Passive Aggressive Pitfalls

upset couple

“Everything all right, honey? You seem a little… off.”

“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be fine? Is there a reason I might not be fine?”

If you’ve ever found yourself and your significant other having a conversation like the one above, you know that “fine” may not mean “fine” at all… and those questions aren’t rhetorical! Passive aggression can get the best of us, but they don’t bring out the best in our relationships with those we love. Read on to find out the top pitfalls that couples therapists in Littleton know are caused by passive aggression and how to beat them with clear, appropriate communication.

Message delivered, message received. At its most simple level passive aggressive communication can be misinterpreted easily. Many couples come in for counseling or couples therapy in Highlands Ranch because they can’t say what they want—at times, the other person may not even know there is a problem to begin with. When we say things that are not true to our feelings (“I’m fine” when you’re frustrated; “that sounds good” when you hate the idea), we are not giving the other person the information they need to make the right decisions. Instead, state your words clearly, trying to avoid blame. Active listening can help. 

I’ll never get it right. For the person on the “receiving end” of passive aggression, a feeling of hopelessness may occur. No matter what they do, the person being passive aggressive just keeps getting angry—and sometimes, gets more passive aggressive if the other person does not interpret the hidden message. This can lead to deep sadness, increase feelings of depression, and break down the trust in your relationship. Instead, focus on seeking and providing clear feedback. “Another healthy meal, as usual” is less helpful than saying “I really wish we could start cooking healthier meals for the kids, including vegetables and protein, even though I know they just want jam sandwiches and tater tots for every meal.” Making a genuine appreciation of effort is also important (“I’m glad to see Picky Child is eating something other than juice today, so maybe the jam sandwiches weren’t such a bad meal for tonight”).

I feel like nobody listens. The person being passive aggressive is not 100% at fault. If you feel like nobody listens, no matter how many dirty looks, irritated grunts, or “clearly” sarcastic responses you are throwing their way, you can start to feel unappreciated. In fact, most people who fall back on passive aggression often feel frustrated, ignored, and resentful. The more “unheard” you feel, the more you likely fall back on this strategy. The problem is: it doesn’t work. Just like putting out a fire with gasoline, it is quite difficult to make someone listen with passive aggression. Instead, consider writing an honest letter to your partner, or contact a psychologist in Highlands Ranch for animal assisted therapy. Zeke, Dr. Lazarus’s expert therapy dog , can help you learn to both “speak” and to “be quiet” when you need to.

Human beings are gifted with one of the most complex communication systems in existence. However, we are not always good at using our words, thoughts, or feelings effectively. When our goals seem impossible, we learn ways around them—and these “shortcuts” are not always effective in other situations. Redirect your communications around these shortcuts and back on a path to honesty and collaboration that will keep your relationship strong. If you need more help, contact Steve Lazarus, a psychologist in Littleton.


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