Passive-aggression might be hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. The dictionary says that being passive-aggressive is “a personality type or behavior marked by the expression of negative emotions in passive, indirect ways, as through manipulation or noncooperation.” It’s hard to define, because it manifests in a lot of different ways. “Passive aggressive behavior takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior,” the Counseling Directory explains. “It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behavior, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall.”
The short version? When someone asks you what’s wrong and, even though you’re clearly angry, you say “What? I’m fine," before slamming a mug down or storm out of the room. You may try to say you were “only joking” or pretend that your behavior didn’t have the undercurrent of aggression, even though it’s there. And it happens all the time. It’s the kind of behavior that you may call other people out on — but then do yourself without realizing. You might make a lot of sarcastic comments, be snarky, give the silent treatment, but the core issue is the same: You have a problem that you're not confronting directly and you’re letting it bubble up in other, unhealthy ways.
And it’s tough on a relationship — in fact, it can be disastrous. Even though being passive-aggressive is way too common, here’s why you should avoid it in your relationship.
1. It’s A Recipe For Resentment
Firstly, whenever you’re not addressing an issue, there’s a chance that can make the problem so much worse — it’s just left to simmer inside you. So a really small thing, like rolling your eyes when your partner asks you to make the coffee again, but then doing it anyway, can turn into you feeling under-appreciated and resenting your partner for never helping out. And it doesn’t have to happen. Sometimes, you just need to point out that you’ve been slammed this week but have made the coffee every day and ask if they could do it this morning. It really doesn’t have to turn into a big issue.
2. Not Everyone Will Pick Up On It
Sometimes passive aggression hits you in the face like a brick — but not everyone will pick up on it. If yours manifests with subtle sarcasm, there is a chance that your partner won’t even see that you're upset. And then the issue will get way out hand, because they won’t even realize that they’ve done something wrong.
3. It Builds A Wall Between You
If your partner does pick up on your passive aggression, it’s a really quick way to create distance between the two of you. Because if they try to engage and you just keep pulling back and saying everything is fine — when it’s clearly not — they may just give up trying. Communication is the foundation of every relationship, but passive aggression makes that impossible. Even though you may just think of it as lashing out when you’re in bad mood temporarily, the consequences can be long-term.
4. It Shows A Lack Of Comfort
In a relationship, especially a long-term relationship, you should be comfortable talking about how you feel — even when it’s a little uncomfortable. Passive aggression isn't just immature, it’s a sign that you and your partner don’t feel like you can level with each other and really be yourself. If you find you can only let your disappointment through being snarky or sullen, you may want to take a look at why you don’t feel like you can be upfront with this person.
5. It Can Slip Into Something Worse
The lines between being passive aggressive, sarcastic, and straight-up cruel can become really blurry. If you get used to huffing and puffing and feeling contempt toward your partner, that’s a very dangerous road to go down. Although you might think of it as just blowing off steam, it opens the door to being critical and just plain mean. If you feel resentment and contempt toward your partner starting to form, make sure that you talk it out before you start treating them really badly.
Passive aggressive behavior is so common — but that doesn't mean it’s OK. It’s immature, selfish, and it can actually erode the trust and communication that are so crucial to making a relationship work. So I know it’s easy to let a snippy comment or door slam just happen in the heat of the moment, but try to take a breath and be more direct. And there’s no point in saying “it’s fine” unless you really mean it. Your partner — and your relationship — deserve honest, direction communication.