Living With a Passive-Aggressive Man


Staying Clear, Calm and Connected

  “He really makes me angry,” Kate said to me during a recent counseling session. She had been preparing to ask her husband to join her in counseling, but noted, “I want to become stronger first! He can be incredibly demanding.”

“What do you mean by ‘stronger,’” I asked her.

“He gets me to doubting myself, with my mind spinning in circles,” she said sadly. “I love Cal, but he punishes me when I don’t agree with him.”

“Whoa,” I said, shocked by her admission. “Punishes you?”

“Well,” she answered slowly. “It sure feels like he’s punishing me.”

“Please explain,” I said. “A man who sets out to punish you because you disagree with him is pretty serious business.”

“I’m not even sure how to describe it,” Kate continued. “That’s why I’m here. I feel too close to it to even tell you what he is doing.”

“Please try,” I persisted. “Just list some of the things he does.”

“Okay,” Kate said.

Kate proceeded to list behaviors that fell into a constellation of behaviors we’ve come to call passive-aggression—aggression expressed indirectly. Men, (as well as women) displaying this behavior, have the ability to make us feel like we’re doing something wrong, while they continue acting in ways that are extremely unhealthy. They create chaos and then point the finger at us. Let’s consider passive-aggressive traits and note their impact as well as solutions.

1. Obstructionism: Like children who are oppositional, the passive-aggressive man finds way to block progress. Hating to be hemmed in, he may agree to something, but won’t be put in any corner or forced to keep an agreement. He will do things at his own pace, refusing to cooperate with how and when you’d like things done.

The impact, of course, is chaos. His refusal to be “cornered” maintains distrust and impedes cooperation. You’re never certain where you stand, and never fully know what you can expect from him. All the while he points a finger at you, claiming innocence.

2. Fear of Intimacy: The passive-aggressive male is guarded and mistrustful. While he may say he wants to be close, he’ll sabotage any efforts to spend meaningful time together. When together, he is unable to talk about his feelings, or share intimate details of his life.

The impact is a sense of distance, though you may be unsure of what is causing the distance. He pushes away from close and personal encounters, but denies he is doing anything to sabotage intimacy.

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 3. Playing the Victim. The passive-aggressive man refuses to take responsibility for his behavior, protesting loudly “You’re the crazy one.” Feeling maligned, misunderstood and mistreated, he again points the finger of blame back at you.

It can be tough to gain a firm footing when he blames you for everything. In fact, the passive-aggressive man puts his “spin” on events so as to make himself look innocent, while you appear the villain. As you can imagine, this feels chaotic and leaves you feeling angry, leaving many issues unresolved.

 4. Making Excuses for His Behavior. He’ll likely make excuses for any wrongs he has committed, leaving him again feeling innocent. If you persist with holding him accountable, he is likely to make even more excuses and then blame you for refusing to let the issue go.

This “dance” can make you feel very crazy. You know what he did was wrong. You believe he even knows this but refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Round and round the conversation goes, with no clear end in sight.

5. Confusion Creator. The passive-aggressive man is the master of creating confusion and chaos. By using mixed messages, pouting and playing the victim, he creates chaos in every relationship. You’re never sure whether you see things clearly, or whether he is, as he purports, the victim. You live in a world of confusion.

The passive-aggressive man is a confusion creator, and if you remain “hooked,” you will spin around in that cycle of confusion as well. He remembers things different from you and if you try to get him to see “the truth,” you’ll be hooked in his world of confusion. He twists the facts, rewrites history to put a positive spin on his behavior. This, however, makes you feel crazy.

So, how are you going to stay clear, calm and connected with a passive-aggressive man? It will not be easy, but it can be done. You must master a few strategies.

First, understand passive-aggression. You cannot remain clear and calm if you don’t understand what is happening. If you remain reactive, you’ll be dancing from one encounter to another. Notice what is happening. When and where do you get hooked? What does he say that provokes you into snapping back aggressively? Notice these patterns and determine to remain clear about what is happening.

Second, determine to be active, not reactive. Choose how you will respond to him. In the face of his passive-aggressive actions, choose to be clear with him. Let him know how you see things. Refuse to get into a power struggle with him. Don’t try to change his mind or make him see things the way you see them. Be in charge of yourself, knowing what is true for you.

Third, keep agreements simple and doable. Create agreements that are likely to be kept by him. Choose your battles carefully. It is far better to have a simple life, with simple agreements, than try to enforce complex agreements that he will sabotage.

Fourth, maintain clear and firm boundaries. Don’t allow him to manipulate your point of view. Seek specific agreements, even writing them down for clarity. Reiterate those agreements with him to ensure clarity. When he violates boundaries, which he will do, state your feelings clearly and consistently.

Finally, celebrate modest victories. Understand you cannot make him do anything. However, you can introduce accountability into the relationship. Clarify how his behavior impacts you, asking for exactly what you need. Notice how even small victories create a positive connection with him.

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About David Hawkins

bio-hawkinsDr. Hawkins is a Christian Clinical Psychologist who is a speaker for the American Association of Christian Counselors and has been writing an Advice Column for and for several years and is now writing for He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is the author of over thirty books. He is happily married to Christie, an Interior Designer, and lives on Bainbridge Island, outside Seattle.

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  • Mark

    I live with my brother…and he is VERY passive aggressive, so I feel like I’m somewhat of an expert when it comes to this behavior.

    However, I do have a question about the fear of intimacy. Unless we can study someone’s complete history how do we know that just because a passive aggressive person will sabotage any efforts to spend meaningful time with any significant other? When together, he may be unable to talk about his feelings, or share intimate details of his life, but how do we know for sure that this person behaves this way with all people?

    I’m wondering if there could not be other factors at play here, like a total lack of self-confidence. For instance, maybe the passive aggressive person married someone but then soon after they came to realize that there were just too many things about that person that they did not like. Perhaps they also tried to discuss the issues but the conversations went nowhere. In the meantime the passive aggressive person “may” not really want to be with their spouse anymore but they are just too cowardly to do anything about that. So they then shut themselves down making themselves to be a miserable partner, with the hope that their spouse will terminate the relationship for them.

    In essence, this person might not be suffering from a disorder as much as their are simply spineless and cowardly with no self-confidence. They might not behave this way with another person with whom they might be far more compatible.

    Does this sound like it could be a possibility?

  • Patricia

    Well I honestly have to say that this article hit it right on the head! It took a lot of research for me to try and justify what this behaviour was in my boyfriend – and this is to an absolute tee. He lies to me, dismisses my feelings when I talk to him and then twists it so that I look like I have the problem … he even had the nerve to say I was living in a fantasy world. I’m not even sure how he could say that when all the facts and proof were presented. But even when they are presented, I am still wrong. I can only tell you how frustrating this is.
    We are going to couple counseling, and all these things are being brought to the surface. However I feel as though that I am just throwing complaint after complaint on his lap. He said he would work on these problems because we never resolve anything on our own. I do live in this vicious circle. In all honesty, the sessions are an eye opener for me however I can see that they make him very uncomfortale as he must confront the problems without laying blame back onto me.
    After one month, he promises to be more attentive and understanding. As a passive aggressor …. it never comes to fruition unless the situation has escalated and I vocalize the relationship must end. Then I receive flowers. This is not the time to buy flowers as this is a way, in my opinion, to sweeping the problems under the rug.
    My question though …. can a passive aggresive really love? The constant saying one thing but doing something completely different leaves me insecure and not believing he means it. He cannot discuss initimate feelings whatsoever. He does not think about “us” but moreso himself first.
    It is very evident that you cannot ‘fix’ someone as they must be willing to do these things on their own. My experience through councelling – I’ve had to drag it out and him to the table to talk. This is not what I want …. I really feel like his mother.
    There are, of couse, many underlying issues that has caused this type of personality. We are not simply born with them. So I do agree that there is much more to this than what is seen on the surface.

  • mysterylady2014

    My ex is passive aggressive and this fits him perfectly. He ended our relationship and blames me silently so other people follow his misguided truths. Now, I just have to coparent with him which is not easy to do. I have set boundaries and stated things clearly but then he will ignore me if I make a valid point. I find my life much more peaceful and calm not walking in egg shells all the time and feel it is acceptable to have my own opinon if if differs his, I did not feel that before..

  • nancy

    I think that my boyfriend may be passive aggressive because he withholding sex and not showing intimacy when we do.



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