“Ugh! You always walk away from me!”, she yells to her husband from the other side of the living room. “You get quiet, then you shut down, and then you leave. You never listen to me you conceited ******** !” Their children keep their heads down, suddenly more interested in their mac-n-cheese than what’s considered normal. “Well, ***** you! I’m tired of you always bringing up my past mistakes!”, he says as he grabs his car keys. “So you know what? I’m outta here!” He storms towards the front door and flings it open and briskly walks to the family car, parked on the driveway. “Where are you going?”, she asks. “Don’t take our car! Tell me where you’re going!” “No”, he replies, “because you wouldn’t care in the first place.” He gets into the car, revs the engines, and leaves 10 feet of skid marks from the driveway to the road. As he drives away, he gives her the finger. Real mature, she thinks to herself, real mature.
Ok, so there are probably enough grammar errors in that paragraph to drive his car through, but I think I’ve created a pretty accurate picture of how many marital arguments evolve. Now, if you’ve been reading my blog series, Fighting Fair, then I hope you notice the multitude of mistakes this couple was making before he grabbed his keys. First, no one called a time out to cool out. Second, they called each other names. Third, they argued in front of their children. Four, the past was brought up. And finally, he doesn’t tell her where he’s driving off to and also flips her the bird. Those are examples of being passive-aggressive.
Passive-aggressive is described as a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. Here are some examples.
You're mad and arguing with your partner and slam cabinet doors harder than usual.
You got chewed out by your boss and decided to call out sick the next day (even though you’re not ill).
You've been caught behind someone driving slow in the left-hand lane and when you eventually pass them (because they don’t move over) you stare at them, don’t use your signal, and cut them off closer than you should. Yeah…I’m that guy and I am definitely being passive-aggressive.
I teach a marriage enrichment workshop called Honor and Cherish, and in one specific lesson, I teach that every relationship has an argument ignition point. If the relationship is mutually satisfying and conflict and/or obstacles are resolved to mutual satisfaction, then the ignition point is high and rarely reached. But, if the couple’s relationship is under constant stress and tension and they don't work together as a team, but instead pursue individual self-interests, then their ignition point is lower. The slightest inconvenience or obstacle they face will likely lead to endless arguments, passive-aggressive behaviors, and no resolution.
The trouble I see most often in many relationships is this: Unspoken expectations become unmet needs. Needs within the context of relationships are those things that only your partner can give you. Otherwise, why be in a relationship? When your partner is acting passive-aggressive, they are trying to tell you they are angry and you're part of the problem but need you to be part of the solution, too. Unfortunately, they might feel you aren't listening to them in a meaningful way, so they express their negative feelings by action.
Now, to be clear, just because you aren’t listening to them in a way that makes them feel heard doesn’t make passive-aggressive behavior excusable. However, couples coaching can make passive-aggressive behavior unnecessary while teaching you to express your needs in ways your spouse might understand better, as well as learn better ways to listen to what your partner might be trying to say.
Feel free to reach out to me if you think you and your partner need some relationship counseling. As I mentioned earlier, I teach a weekend marriage enrichment workshop that covers this and many other topics. Now that the pandemic has lessened, I plan to restart this workshop. But don’t wait for that, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to my website at bwcounseling.net and let’s see how we can all work together at giving you a marriage for a lifetime.