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7 Alarming Signs Of Passive Aggressive Behavior (And How To Handle It)

7 Alarming Signs Of Passive Aggressive Behavior (And How To Handle It)

Let’s be real – sometimes, we’re all guilty of passive-aggressive behavior. I know I am, even though I’m aware of how toxic it is.

There are situations when it feels easier to stay silent or sulk than to do the emotionally mature thing and actually express your emotions the healthy way.

As long as it doesn’t happen frequently and you identify it as harmful, there is probably nothing to be worried about.

But what if you’re dealing with someone who is completely unaware of their behavioral patterns?

How do you deal with a romantic partner whose primary form of communication is passive aggression?

Well, first of all, you have to define passive-aggressive behavior and learn all the signs of passive-aggression. Afterward, you can look for the most effective ways to handle it.

Passive Aggressive Definition

young couple arguing

What does passive aggressive mean? Mayo Clinic defines passive-aggressive behavior as “a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.”

Back in the day, passive-aggressive disorder was classified as a personality disorder, but the American Psychiatric Association decided to remove it from DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and it’s no longer considered to be a mental health condition.

Nevertheless, this alone doesn’t make passive aggression any less severe. It’s still a serious condition that impacts one’s mental well-being.

Not only that: passive-aggressive behavior also affects family members, co-workers, and especially the romantic partners of those suffering from it.

Symptoms Of Passive Aggressive Behavior

sad young woman sitting on bed

What are the signs of passive aggression? What are the red flags you should pay close attention to?

1. Silent treatment

When you get in an argument with a passive-aggressive individual, you’ll never get them to respond. They won’t tell you what’s bothering them, nor will they name your mistakes out loud.

Instead, what you’ll get is something else: the silent treatment and sulking. You’ll see that they’re in a bad mood and that something is wrong, but not one word will come out of their mouth.

Those couples who constantly fight in a relationship and have World War II going on every single day might assume that this is kind of refreshing after all the drama. But trust me, this is a red flag!

Keeping your emotions bottled up, including feelings of anger, is not healthy. Every form of direct communication, which sometimes includes arguing, is better than passive-aggressive ways of handling things.

How to handle it

If you’re in a passive-aggressive relationship, your partner has to improve their communication skills – that’s pretty clear. But they can’t do it without your help.

The best thing to do is let them cool off a bit and give them space. Don’t ask for answers right away, and let the situation calm down before engaging in another confrontation.

After enough time has passed, go back to the passive-aggressive individual and tell them that you want to acknowledge their feelings. Tell them that they’re being heard and encourage them to speak up.

2. Sarcasm and irony

Another example of passive-aggressive behavior is the excessive use of sarcasm and irony. Let’s be honest – we all use it from time to time, but the difference here is that people who suffer from passive-aggressive disorder use sarcasm to mask their true feelings.

Instead of criticizing you openly, they will subtly insult you. At the same time, they expect you to take the hint and magically change whatever is bothering them.

Let’s take this as an example: Your co-worker, family member, or partner doesn’t like your outfit choice for the day.

But when you ask them what they think about it, they’ll say something like, “Oh, your sweater is really nice. Did you borrow it from your grandma?” or “I like it. But I didn’t know the 80s are back in style.”

How to handle it

The worst idea is to go with the flow and fire back with another sarcastic joke. I know you want to give them a taste of their own medicine, but trust me, this will deepen the conflict even more.

Instead, let them know that you’re perfectly aware of what they’re doing. Tell them loud and clear that they’re allowed to express their opinion without insulting you.

3. Stubbornness and sullenness

Common signs of passive aggression are stubbornness, sullenness, and hostile behavior.

Actually, in 2009, a team of experts performed a study. Psychiatry Interpersonal and Biological Processes: The Construct Validity of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder, on patients suffering from passive-aggressive disorder.

And guess what? Most of them were sullen and argumentative.

To be honest, we’re all guilty of this from time to time. Nevertheless, when these responses become the only form of opposition a person is able to display, that’s definitely a red flag.

What does this mean in a romantic relationship? Well, you have certain requirements from your partner.

And it’s perfectly normal that they disagree with some of your conditions or are unable to meet your standards. That’s not the issue – the issue is that they won’t say anything about it.

Instead, they’ll begin to fail even more, just in spite. Also, they’ll get all gloomy and sad without telling you the real reason behind this type of behavior.

How to deal with it

The best piece of advice I can give you here is to pick your battles. If you want to try and fix this relationship, keep in mind that you can’t change this about your partner, so don’t lose it over every little thing they get stubborn or hostile about.

4. Constant complaining

According to some scientific studies, there is a close relationship between passive-aggression and negativistic personality disorder. Passive-aggressive people are usually also pessimistic and rarely see anything positive in life.

To put things simply: passive-aggressive people complain all the time. But they rarely protest against something specific.

Actually, they nag and grumble all the time. They’re obviously not happy with their own mental well-being but refuse to do anything about it.

Instead, they prefer spreading their negative energy all over the place and destroying everyone else’s wellness in the process.

How to handle it

If negativity is one of your partner’s predominant personality traits, the most important thing is not to let it get you. Don’t let their negativity take what’s best from you.

In the meantime, you can always do your best to show them all the beauty life has to offer.

5. Denying resentment

It’s perfectly normal to feel resentful from time to time, especially when we’ve been treated unfairly. Nevertheless, it’s unfair to claim that everything is fine when you’re actually holding a grudge about something that went on ages ago.

That’s exactly what your partner does. They’re frustrated and bitter but refuse to admit it. And when you call them out on their behavior, they accuse you of being crazy.

You’re nowhere near perfection, and you admit that you made a mistake in the past. But if they say they forgave you, should that really be held against you for the rest of your life?

Absolutely not!

How to handle it

First and foremost, do your best to correct your mistakes. But if you know you apologized and did everything in your power to show remorse, ignore their passive-aggressive ways. Don’t let your SO make you feel guilty about something they allegedly forgave you for.

6. Devaluing the victim

Passive aggression is frequently connected with a narcissistic personality disorder. To be exact, it’s one of the symptoms of covert passive-aggressive narcissism.

If you’re dealing with this type of narcissist, they’ll use all of their energy to make you feel less worthy. They’ll put a lot of effort into lowering your self-esteem and eventually destroying your mental well-being.

The trick is that they won’t use direct insults – at least, not at first. But have you ever heard of something called backhanded compliments? It’s an even more efficient tool for killing someone’s self-esteem.

Basically, a backhanded compliment is a perfectly blended mix of a compliment and an insult. For example, if you get a promotion, your narcissist partner will say something like this:

“I didn’t expect you to get that promotion. Well done”.

Do you see what they did there? At first glance, they congratulated you, but actually, they showed that they never believed in you or that you didn’t deserve it.

The problem is that most victims don’t get this right away. Instead, their partners have been sabotaging them for years with the help of these and similar manipulative techniques.

Before you know it, you stop believing in yourself. You think that nothing you do is ever good enough, and your sense of self-worth is ruined.

How to handle it

The best thing is to leave this situation ASAP. But I know that moving on from a narcissist is a process, so until that happens, please work on your confidence.

Remember that nobody is more important than your mental health and wellness. Instead of focusing on their insults, focus on all the good things you’ve achieved.

Keep in mind that someone else’s opinion can never define who you are. Besides, your partner obviously sees that you’re way better than them; otherwise, they wouldn’t have felt the need to devalue your worth at all costs.

7. Procrastination

Missing deadlines, showing up late, never getting anything done, deliberately underachieving, stalling, making excuses… Can you relate this to your partner? In that case, you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

Let me tell you that these are all red flags of passive-aggressive behavior. This is quite common for people with avoidant personality types.

I’ll be dead honest with you here. If your partner does all of this, they’re doing it to drive you crazy.

Sooner or later, you’ll complain about their irresponsible behavior. And you know what will happen then? They’ll play dumb and act as if they have no idea what you’re talking about.

Naturally, you’ll get angry, and they’ll just give you the silent treatment and act all offended.

How to handle it

Cohabiting with a person like this seems like mission impossible. But until you leave them, try not to rely on them for the things that matter to you.

Do you want your partner to mow the lawn? Trust me – it’s better to do it yourself or call the gardener.

But this is also a situation where you have to pick your battles. Don’t get annoyed over things that don’t affect you at all.

For example, if they refuse to go to their doctor’s appointment or procrastinate over finally taking that last exam – that’s their problem. Just let them be and show them that their toxic personality traits don’t bother you at all.

What is a passive-aggressive attack?

sulking couple sitting on couch

The passive-aggressive attack is so subtle that many have trouble recognizing it as an attack at first. There are no direct insults, no yelling, and other aggressive types of behavior included.

Instead, you get the impression that you’re dealing with a little kid who sulks and pouts. It’s clear that your partner expects you to read their mind and figure out what’s wrong without them having the decency to actually express themselves in a mature way.

What is an example of passive-aggressive behavior?

couple sitting apart after fight

The most common example of passive-aggressive behavior is an obviously furious person claiming that they’re not angry. But they don’t deny feelings of anger only – they do the same about pretty much everything they don’t like.

If you’re in the middle of an argument and your boyfriend or girlfriend and they tell you to have it your way or that everything is okay (when it clearly isn’t), that’s an example of passive-aggressive behavior.

Also, if they refuse to look at you, send you a good night message in the middle of the day, or angrily turn their back on you in bed – you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive partner.

Passive Aggressive Quotes

couple after fight sitting apart on couch

Passive aggression is a bigger issue in human relationships than you can imagine. In fact, a lot of great minds dealt with this issue, and here is what they had to say:

1. “When introverts are in conflict with each other…it may require a map in order to follow all the silences, nonverbal cues, and passive-aggressive behaviors!” ― Adam S. McHugh

2. “Lingering, bottled-up anger never reveals the ‘true colors’ of an individual. It, on the contrary, becomes all mixed up, rotten, confused, forms a highly combustible, chemical compound then explodes as something foreign, something very different than one’s natural self.” ― Criss Jami

3. “These people resist demands by indirect tactics. They will not take responsibility for their own choices; instead, they turn around and blame someone else for making them do it. Or they will agree to do things that they don’t really want to do, and then gripe about the person behind her back.” ― Henry Cloud

4. “Fine! He is being passive-aggressive with me, and it’s gonna backfire; I’m gonna be active-friendly.” ― Natalya Vorobyova

5. “I was a passive-aggressive coward. That sort of thing clung to your flesh like a smell; rot turned inside out. People could sense it on you; it caused them to be distrustful. It was hard to make friends when you had the smell, hard to keep them when you did make them. You held back from them, and they held back from you; an even trade of nothingness.” ― Tarryn Fisher

6. “Passive-aggressive people tend to withhold information that could solve a problem or prevent one from happening.” ― Psychology Today

7. “Passive-aggressive people constantly talk behind your back, but don’t have the guts to confront you about what they say when you aren’t around them.” ― Albert Einstein

8. “People will push you to your breaking point, but when you snap, they act as if you’re the one in the wrong.” ― Unknown

9. “If you’re feeling helpless and in a destructive relationship, or work for a terrible boss, the only thing to do is to leave. If you don’t leave, you will be caught up with passive-aggressive people who like to manipulate you with the games they play. The best thing to do is to leave the situation.”― Robert Greene

10. “Passive-aggressive people consistently make you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster.” ― Izey Victoria Odiase

11. “Passive-Aggressive behavior consumes unnecessary time and resources. Say what you mean, let’s resolve the issue, and move on to more productive tasks.” ― Izey Victoria Odiase

12. “It’s funny how people post on social media about letting go while having trouble getting rid of the person they want to read the message.” ― Unknown

13. “Anger’s like a battery that leaks acid right out of me. And it starts from the heart until it reaches my outer me.” ― Criss Jami

14. “Most people are passive-aggressive in this world. I have the idea that the human being is born with a kind of reservoir of aggression. We are inherently somewhat aggressive creatures, and we either channel that in direct ways, or we channel it in indirect ways and become passive-aggressive.” ― Robert Greene

15. “Passive-aggressive behavior is often seen in the people who have not learned how to express their feelings, needs, and desires to others.” ― David Walter Rousch

To Wrap Up:

couple fighting while sitting

Being involved with a partner who displays passive-aggressive behavior is anything but easy. They obviously do not possess the emotional maturity you deserve, and the most logical piece of advice I can give you is to run for your life.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s quite difficult to ever achieve direct communication with this person. I’m not saying that they’re incapable of improving their communication skills, but trust me, they’ll do it when and if they want to, not because you ask them to.

Nevertheless, if you can’t cut them off right this instance, please use one of the techniques described above.

I’ll be honest: they’re not likely to help your partner. But they will help you preserve your mental health, and that’s what matters the most.

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