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Passive Aggressive Relationships

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BostonGirl posted 12/10/2011 16:56 PM

Lioness, that is really hurtful and frustrating. Are you doing the 180 and taking care of yourself? Live your best life and let him do whatever it is that he does-- you can't control or change him, only he can do that. So hard but so necessary.... Good luck.

LionessQn76 posted 12/10/2011 20:43 PM

Hi Boston girl

Yea I finally had to throw my hands up and give up.

Around halloween he asked to reconcile a week before thanksgiving he turns everything against me. "I wasn't working" "his family is looking out foR him".

I realized he wanted the Easy way let's haVe sex and say sorry and get apt together. All will be well for him save money and have all access to dd.

Then his depression and his embarassment trumped what I am going through.

Its just so distracting.

I told him to leave me alone.

LionessQn76 posted 12/10/2011 21:35 PM


I used the wrong term I meant is this his way of trying to get me to ask about the counseling and get me to ask if we were still going to reconcile since he was going to counseling?

Since finding this group I'm more aware but still learning.I plan on reading books on pa /codependency in the next week.

Unfortunately I still have to deal with him because we have a 2 year old daughter.

And I shouldn't care but I'm still working on detaching and finding myself.

[This message edited by LionessQn76 at 10:02 PM, December 10th (Saturday)]

survivor_kh posted 12/10/2011 22:34 PM

I too came from an overly aggressive family. STBX family was always saving face. I remember from the beginning telling him I didn't want to feel like I was his mom. It took going to MC for me to realize how enraged I had become at the fact that I had to set every rule, every boundary, spell every single detail out about what was acceptable behavior. Before therapy he would play "you said I couldn't do that, not this" as therapy went on I remember I told our therapist I was sick of babysitting him. I didn't need to tell him what I needed...he should've known by now. I was getting fed up. He pretended to straighten up. That lasted a month. Then it went down down downhill. I asked for a divorce 2 weeks before DDay. I didn't even think he would agree and that crushed me. He seemed so relieved that I said it for him. Douchebag. Im so much better than that. I don't need to be told what to do. I'm a grown woman and act accordingly!

[This message edited by survivor_kh at 10:37 PM, December 10th (Saturday)]

LionessQn76 posted 12/10/2011 22:59 PM

I realize the same thing always making him look good. Did you pay the rent before you buy your mommy a computer chair"? Let's get dd her carseat why are you waiting when she needs it now.

It was just too much and I thought I was being pushy

heartbroken_kk posted 12/11/2011 12:15 PM

Excellent article on gaslighting...

I found this on the Huffington Post, author is Yashar Ali. Originally posted at his blog: The Current Conscience -

A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not "Crazy"

You're so sensitive. You're so emotional. You're defensive. You're overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You're crazy! I was just joking, don't you have a sense of humor? You're so dramatic. Just get over it already!

Sound familiar?

If you're a woman, it probably does.

Do you ever hear any of these comments from your spouse, partner, boss, friends, colleagues, or relatives after you have expressed frustration, sadness, or anger about something they have done or said?

When someone says these things to you, it's not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling -- that's inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, "Calm down, you're overreacting," after you just addressed someone else's bad behavior, is emotional manipulation, pure and simple.

And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It's patently false and unfair.

I think it's time to separate inconsiderate behavior from emotional manipulation, and we need to use a word not found in our normal vocabulary.

I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they're crazy.

The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman's husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman's character reacts to it, he tells her she's just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim's perception of him or herself.

Today, when the term is referenced, it's usually because the perpetrator says things like, "You're so stupid," or "No one will ever want you," to the victim. This is an intentional, pre-meditated form of gaslighting, much like the actions of Charles Boyer's character in Gaslight, where he strategically plots to confuse Ingrid Bergman's character into believing herself unhinged.

The form of gaslighting I'm addressing is not always pre-mediated or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another.

Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction -- whether it's anger, frustration, sadness -- in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren't rational or normal.

My friend Anna (all names changed to protect privacy) is married to a man who feels it necessary to make random and unprompted comments about her weight. Whenever she gets upset or frustrated with his insensitive comments, he responds in the same, defeating way, "You're so sensitive. I'm just joking."

My friend Abbie works for a man who finds a way, almost daily, to unnecessarily shoot down her performance and her work product. Comments like, "Can't you do something right?" or "Why did I hire you?" are regular occurrences for her. Her boss has no problem firing people (he does it regularly), so you wouldn't know from these comments that Abbie has worked for him for six years. But every time she stands up for herself and says, "It doesn't help me when you say these things," she gets the same reaction: "Relax; you're overreacting."

Abbie thinks her boss is just being a jerk in these moments, but the truth is, he is making those comments to manipulate her into thinking her reactions are out of whack. And it's exactly that kind manipulation that has left her feeling guilty about being sensitive, and as a result, she has not left her job.

But gaslighting can be as simple as someone smiling and saying something like, "You're so sensitive," to somebody else. Such a comment may seem innocuous enough, but in that moment, the speaker is making a judgment about how someone else should feel.

While dealing with gaslighting isn't a universal truth for women, we all certainly know plenty of women who encounter it at work, home, or in personal relationships.

And the act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting.


Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.

It's a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don't refuse our burdens as easily. It's the ultimate cowardice.

Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: It renders some women emotionally mute.

These women aren't able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can't tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can't tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.

When these women receive any sort of push back to their reactions, they often brush it off by saying, "Forget it, it's okay."

That "forget it" isn't just about dismissing a thought, it is about self-dismissal. It's heartbreaking.

No wonder some women are unconsciously passive aggressive when expressing anger, sadness, or frustration. For years, they have been subjected to so much gaslighting that they can no longer express themselves in a way that feels authentic to them.

They say, "I'm sorry," before giving their opinion. In an email or text message, they place a smiley face next to a serious question or concern, thereby reducing the impact of having to express their true feelings.

You know how it looks: "You're late :)"

These are the same women who stay in relationships they don't belong in, who don't follow their dreams, who withdraw from the kind of life they want to live.

Since I have embarked on this feminist self-exploration in my life and in the lives of the women I know, this concept of women as "crazy" has really emerged as a major issue in society at large and an equally major frustration for the women in my life, in general.

From the way women are portrayed on reality shows, to how we condition boys and girls to see women, we have come to accept the idea that women are unbalanced, irrational individuals, especially in times of anger and frustration.

Just the other day, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a flight attendant who had come to recognize me from my many trips asked me what I did for a living. When I told her that I write mainly about women, she immediately laughed and asked, "Oh, about how crazy we are?"

Her gut reaction to my work made me really depressed. While she made her response in jest, her question nonetheless makes visible a pattern of sexist commentary that travels through all facets of society on how men view women, which also greatly impacts how women may view themselves.

As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways.

I don't think this idea that women are "crazy," is based in some sort of massive conspiracy. Rather, I believe it's connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as "crazy."

I recognize that I've been guilty of gaslighting my women friends in the past (but never my male friends--surprise, surprise). It's shameful, but I'm glad I realized that I did it on occasion and put a stop to it.

While I take total responsibility for my actions, I do believe that I, along with many men, am a byproduct of our conditioning. It's about the general insight our conditioning gives us into admitting fault and exposing any emotion.

When we are discouraged in our youth and early adulthood from expressing emotion, it causes many of us to remain steadfast in our refusal to express regret when we see someone in pain from our actions.

When I was writing this piece, I was reminded of one of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes, "The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn."

So for many of us, it's first about unlearning how to flicker those gaslights and learning how to acknowledge and understand the feelings, opinions, and positions of the women in our lives.

But isn't the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women's opinions don't hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn't quite as legitimate?

Yashar will be soon releasing his first short e-book, entitled, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy -- How We Teach Men That Women Are Crazy and How We Convince Women To Ignore Their Instincts. If you are interested and want to be notified when the book is released, please click to sign-up.

[This message edited by heartbroken_kk at 12:25 PM, December 11th (Sunday)]

LionessQn76 posted 12/11/2011 22:03 PM

These are the same women who stay in relationships they don't belong in who don't follow their dreams, who withdraw from the kind of life they want to live.

Wow that's me alright.
Now I named and claimed it time to make a Change in me. now.

How do you learn how to express anger? I just push everything down.

survivor_kh posted 12/11/2011 23:38 PM

Lioness my IC has helped me tons in that area. Its one of the reasons why STBX and I really started to argue over everything out loud. I was sick of his crap and I started to unleash on him unapologetically. The best thing I did for myself was going to counseling. I talked about my anger a lot and it felt amazing to hear from my therapist that my feelings are normal, that I don't overreact...STBX was always underreacting and trying to control me. Now when I feel angry I repeat in my head "its normal to feel angry" or "I have every right to feel angry because of this". Sounds simple but you start to believe in yourself after awhile.

[This message edited by survivor_kh at 11:40 PM, December 11th (Sunday)]

BostonGirl posted 12/12/2011 07:12 AM

heartbroken, that is a GREAT article--thanks for sharing it.

About expressing anger--this was a big deal for us too. I was very angry about his passiveness and withdrawal, and of course my anger only made him withdraw further. What a vicious circle.

Our first round of MC did a really good job of identifying the issue but nothing to fix it. Every session would end with him saying "I know I need to step up", and then he wouldn't actually follow through on whatever he said he'd do. I just got madder and madder and it was a disaster.

With further IC I realized a lot of my anger was redirected sadness. My husband has also never, I mean NEVER, been able to deal with my sadness. I mean, not even able to give me a hug and say, "I'm sorry that happened, I hope you feel better." Regardless of its cause--when I have lost out on jobs I wanted, or a friend had a serious health threat, he couldn't support me at all. Literally, perfect strangers (on the bus, over the internet) would console me more than my husband ever would or could.

This time around in MC, this dynamic has started to change. He has worked hard on staying present in the face of my sadness and it's made a world of difference.

He is starting to understand how much of my anger was due to a combination of feeling sad/abandoned because I had to deal with more than my share of the responsibilities in our marriage--there were so many things I did because I knew he wouldn't, and I knew he wouldn't help me even if I asked--and then knowing that it was futile even to show my sadness, that he didn't care enough about me to respond to my sadness either.

God, writing that out in plain English makes it so clear how valid my dissatisfaction was...

He is finally starting to understand how much he took for granted and how his behavior elicited the anger he claims to hate so much.

I still have a lot of things I'm angry about and he's doing a much better job about staying present for that too.

The absolute kicker of it all? He never was able to comfort me in my sadness, even through our 5 year courtship. I remember explaining to him time and time again why it meant so much to me, and he never took it seriously, or at least seriously enough to really act on. This was 15+ years ago...our marriage would have gone so, so much differently if he had actually taken that to heart all those years ago.

I wish I could go back and tell my 25 year old self what a red flag that was. I remember wrestling with this issue when I was trying to decide about getting married. I remember finally deciding, I 'll keep talking about it and he'll start doing it because he'll realize how much it means to me. Maybe I was right, but it took 13 years and the total nuclear meltdown of our marriage for that message to start to sink in.

If I only knew then what I know now... a guy with a mild personality is not necessarily a nice guy.

LionessQn76 posted 12/12/2011 09:25 AM

Thanx ladies for responding as soon as I have insurance I'm definitely going to IC.

I need to learn to let the angries out and I need learn assertiveness training.

Heartbroken this article made me cry last night. Being physically and emotionally abused as a child made me a people pleaser and made push down my anger, and have no self esteem,not to mention how intimidated I am by angry women. I finally have to face this. I am not reaching my potential and I deserve more and I can do better.


I had the opposite my X was very consoling and loving during my time of need. Until his mother interfered in our relationship after dd was born 2 yrs ago. Then the affair while I had untreated ppd happen. Now it is chore for him to comfort me which hurts me even more considering our closeness in the past.

MissesJai posted 12/12/2011 12:24 PM

My friend Anna (all names changed to protect privacy) is married to a man who feels it necessary to make random and unprompted comments about her weight. Whenever she gets upset or frustrated with his insensitive comments, he responds in the same, defeating way, "You're so sensitive. I'm just joking."
This could be me...just replace Anna with my name and replace her weight with whatever H feels like targeting that article...thank you for sharing...

MammaMia posted 12/12/2011 20:25 PM

How can you tell someone is passive aggressive? What are the tactics? I am trying to understand if that is what my husband is like. Please help!!!!

LionessQn76 posted 12/13/2011 03:18 AM


This site is recommended in earlier posts.

And reading the rest of posts helped me too others have suggested books on this matter.

BostonGirl posted 12/14/2011 18:38 PM

That is a great article. I have read all the books cited at the end of it and they are good too. The Terry Real books in particular are great and his book The New Rules of Marriage is the one that has made the biggest difference in my MC with my husband--we specifically looked for a counselor who was trained in/uses that framework, which is basically like a playbook for having a good relationship.

Another really good description of passive-aggressiveness is in this book:
The chapter on "Sneaky Anger" is EXACTLY what it is like living with my husband.

sadandtrying posted 12/16/2011 12:39 PM

Thank you heartbroken..

I have been searching SI all day today - for my "ah-ha" moment when reading posts, and this is it!

I learned early on that expressing my emotions made my H uncomfortable, so I began to keep them inside and slowly began to feel ashamed of them.

When I would show my feelings, my H would shut me down by saying..."oh, you're being over-sensitive", "you're really taking it the wrong way", or "you shouldn't feel that way, I'm just kidding around"....

It's so dismissive and demeaning to be told you shouldn't feel the way you feel!
You begin to question yourself and lose your spontaneity...

My H doesn't tend to give value to my opinions about things either, interpreting my differences of opinion as "not supporting him" or "deliberately going against him".

Not true.

As I learn more about P/A relationships, and with awareness and effort, I am becoming less intimidated, and increasingly dare to keep my own power.
It's a long, hard road. My H is responding, and we are beginning, just beginning, to change the dynamics.

I read something once that went something like this...

Truly healthy people:
Feel what they feel, not what they are "supposed" to feel
Think what they think, not what they are "supposed" to think
See what they see, not what they are "supposed" to see
Believe what they believe, not what they are "supposed" to believe
Like what they like, not what they are "supposed" to like
Dream what they dream, not what they are "supposed" to dream...

I used to have it on my fridge -

SI is an amazing resource for us, isn't it??? I'm grateful..

LionessQn76 posted 12/17/2011 19:25 PM

Yes I found my ah ha moment when I was reading.

So glad I found this site.

BostonGirl posted 12/21/2011 18:37 PM

Hi SandT,

That's a very powerful piece-- thanks for sharing it. Lots of wisdom...

sadandtrying posted 12/30/2011 11:02 AM

Going to check out "The New Rules of Marriage" ...

THANK YOU, everyone, for your wisdom and willingness to share

Alonelyagain posted 12/30/2011 21:53 PM

BH here. It seems that most p/a H's described in this thread are WH, not BH.

Here's my story: Shortly after DD, I was visiting other divorce support sites, and came across a similar thread on p/a, and I read all of the linked articles on p/a. I literally said "holy shit, that's me" out loud more than once. This knowledge then led me to go to an IC. My IC told me that p/a was easy to cure once the person realizes and admit to themselves that they engage in this behavior. Essentially, in my case, the cure is to be willing to engage in a disagreement with WW (usually prolonged), rather than "suffering in silence" in order to avoid a confrontation. In my case, I was raised in a family where confrontations were always avoided.

For the wives on this thread, IMO I don't think you will be able to change your H's p/a behavior until they admit to themselves that they are p/a. Being men and p/a, they are more likely to do so if they read an article themselves, as opposed to being told so by you.

BostonGirl posted 12/31/2011 21:16 PM

Hi, Alonelyagain,

Welcome to the discussion. It's absolutely terrific that you recognized that pattern in yourself and are working to change-- rare and wonderful.

You are absolutely right that change comes from within and trying to get another person to change is difficult if not impossible. My H is finally starting to get it and to change, but truly, what finally got him to open his eyes about it was encountering some of the same harmful and frustrating behaviors from his aging parents when he was trying to care for them in their failing health. I finally was able to point out to him how his parents were treating him in the same ways he had treated me and the light started to go on. Wish us luck, we have a long way to go.

By the way, I am the WS in the marriage. Absolutely, my husband's p/a led to a severe breakdown in our marriage--he would not and could not engage in any discussion of concerns or problems in our marriage, just kept withdrawing further. After many years of this. I just looked outside the marriage for affection and sex, which were long absent from our M and which my H appeared more than willing to give up forever. I hasten to add, I take full responsibility for my extramarital involvements--but I would have much rather had that connection and intimacy with the man I married, and his p/a nature meant that asking for what I wanted guaranteed I wouldn't get it.

It's ugly stuff. Glad you're getting past it!

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