If you have identified that your relationship is inhabited by someone who is passive-aggressive, working as a team, you can create a better relationship and better individual lives. In our last post, we looked at ways in which the partner of someone who is passive-aggressive can work on “their side of the street.” Below are some guidelines for the passive-aggressive person, should they choose to embark on a personal growth project to remediate this aspect of their personality. These guidelines are simultaneously obvious and difficult:
1. It’s important for you, the passive-aggressive person, to promise less and deliver more. Ironically, you probably want to please your partner. It’s difficult to say “no” to them because deep down, you know that their requests are mostly legitimate. Functioning, adult relationship mean both people contribute with a degree of parity that is not 100% equal all the time, but overall is balanced and equitable. In order to avoid directly disappointing your partner, you agree to do your part and hope somehow you can deliver without any real intentions to do so. This is a setup for failure. Intention is key.
2. Trust is the foundation for a relationship and is the springboard for further growth. The fastest way to rebuild trust is to deliver on your commitments. If you say you are going to do something, make the decision to do it. Anticipate what might get in the way of delivering, and work through a plan to address the barriers.
3. Take some initiative. Do more than deliver on your promises. Your partner is so used to over-functioning that they may be unaware of the ways they overload themselves. Think of ways to take a load off of them. Come up with ideas to nurture them. Think of things you can do that will make them feel loved, valued and appreciated. These do not have to be grand gestures. Little things go a long way.
4. If you come up with a really short and puny list of things for which you are legitimately responsible or ways to take initiative, then take that as a clue that you are being clueless. Put some REAL energy into figuring this out.
5. As a last resort – ask your partner for suggestions. And then do them! And don’t get discouraged when your initiatives are met with reluctance. It’s going to take a while for your partner to get accustomed to being nurtured by you.
6. Hopefully, your partner is taking note of all the stretching you are doing and is expressing gratitude for that. If that happens to not be the case, do not use that as justification for quitting. It is totally legitimate to express pride in your efforts to your partner. Do not do so in an arrogant or malignantly boastful way. Allow it to come from that soft place inside of you for which you are legitimately proud of your efforts and accomplishments.
7. If you fail to deliver on a promise, goal, commitment or intention, own it. Do not hide from your shame at letting yourself and your partner down by getting defensive or making excuses. The best course of action is to make an appropriate amends, which means offering more than a shallow apology. Recognize that too many of these failures will only reinforce to your partner that you can not be trusted. If your relationship truly matters, think long and hard about the consequences for your relationship when there is a lack of basic trust.
8. Recognize that yes, there is a definite interpersonal payoff for working on your passive-aggressive tendencies. Your relationship WILL improve. However, there are also deeply personal payoffs as you grow into the best version of yourself, one in which you are giving instead of greedy, honest instead of deceitful, direct instead of avoidant, flexible instead of rigid, and willing to inconvenience yourself rather than being solely devoted to your own narrow pursuits.
I can almost guarantee with 100% certainty that you will be a happier, more fulfilled person as you resolve the problem of being passive-aggressive. It is not easy. It is not effortless. It often will not be enjoyable to break these patterns. But your life and your relationship are definitely worth it. Often, a course of therapy can assist in this journey. Do not be ashamed or reluctant to seek the help of a trained and experienced psychotherapist if needed.
As I have composed this series on passive aggression in relationships, I have enjoyed reflecting on this phenomenon. Coming up, we will be diving into another topic that has piqued my interest and for which I have deeply immersed myself lately. Stay tuned, and until then, peace.