This week, in my ongoing series on conflict styles, we look at the “delicious” ways of being passive-aggressive.
Rhonda and Bill (names changed) were planning their wedding without the help of a coordinator. Although Rhonda’s job required her to travel several weeks a month, she felt up to the task of having a DIY wedding. Bill worked local and said he was willing to do whatever she wanted, though he thought she was obsessive with her detailed lists. He never actually completed a list, shrugging it off saying, “It’ll all be fine.”
I had a final meeting with them a little more than a month before the wedding. Rhonda looked stressed and exhausted, while Bill seemed uncomfortable. Rhonda was going to be out of town for the next week and a half and pleaded with me, “How do I get him to do what’s on the lists? If he doesn’t do this stuff it isn’t going to get done?”
Bill promised he’d get everything done. “Why should I believe you?” she snapped. “You say you’re going to get it done and you never do. Do you even want to get married?”
Bill finally shot back, “Maybe if you didn’t treat me like an idiot, I’d pay more attention to what you want me to do!” He turned to me and in a mixture of sarcasm and resignation said, “If I didn’t tune her out, I’d lose my mind.”
Bill was classic passive-aggressive in that he had strong feelings of resentment and anger and was unwilling to express those feelings in an honest way. He felt put upon by Rhonda and instead of having an honest conversation with her, he’d simply “forget” to do things. Any time Rhonda panicked, he’d accuse her of not trusting him and getting upset over “nothing.”
You choose to be passive-aggressive when you decide that your partner needs to be punished for hurting you and part of the punishment is that they’re not going to know you’re punishing them!
Two other classic passive-aggressive techniques are giving the “silent treatment” and withholding. In the “silent treatment” you stop talking to the person and then, when some time has passed and your partner asks, “Is anything wrong?” you look surprised and say, “No. Why would you think that?” In the withholding technique, your partner wants something and you deny it to them. She wants you to go somewhere and you say you’re tired. Here’s where the all time classic line comes into play: “No, not tonight. I have a headache!”
Is being passive-aggressive your preferred style for dealing with conflict? Do you like seeing what it does to your partner? If so, why do enjoy punishing the person?!
Please send your questions to JP Reynolds at: firstname.lastname@example.org