shed light on possibilities:

      When a person has only their only interests, attention, concerns, needs, wants and whims at heart, AND, their conversation is almost entirely self-referential, we say they have narcissistic traits.

      When a person thinks only of how to manipulate and seduce another into allowing them to control them, playing with them as some cats do with mice before devouring them, we say they have anti-social traits. (In psychological parlance, we used to say these people were sociopaths or psychopaths. They are now referred to as “anti-socials”.)

      When a person has an overall desire to “win” at any cost, you will notice this in their conversation. To win at one time they say that black is white. To win fifteen minutes later, they say that black is black. It is not about accuracy but about wanting to win, to feel certain and in control of a moment. When you point it out, they deny it. They flip-flop and you can never know where you stand with them. They are an endless bundle of contradictions, and with each contradiction comes the certainty that they are now right. They are critical and easily enraged and people want to run from them. They are easily confused with passive-aggressives early in relationships because they blame others while making themselves the victim. We say they have borderline traits.

      So, you see, you may well have been dealing with traits that are much more than passive-aggressive tendencies. Those people are generally called “high conflict personalities.”

      Just to add a little further insight for you, here is a little copy from the home page of my website,

      “You might be living or working with a high-conflict person if:

        Trust is questionable.
        Communication is vague.
        Conflict management is of no interest to them.
        Emotional intimacy is nil.
        You don’t feel safe to talk.
        You purposely avoid conversations.
        It’s always your fault, somehow.
        You’re never right. You cannot win.
        They assume and presume but never ask.
        They act on feelings not facts.
        They are incapable of self-reflection.
        Fear is their operating system.”

      My heartfelt advice to you is that you find yourself a therapist who specializes, as I do, in these high conflict personalities. They truly can make you question and doubt yourself in so many ways. It is in your best interest, for yourself and for the sake of being able to enter into an emotionally healthy relationship in the future, to invest in this help now.

      I wish you well.

      Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, works with individuals, couples, families & teams in-person, on site and through Skype video and audio from wherever you are. You can book an appointment with her by creating a login HERE.

  6. G - Reply

    Wow! Recently a passive aggressive ex has come back into my life to some degree. He was my first love & first everything as a teenager. I knew something wasn’t right and finally left, he made my life hell for the last year of school and for years after he was either hot or cold when I ran into him in the small city we lived in. I avoided him and all my old friends for years, I didn’t want to but I was so afraid of what kind of person he portrayed me as to them. I was always second guessing myself and as a teenager that is hard on top of everything else that is going on. I’ve had some good therapy and realized what he is & what it was. I was smart enough to get away from him but didn’t know what to do with myself when I did, so be prepared to have good support around you. I feared for years that I was a monster, I know I wasn’t perfect but I am not horrible; it is like their demons invade you & you start acting crazy & you can’t figure out why since they never seem upset. I am going back to my hometown for family business and want to reconnect with my old friends and life there because I am tired of letting someone like this have control over my life. It is sad that someone gets that way and they usually don’t get help for it. I am glad that I followed my gut about him no matter how painful it was to leave. If you find yourself with someone like this LEAVE, you will find yourself turning into someone you don’t like and doing things you thought you would never do, they will set you up and turn you into an adversary without you even knowing it, and very easily get out of responsibility by acting like the “nice guy” that gets picked on while you are just crazy and unappreciative of their “greatness”. No matter what you do you will be the bad guy so just don’t get in the ring with someone like this. Just because someone isn’t thrown punches at you and openly hostile to you doesn’t mean you aren’t being abused. If you find yourself angry & lonely with a super “nice” individual and wondering if the person your are with has any personality besides being robotically nice and things seem to good to be true get help & get out. No amount of love or trying will make them change. They will never be “angry” and it will drive you crazy because it will show up in lots of little ways you will never suspect & hurt way worse than if they just kicked you in the gut. You will never know who they really are don’t waste your life on someone like this you deserve better & if you see they have moved on, they are probably torturing that person to, so don’t feel like you failed and getting through to them. Live well & enjoy your life it is to short to be afraid of someone like this. When you think of the fun or the passion don’t forget to think about the isolation and frustration that went right along with it. Don’t expect an apology either it isn’t in their make up, life isn’t fair and these people are a god example of that but you don’t have to make it more unfair by putting up with them.

    • DrShaler - Reply

      You make some very good points, after learning big lessons in trusting your gut. I’m glad to see that you followed your instincts, then followed up with therapy, too. That is very wise. It takes outside professional help to recover from the damage a passive-aggressive person can do to the ways in which you see and think about yourself, and about yourself in relationship.

      I’m sure you’ll be wise enough to let that passive-aggressive ex walk on by!

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

  7. Marisa - Reply

    Hi Dr. Shaler,

    I realize this article is quite old, but I found it really useful for me. My mother is P.A. (and I suspect has NPD, as well). Though I love her, I find it really painful to be around her. She is quite abusive with my father and, though less so, with my sisters and I as well. It seems near impossible to have adult conversations with her. When I set reasonable boundaries I find myself punished with withdrawal or a barrage of explanations as to why she must behave the way she does. Sometimes she comes around and sometimes she doesn´t, but it´s gotten to the point where it´s physically difficult for me to be around her. My sisters and Dad also struggle with her behavior, but for some reason it seems to effect me much more than them.

    I am in therapy now to right the effects of these messages in my psyche, but I wonder if you have any insight into methods or strategies for maintaining your own equilibrium when its someone you´ve made a choice to continue interacting with. I will be seeing her at Christmastime (still a long way away!) but want to prepare myself so I can still feel like my own person in her presence.


    • Rhoberta Shaler, PhD - Reply

      There can be much pain in being around passive-aggressive people you really love…but often do not like much. I empathize as I had a mother with similar fear and pain. She was difficult–and often unsafe–to be around. My mom had a cutting way of asking me an innocent question that made me think she genuinely cared, and when I became a little vulnerable in my answer, she would cut me off with a “You shouldn’t feel, be, think…..that way because…..” I don’t know if that rings any bells for you but it does make it easy for me to empathize with you.

      We have to give up wanting approval from these troubled people. If there is any little part of you that is hoping for that, work with your therapist to unearth it and release it. Really, as I too had to learn, there is no wisdom in wanting the approval of people of whom we don’t approve!

      Your mom wants some sense of power in her life. She probably had things in her experience that made her feel unsafe and uncertain, and she consciously or subconsciously wants some power. She wants to be assertive but doesn’t know how so she clumsily does things in an aggressive or passive-aggressive way. That’s the “sometimes she comes around and sometimes she doesn’t” part. That’s the “push me, pull me” part of your relationship as you describe.

      Hold onto those boundaries, even in the face of her withdrawal or barrage. Act on them. Up the consequences if you need to. If you say “I remove myself from places where I feel attacked” as a boundary, then when attacked, rather than just remove yourself the first time say, “I remove myself from places where I feel attacked so I am leaving.” If she can make the connection and CAN access her feelings at the moment, you will give her the opportunity to apologize. Then, you stay. The second time it happens, you just leave. Demonstrate your commitment to your boundaries by leaving. Yes, she will find negative things to say to and about you. It will take time, but one of your jobs as a grown-up is to keep yourself safe! You can tell your Dad and your sisters about your boundary and your commitment to holding it so they will not be surprised.

      You can do this when talking on the phone, too. If an email or text comes that is blaming, shaming, attacking or manipulating, simply reply with “I stay in places where respect is demonstrated and I’m not feeling respected.” Yes, again, she will likely retort “That’s a two way street, my dear.” but hold on. Check your words and actions and see if you believe you are being respectful. If not, use it as an entry into a more vulnerable place between you and apologize. Right then, make an agreement to treat each other respectfully. If necessary, have a conversation about what feels like respect to each of you. If the conversation cannot evolve to that level, just leave it with the apology.

      What I know about P-A behavior is that P-A people like to take what you say in a vulnerable moment (or in a moment where your attempt is to get closer by disclosing something tender) and use it against you, especially the next time she wants to hurt you. Be prepared for that. Repeat your boundary: “I remove myself from places where I feel attacked, so I am leaving now.” And do so. If her behavior with you can be shaped, this repetition will help shape it. If your Mom is just unable or unwilling to open her heart without feeling unsafe, she will continue to try to capture power wherever she can. If your Dad and your sisters could also agree with you to express similar boundaries, with love, it would make the whole understanding of what is going on with your Mom clearer.

      NOTE: I’m not suggesting that when you express that boundary and leave that you are leaving forever. You are simply leaving the room or the conversation. That’s the hard part. To shape behavior, you have to hang in…even if she is dancing on your last nerve. Work with your therapist on assertive, non-aggressive ways to clarify, express and maintain those boundaries without torching the relationship. It’s possible. I did it, so I know.

      It’s all about who YOU are, not who your Mom is. What are your values and how do you express them with everyone in your life? I took care of my Mom throughout her time with cancer and honored her wish to die at home by being with her. It wasn’t all beer and skittles, I can tell you. She never was willing to tell me she loved me because she did not love herself. She wanted control and power so much that she withheld love even from herself. I took care of her because of who I am, not because of any major “thaw” my mother experienced. So, I invite you to step into the full knowledge of who you are and how you feel best expressing your values, no matter who or what you are facing. This can transform your relationship with your Mom–at least in your view of her. Mom may never change, but you’ll feel better because you demonstrated who you are in alignment with your values, your vision and your beliefs. For years, I hugged my Mom and told her I loved her as she stood there, with her arms at her side, putting up with it. She knew she was loved, and I knew that she really needed that. Yes, I needed it, too. But, people cannot give you a gift they do not have!

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler
      If you want to talk with me further, we can talk by Skype video. You can schedule an appointment by clicking HERE now.

  8. Jenn - Reply

    How do you deal with co-parenting with these people. My ex continues to do what ever he can to make things difficult for me. Uses the kids as I went no contact with him 2 years ago. He uses that against me also! He even has a court order that all communication to me must be thru lawyers. He of course can’t resist little notes included with the spousal checks, putting kids in the middle and lastly he committed fraud by paying my car payment using my checking account that he was not authorized on. I was less than a week late and he didn’t want the calls coming to him. The check of course bounced as the reason I hadn’t paid it yet. BTW he had not paid me that month’s spousal support that was also due. ( Bank and CarMax reversed the charges but won’t do anything else )
    All of these seem too petty to deal with which is exactly what he is hoping I will do so that he can talk about how crazy I am. I continue to ignore him never acknowledging any of this in hopes that he will stop but it doesn’t.
    He left me for another woman and lives with her so why bother me? I know he is angry that he can no longer control me but will he every stop? His rage destruction is escalating and I am not sure why. He lives with the other woman that he left marriage for. I do not communicate with ANYONE that has any contact with him except our adult children. I don’t even update my LinkedIn nor my facebook as to keep him out of my life. I know that any information he would find out about me he would spin and be ugly.
    Do they ever move on and pick a new victim?

    • Rhoberta Shaler, PhD - Reply

      Hi, Jenn,

      Sorry for my slow response.

      Unfortunately, they–and I think you are meaning passive-aggressive people–do move on and pick a new victim, HOWEVER, they are loathe to let go of past victims as well. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you are out of the situation.

      From what you have written, I would guess that your ex is more than passive-aggressive because the traits you describe are more insidious than P-A ones. The level of rage you describe is telling. Not that you care what his traits are called, though, you just want to be as far away from them as possible, I’m sure.

      To help you keep lawyer costs down, I suggest you use to communicate with him. When you buy a membership there, you can add your lawyers and any other people who have to be kept in the loop, including your children. It is a very transparent way of communicating because everyone can see what is there, if you set it up that way. When dealing with someone like your ex, transparency is just what he doesn’t want. Lawyers–big surprise–can be manipulative and manipulated. That’s what they are paid for. Clear communication everyone can read, not so much!

      So, you are doing the right things: no contact, no emails, no texts, no interaction. Use Our Family Wizard to make that possible and make it clear to all concerned that that is the only way you will communicate.

      And, no, the truth is that people like your ex seldom change. I say seldom because I have worked with P-A folks who really wanted to change and they did. But usually, it is their partners that have to change. They need stronger boundaries and clear communication with excellent follow-through. Unfortunately, most often, people like your ex choose people they think they can put down, belittle, discount, backstab, AND control. When they cannot, they become enraged and vindictive.

      Hope that helps. I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

      Rhoberta Shaler, PhD
      The Relationship Help Doctor

  9. Karen B. - Reply

    I left my husband of 19 years about three and a half years ago. He was passive-aggressive and I lived with his silent treatment for months at a time. We have been divorced for almost three years now and he vowed he wouldn’t speak to me again and he hasn’t, thankfully (now).
    The problem is that I no longer have any inkling of an attraction to men at all. I look at them and feel nothing but pity for them and disgust. I feel that they are weak, spineless creatures that have no ability to discern what they are feeling and act on it. They try to control everyone around them by being manipulative and mean and they have no idea how to have a real relationship. My feelings are confirmed every time I pass a man who tells me to “smile” or calls me “blondie”. I went on one date last year and although the man was nice and we had some laughs over a drink, I never returned his calls or texts and really don’t care at all about it.
    At this point I can’t ever imagine sharing my bed, my home, my bathroom with a man. The thought of it makes my skin crawl.
    Will I ever be able to overcome these feelings? Will I ever be able to be in a relationship again or find a man attractive? Am I really that damaged?

    • Rhoberta Shaler, PhD - Reply


      Yes, is the answer to being able to overcome these feelings. Yes, is the answer to ever being able to be in a relationship again. But, honestly, I don’t know if you will overcome these feelings without getting some help. This is likely not something you can do on your own (or you would have after three years, right?)

      The reason I say that is because of your history. Living with a passive-aggressive person for so long, especially one who is so insecure and so unskilled that he uses the silent treatment, really affects you, your image of yourself, and your confidence. You’ve lost some pieces of yourself along the way, or, at a minimum, suppressed them. This usually takes some help to change.

      It’s not really about “overcoming these feelings” or “really being that damaged.” It’s about finding out who you are now, without this man. His impact is deep and far-reaching. We have to uncover those nineteen years and excavate the accommodations you have made. Only then will you be able to move forward as clean and clear of the past as possible.

      I’m happy to work with you, if that helps. No matter where you are in the world, we can talk through Skype or Google+ Just visit to make a time to talk. You can book a half-hour free consultation there, too.

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

  10. CM - Reply

    I am in the process of leaving a 10 plus year marriage to a military member. I’ve known for a long time that he was passive aggressive but I just thought that was his was way of arguing or dealing with CONFLICT.

    In the last 12 years I look back now and see so much more uses on a daily or weekly basis to do with this disorder as its called. On top of being PA, hes severely negative. His metaphorical glass could only be missing a SIP, yet he would consider it empty. He is also some what narsasistic but most PA.

    I fear it has had more damage on me that I realize. We are still in the divorce process, negoitating terms and he will back out of his own suggested terms as now he is afraid it won’t suit HIM to do xyz anymore. Prior to getting him to give me terms it was like PULLING TEETH!!!! Dodging and gliding away from all attempts to converse until I stopped playing his game.

    I recently told him I was done being his verbal punching bag. That he has been dishing out his emotions like this for years. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. From all topics, money, emotions, infertility, and sexual acts. The later attempted to being held over my head in attempts to GUILT me into doing acts I was uncomfortable with. Using love as an excuse for why I should do them and disregarding my feelings of disrespect.

    He refused counseling early on in our marriage when he sexually cheated, then he left the relationship. We were so young when we got married I gave him a second chance. Then years later, after I was going for myself and a second emotional infidelity (with the first same woman) he finally went with me. However he would never accept fault, open up to feelings or that it was a safe place to talk. Nothing.

    I see this cycle of abuse on google images and its the same cycle I have described to my best friend for the last three years. Then purposesly withholding stuff from me…flowers at my college graduation (which was hard enough right after my father passed suddenly), purposely withholding small attention/affection because he wasn’t getting sexual intercourse. “Forgetting” our anniversary after YEARS of being together and never being dependable for much of anything.

    I won’t lie in the last few years he somehow managed to slightly be better but after more than a decade of hurt I just couldn’t do it anymore.

    I feel slightly lucky that I did have time to myself while he was traveling for training and so on to be ME…. and not be constantly exposed to his berading.

    How do I stop this all from damaging something amazing when it comes along. I know it will… I know I’m worth it. I know someone will love me even with my flaws and damage but still.

    • Rhoberta Shaler, PhD - Reply


      Such a great question: “How do I stop this all from damaging something amazing when it comes along?” So wise to work this through!

      You are right. Your husband’s behavior is more than passive-aggressive. Living with this is crazy-making, and it causes you to question yourself so often, I know. I’m glad that you were able to have some time for self-reflection and personal development.

      Did you work with a professional yourself to gain insight, perspective, and clarity? That’s so important when you’ve lived in this “alternate reality” for so many years. I know, my clients who have been or who are working on leaving similar situations says that having me to hold the vision of what is healthy really helps. It’s a long story to unravel alone.

      So, to answer your wise question, here are my thoughts:

        Work with a therapist to shine light on the dark places within your relationship to understand what was going on (so you don’t go there again)
        Revisit what is important to you in life, e.g. your values, your vision of what you want your life to look like, your beliefs, and your contributions. You have a new opportunity to recreate your life.
        Look at your self-talk and remove anything that is an echo of what your soon-to-be-ex has told you about yourself
        know that you are now in charge of glasses and the perception of their fullness
        Work with your therapist to separate out what has happened in the past that made this man’s behavior acceptable to you for so long. (Yes, I know you hated it, but, the truth is you didn’t hate it enough to leave.)
        Find new people and interests so that you can leave the story of this marriage where it belongs: in the past. Start new relationships untainted by telling your story.

      There are many other things I would work with you on if you became my client. I hope this list helps you get started.

      If it’s helpful to you, I offer a free one-time half-hour consultation. You can schedule that at

      I wish you well.
      Dr. Shaler

      P.S. You might enjoy my YouTube channel:

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