Passive Aggressiveness and Belligerence… The Dangerous Pair

Several years back, I wrote an article on passive aggressive behavior, and thought it was about time to readdress this from a different lens.

Passive aggressiveness is often tempting when there is an ongoing conflict in a relationship. Some people actually believe that they’re avoiding seriously hurting their partner. The truth is that when you’re passive aggressive, your behavior is likely part of a dynamic that’s destroying your relationship, day-by-day.

Passive aggressiveness is a reflection of several insecurities and internal problems.

  1. Fear of getting vulnerable.
  2. Discomfort with negative emotions.
  3. Always desiring a way out.
  4. Avoidance of taking chances.

This can lead to extreme frustration in your partner. The experience that partners usually have about passive aggressiveness is that you’ll never own anything. Being passive aggressive can be a form of defensiveness. You don’t have to own your part in the struggle, because you can leave a back door where you can say you were kidding, you didn’t mean what you said. You might tell your partner that they’re overreacting.

I think it’s fair to say that we all have passive aggressive moments. However, if you’re not careful, this can become a pervasive pattern. I have seen this pattern destroy relationships.

What can even make this worse is that passive-aggressiveness tends to encourage belligerence in the other person. It can be infuriating for people to feel constantly unheard, manipulated, etc.

This often sets up an attack-defend cycle that becomes progressively damaging to you and your relationship. Both people in this dynamic will jump back and forth from victim to perpetrator. The person who is using passive-aggressiveness perpetrates on the other person by making cutting statements, and will not own them. The other person perpetrates by getting loud, obnoxious and sometimes even intimidating. Neither side is able to see their part.

How do you change this?

The most important rule is this… Everyone needs to be safe. These situations can get very volatile. If there is any physical violence occurring, you will need strict intervention and strict rules in place to ensure everyone’s safety.

For those situations that are most common, you have to break up a pattern. This will only happen when you address issues and make changes. Here are some interventions to consider.

Intervention #1. Know your needs.

It’s very common that someone who uses passive-aggressiveness is actually trying to get a need met. Sometimes, you might be aware of this need. Other times, you might not. It’s your job to know what you need, so you can ask for it. Yes, it’s great when partners can anticipate their needs. However, you can’t appreciate what you don’t recognize.

Intervention #2. If you’re belligerent, walk away. 

If someone is belligerent, a “time out” has to be taken. This can be for 20-3o minutes, but may be for a whole day.

Intervention #3. Take chances and ask for what you need. 

When needs are recognized, you also need to practice asking for things. This will sometimes mean that you have to confront issues, rather than dance around them.

Intervention #4. Let go of control. 

Being passive-aggressive is often a way to try and control another person. When people feel controlled, they tend to rebel. Practice letting go of this control.

There are many other ways that you will need to step out of these patterns. Sometimes it can be helpful to consider a couples therapist to make these changes.


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