Does Your Partner Drive You Nuts? The Passive Aggressive Personality

Ellyn Bader

Asking your mate to empty the dishwasher should theoretically be totally devoid of drama or tension. It’s just one of many chores necessary to keep your home functioning–right?

However, with a passive aggressive personality, any situation has the potential to go from the trivial to emotional combat.

It started with the simple question from my wife, Ellyn, “Pete did you empty the dishwasher?”

I didn’t respond but begrudgingly left the History Channel and headed for the kitchen, knowing I had agreed to do it before now.

 

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I hadn’t put more than three coffee cups into the cupboard when Ellyn informed me I wasn’t unloading the dishwasher properly.

“Oh, really just what do you suggest?” said I, packing 100 pounds of sarcasm into that question without a shred of genuine curiosity.

Ellyn – seemingly stunningly oblivious – responded as though I had some interest in learning a better way. “Empty the bottom rack first so dishes don’t get dripped on when you empty the top rack.”

I fired the second salvo of sarcasm when thanking her for the lessons on dishwasher liberation.

Many times Ellyn has gotten mad at me for not following through with an agreement. This was the real problem for Ellyn and the dishwasher. After I’d blown numerous promises, she would understandably get tense in her voice and face while expressing her frustration.

OK, so far this is pretty normal stuff for most marriages. But I could take it to new heights. I would criticize Ellyn for the way she got mad at me. I’d change the topic. The problem became her unreasonable way of expressing disappointment instead of my broken agreement.

Doing this tricky psychological maneuver took absolutely no effort, thinking or planning on my part. Just pure instinct. The implication was that if she would just change the way she expressed her frustration the problem would be solved. Better yet, if she just had more patience, I would eventually get around to getting it done.

Poor Ellyn, she was doomed if she got angry and doomed if she said nothing. Welcome to the crazy world of the passive aggressive partner.

Although I wasn’t a full fledged, card carrying passive aggressive personality, I had the qualifications to be an honorary member of the club.

Want more help? Check out our audio workshop on passive aggressive partners.

Here’s a big secret about this problem. Passive aggressive behavior is a very difficult challenge for couples. The passive aggressive person is a pain to live with and very hard to change.

Here’s why. Passive-aggressive people are typically hypersensitive to actual or perceived criticism.  Especially when they don’t follow through with promises. Here’s the kicker. They have great gobs of good reasons for not following through with crucial agreements.

For example, I could blame my failure to complete agreements on ADD. Or I might say that I suffer from a condition of temporary and intermittent cognitive slippage (which is only a devious description of being lazy and forgetful).

This is a problem that affects both partners, but in different ways. The passive aggressive person generally feels they are under assault and no matter what they do, they cannot please their partner. “Jeez, I can’t even empty the dishwasher right!”

The other partner believes they cannot depend on the passive aggressive mate to reliably follow through. Even if I am 80% reliable, as I would sometimes point out to Ellyn, she has no idea what the 80% will be or when it will be completed. This screws up the logistical part of being an effective team which supports being an effective couple.

So what causes this aggravating problem that painfully affects both partners in different ways? Most passive aggressive folks have two things in common:

1. A highly critical parent or parents, resulting in a high sensitivity to being judged on performance.

2. A lot of painful disappointments in life. This results in a reflexive coping mechanism that severely restricts their hopes and desires in life. Minimizing desires is a subconscious attempt to avoid getting hopes up and then dashed which triggers a warehouse of painful disappointments stored in the emotional brain.

It becomes much easier for passive aggressive people to say what they don’t want than what they do want.

It’s like running life’s race with your shoelaces tied. But the frustration of living a life of pinched desires leaks out in being “obstructionistic” – to their spouse, therapist, boss, and anyone else that might have a say, or at least a suggestion, about what they should do.

“I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, including myself,” said Bill, who has a passive aggressive personality. This is not an easy mind-set for a spouse to live with.

All in all nobody is happy.

Passive aggressive behavior can show up in other subtle ways. Hard core passive aggressive people rarely initiate doing leisure joint activities, buying things, going places, celebrating special occasions, planning surprises, or giving compliments, and they often have a hard time buying gifts.

So what can you do? This is a complex question with no easy answer. The solutions to this problem are extremely hard to summarize with the clarity and brevity required for a newsletter column. Next month I’ll describe why passive aggressive behavior is a systemic problem and what both partners need to do. In the meantime, it should be some small comfort to understand some of the challenges and to recognize what you’re dealing with.

About 

Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., and her husband, Dr. Peter Pearson, are founders and directors of The Couples Institute and creators of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy.

Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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  1. Mimdful

    Nicely done enriches my mind with more ability to deal with all the day to day dificulty i face

  2. DLC

    Thank you for this article. I have been having problems with my spouse over similar things mentioned in your writing (tiny things that start a full blown fight, leaving both of us hurting, angry, and one of us sleeping on the couch). I felt my spouse had a more passive personality than I did and that was causing a lot of the tension. I tried looking through books, websites, and articles for advice. I hoped that I could bring some of the terms and explanations to his attention so that we could hash things out easier, but most of the things I find about passivity or passive aggression sounds too extreme. They talk about how our partner secretly delights in the stress they cause, how they will take out credit cards in our name, run up the balance and leave us with the bill; things that to the average person (with a SLIGHT passive tendency) sound ridiculous. You gave me something to work with that is a normal everyday application, something that sounds non-threatening. And for that I thank you.

    • kim

      Testimony on how I fix my marriage. Here is my story to the world on how i got my love back and saved my marriage. I really love James so much that i can not even do without. I was married for 7years with 2kids and we lived happily until things started getting ugly and we had fight and argument almost every time… it got worse at a point that he filed for divorce… I tried my best to make him change his mind & stay with me because i love him with all my heart and didn’t want to lose him but everything just proved abortive… He moved out of the house and still went ahead to file for divorce… I pleaded, cried and tried everything but still nothing worked. The breakthrough came when someone introduced me to this wonderful man who eventually helped me out with spell… I have never done things like this before but just decided to try reluctantly because I was desperate and left with no choice… He did special prayers and used herbs… Within two days james called me and was sorry for all the emotional trauma he had cost me, moved back to the house and we continue to live happily, the kids are happy too and we are expecting our third child. I have introduced him to a lot of couples with problems across the world and they have had good news… Just thought I should spread my experience cause I strongly believe someone out there needs it. You can email DR Thomas via ([email protected] com or +2348062216903) Don’t give up just yet, the different between “Ordinary” & “Extra-Ordinary” is the “Extra” so make extra effort to save your marriage/relationship if it’s truly worth it.

  3. MrsBalta

    I have been dealing with my spouses behavior for 12 years it was up until I was looking for sites on signs the marriage was over I ran across passive aggressive behavior, that I see exactly who my husband is. I thought he was just purely evil and didn’t love me anymore. Now that I havr a better insight on his mind and tactics, I now after 12 years understand how to deal with him and open his eyes to how he has been abusive. He is a little calmer and surprised that I found him out. I’m not going to let my guard down, because I know as they say they are very difficult to change if never. Thanks for your research and help.

  4. Freya

    Thank you for the smplicity of this, and the perspective. I’ve been looking for an understanding of what’s been happening in my relationship and I’ve found it. Next question, for me, is why I’ve attracted it…

    • I also have wondered why I attractive p/a people. Twice now, I have got burned by these people. It seems they can sense we have a helpful nature and we make an excellent prey for them to lease out their “stuff” on us. Perhaps we ourselves have an somewhat dependent way and we look for a soft place to land? Another thought, a taker can always smell a giver.

  5. I am also dealing with a passive aggressive husband and it is truly driving me crazy. He loves to look like the calm cool collective man that he is not especially when all the kids and their spouses come home. I have been married for close to 35 years!!! I just don’t think I can take it any longer. Divorce is not an option, but going insane isn’t either. From the 2nd year of marriage I have asked him to go with me to counseling….He will NOT do it cause there is nothing wrong with him! I am the only one with a problem. I have gone to couseling myself and it does help me to cope. He says one thing and does another…..he procrastinates…he never asks me before he turns the oven off (ruins the dinner), or puts the clothes in the dryer (shrinks clothes), hides items from me, does everything the opposite of how I ask him to do it….says he can do it anyway he wants. Yikes!! It is worse then having a child or an out of control animal in the house. If I set something in a certain place in my home, in my room…etc…..he will change everything. And when I can’t find it or when I am angry he gets such a smirk on his face…..I feel like I am in a never ending nightmare!

    • Rebecca

      All I can say is, “Me, too!”

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for this information and especially for the website. I love my husband of 30 years very much. We’ve been working on these issues because he had such a terrible childhood he was left damaged. There is hope, folks. Give your passive-aggressive spouse the information; if he really wants to stay married he won’t procrastinate anymore. He’ll start reading about it, get embarrassed and finally start changing back into the person you married. I say this because it’s happening for my relationship, now. It takes time and patience. I have to remind myself he’s like this because of a rotten childhood, not because he hates me. It’s hard, never let your guard down. But, if you love them enough, work with your passive aggressive partner to help them change. They really can change if they want to and have a bit of help.

    • Dusty

      I’ve been married for 35 years to a passive aggressive spouse. For 27 years I knew something was wrong in the marriage, but I thought it was all my fault. I thought I must be asking wrong. 8 years ago, I learned I had breast cancer. After 3 surgeries, chemo, and radiation, I am doing ok. When I was diagnosed, it became extremely clear to me that it was not my fault and that he was a passive aggressive spouse. He was never there for our children (never his fault) has never apologized for anything, if I ask him a question, he won’t answer. He’s now talking about retiring, and I am miserable. I’ve been a stay at home mom since 1984. I’m now 63 years old, and hate the thought of starting over at this age. Right now, my 89 year old mom is 1000 miles away and is having health issues. I’ve learned not to tell him anything because he will just come back and say it’s all my fault. Well, at least I feel better for venting. Still not sure what path to take – I really don’t enjoy doing activities with him any more. If we go somewhere, he won’t talk to me in the car at all, then when we get to the activity with friends, he is as charming as he can be. Everyone tells me how lucky I am to have him because he’s such a great guy. He’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!

  6. I have been married 27 years. My husband’s passive aggressive behavior has almost killed me literally. The past 3 years has been most emotionally stressed for me. Being treated for stress, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of weight, fighting depression, I couldnt handle his behavior and get well in my body. I. packed and ran for my life, my sanity, and a even a chance to save the marriage. The separation has been extremely painful especially with unanswered questions. I couldn’t figure out if I was crazy, didn’t understand my husband crazy-making behavior until one my girlfriends described my husband as passive aggressive. After coming across websites like this has given me a since of relie. Everything I’ve read about PAs fits my husband to a T. And i tried to get him
    to take a look at the symptoms.However, instead of seeing it as a way for our relationship to get
    better, he felt I was attacking him as PAs often do. It doesn’t matter what concerns or issues I try to discuss with him, gently or not, crying or not, he saw it as me attacking him, blaming him. He does not take responsibility or accountability for anything. He
    completely shuts down on me and quietly punishes me or get back at me. 99% of the time he does not
    communicate with me about anything. Only when he wanted something from me, he would communicate. Any concerns I had, he would totally ignore. It amazes me how he would stonewall
    me. Not just for days but months! He totally detach himself from me with no intention or concern of
    working through the problem. So I could never get him to show any concerns for my feelings, which
    chips away at your self esteem. It said that i didnt matter. When in a corner, he would blatantly lie.
    Present himself has calm but full of anger which i would later have to suffer the consequences through his undermining way. I would beg, plead, cry, pray, trying to get him to treat me right, trying to
    get him to make this marriage work. Have asked him WHY countless times.. To no avail. We’ve gone to counseling twice in past 3 years. Each time he never finish. Two different therapist required work
    from him. He didnt like that and stop going but yet said he would do anything to save marriage (lie)
    He NEVER explained to me why he stopped going. Being exhausted emotionally, physically, I didn’t bother to ask why. It had gotten to be too much for me. His behavior was as if the counseling never
    happened or existed. Much like how he’s treating me now. Together over 30 years and he has
    discarded me like a piece of trash. Refusing to communicate with me. Taking every opportunity to be
    spiteful to me. Ive learned because he doesn’t know how to deal with his anger, he cannot accept
    responsibility or accountability, he only surround himself around those that do not hold him
    accountable and thinks he’s the best thing since slice bread. He creates his own world that makes him comfortable.. In the relationship, either I had to accept him and his abusive behavior or jump
    ship. I held on for as long as I could. Suffering with stress, in and out of ER, no reasoning with him,
    absolutely emotionally exhausted. It seem the more I begged him, the worse he got. It was as if he
    thrived on my misery. What happened to this man? … I had to decide whether I wanted to live or die. It
    was THE HARDEST decision I have made in my life as my family is most important to me. However, abuse overt or covert is unacceptable. I never thought I would be in this place at this point of my life. My heart is still open to saving my marriage if my husband recognize his issue and seek help for it.

    • I read your history and thought you were describing my story. HOWEVER: my now ex-husband stopped having sex with me 20 years ago; stopped sleeping in the same room with me 16 years ago; lied about working; criticized my job (I supported the family x 24 years); stopped doing things as a family 8 years ago; started biking 6 years ago and forgot that he had a family; has not worked FT in 16 years; consulted even though his financial contribution was bare bones; belittled me in front of our daughter and his friends for years. Now we are divorced and he has yet to move his personal belongings out of the house; the basement and garage areas remain in a hoarding state. What my question is: WHY would I stay married to a person who is neither a man; a father or a husband for 24 years? Is it because we had a child? This male person was NOT a provider for his family; a mooch; a person who was not able to provide spiritual/ emotional/ intimacy/ financial efforts to a marriage.

      • I only say this out of empathy for you. Get out of the marriage. He isn’t EVER going to change. Best predictor of his future behavior is looking at his past. In all this time he isn’t even willing to admit he has a problem. I hate divorce-been thru it twice-I would never recommend it-but in your case I am sorry. For your own happiness and sanity-GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT! of your marriage. Go find the happiness you deserve, it starts with getting out.

    • Wow: I have read your testimony. I feel like you wrote my life with my now ex-husband. I could take it anymore. He sucked all the joy out of my life. I to feel if he were to change I would take him back. Im not counting on it though. The one most crazy behaviors my ex husband had was. If I asked he him anything, his response was always NO. He meant Yes. In his head Yes was always the answer. Then a fight would occur cuz I could never understand the NO. He would say I never said that. So on and so on. I would turn and mouth to myself WTF. I was loosing who I was. I thought I was going crazy. My third child just graduated from high school. I feared what my life would have been like with just us. I did meet a man. I enjoyed his conversation a lot. Because it was normal. I did try for a year to get him to understand how I was feeling. I went online, read books, went to therapist, pastors. After awhile I could tell he had no interest. The covert abuse was rampant. I just ended the marriage. I feel stuck in my feelings. This was not what I wanted for myself. The is so much more. I feel I could write a book. It was an extremely hard decision. Good luck

    • HL

      My heart hurts and so relieved at the same time. I have been with my husband for almost 6 years, we have a 2yr old and this is exactly what I’ve been going through. He shuts down, blank stares, does not take accountability, unreliable but shows up. will mess up, do something wrong, never follows thru 100% (not based on perception but a fact) he will not feel or show any remorse. In fact if I point it out or upset because he promised he would do something and doesn’t then it’s my fault and he tells me that I just talk to much. I asked, begged, pleaded, cried, got loud and angry, practically had panic attacks lately and he just stares at me and then will ask if I’m done talking and will turn around walk away as if I’m non-existent.?.?.?.?. I’ve asked politely “do I met your needs?” He responds with, “no, not all.” Okay fair enough I say in a calm curious manner… “What needs do I not met?” I asked. He responded “I don’t know.” I know we are young (32 & 30) BUT for the past 4.5 years I have tried every different approach, suppressed my emotions, gave benefit of doubt, placed blame on myself to fix it and start over…. Nothing it is the same pattern. Some where in me, I believe we could have a happy healthy marriage. I’m very realistic when it comes to relationships, I understand no two people are the same and compromise, take steps back to move forward, you fall in and out of love , it takes work…. I’ve noticed he is not like this around his parents especially his mother. I’ve also noticed that he is never given the opportunity to take responsibility or express full emotion when around them. It’s like I’m a third wheel and my daughter and I come last. The better of a wife I become, the better of a mother, the more I better myself the more he becomes distant as if he really doesn’t want this marriage but has never and will never say that even when given opportunities. Lately, endless opportunities. I’m not perfect and have my faults as a person and in this relationship but I have done tremendous growth and soul searching since our daughter was born bc I wanted to make sure we gave her the ultimate opportunities for emotional and physical growth. I am having a hard time with the advice accept him for who he is or leave. I can’t right now. I can’t stay in a relationship and suppress my emotions or look at him and not want better for him. As well as leave, on a level it’s silly. We don’t fight about “normal” marriage stuff. Jealousy, sexual commitment, finances, parenting style… We don’t fight/argue about those. Granted he is not the most forth coming when it comes to a plan of action for these things and generally it’s me that has to come up w a plan or goal but I even askbefore a decision made, what do you think, any input, how do you feel…???? How do you cope with this without leaving or losing your integrity, values while staying?

    • HL

      My heart hurts and so relieved at the same time. I have been with my husband for almost 6 years, we have a 2yr old and this is exactly what I’ve been going through. He shuts down, blank stares, does not take accountability, unreliable but shows up. will mess up, do something wrong, never follows thru 100% (not based on perception but a fact) he will not feel or show any remorse. In fact, if I point it out or get upset because he promised he would do something and doesn’t then it’s my fault and he tells me that I just talk to much. I’ve asked, begged, pleaded, cried, got loud and angry, practically had panic attacks lately. he just stares at me and then will ask if I’m done talking and will turn around walk away as if I’m non-existent.?.?.?.?. I’ve asked politely “do I met your needs?” He responds, “no, not all.” Okay fair enough I say in a calm curious manner… “What needs do I not met?” He responded “I don’t know.” He really doesn’t know. His face his eyes say it all. It’s like you see the wheels turning and he is trying to think hard but nothing comes out. I know we are young (32 & 30) BUT for the past 4.5 years since we got engaged, even worse when we found out I was pregnant which he was onboard and we had tried for several months… He just got worse, his excuse was I can fend for myself. I have tried every different approach, suppressed my emotions, gave benefit of doubt, placed blame on myself to fix it and start over…. Nothing! it is the same pattern. Some where in me, I believe we could have a happy healthy marriage. I’m very realistic when it comes to relationships, I understand no two people are the same and compromise, take steps back to move forward, you fall in and out of love , it takes hard compassionate work…. I’ve noticed he is not like this around his parents especially his mother. I’ve also noticed that he is never given the opportunity to take responsibility or express full emotion when around them. It’s like I’m a third wheel! my daughter and I come last. The better of a wife I become, the better of a mother, the more I better myself the more he becomes distant as if he really doesn’t want this marriage. He has never Said that though even when given opportunities. Lately, endless opportunities. I’m not perfect and have my faults as a person but I have done tremendous growth and soul searching to gain more compassion and have more empathy. I am having a hard time with the advice given, accept him for who he is or leave. I can’t right now. I can’t stay in a relationship and suppress my emotions or look at him and not want better for him. As well as leave, on a certain level it’s silly. We don’t fight about “normal” marriage stuff. Jealousy, sexual commitment, finances, parenting style… We don’t fight/argue about those. Granted he is not the most forth coming when it comes to a plan of action generally it’s me that has to come up w a plan or goal but I even askbefore a decision is made, what do you think, any input, how do you feel…???? How do you cope with this without leaving or losing your integrity, values while staying? I’m exhausted

  7. I think I have a passive aggressive partner. I always thought it had been me through the years, or at least that’s what she’d tell me whenever I’d complain about something which I thought was inappropriate, and I believed her. So I’d read books, try self improvement courses, even visited and did CBT.

    I believed her because when she met she always said she’d never lied EVER, so I respected her opinion. Only years later did tell me, she used to lie about things to upset me. Though she now denies she said that!

    I didn’t do any of these “self-help” things before, it all started about 5-6 years of marriage, I used to be a normally happy guy. But since then I’ve had two break-downs (my own fault because I tried to play her at her own game, which just ended up as guilt and feeling bad for me BIG MISTAKE). And I now have no friends, I’ve been virtually removed from my family circle and I rarely see them, talking about them seems to raise an eyebrow and a dismissive ‘oh your family’.

    And I’m constantly told it’s actually all my fault, I’m the one who had the break down. I’ve no doubt some is, but all of it?

    I came from a very lovey family environment. We had problems of course, but hugging and generally sharing feelings was the norm. I thought that’s how it would be with my wife, but I feel foolish, hurt and I regret ever meeting her, but at the same time I love her!! She is a great mother, and at times a great wife.

    Apart from the standard always 15-20 minutes late I get if I need a lift. I’m not willing to share too many things (there are a lot), but the biggest kick in the face for me was supposedly not performing well in bed. Then being told it’s not the best compared to others. The next day I confronted her on it and thought it was hurtful. “It was a joke, jesus, can’t you take a joke? That’s your problem, you just can’t take a joke. And what about all the things you say to me” on which I get a list on why I’m actually not a great person before going off in a huff because I’m getting angry (which is true, I used to rise to it). I’m the one then who ends up apologizing and still feeling frustrated because I got my feelings hurt without any acknowledgement:-S On this occasion, it was just that she’d been tired, so instead of just telling me that , I get punished with something I found quite hurtful. Even if it’s not true. Or is it? I’m not sure anymore. I just don’t have any confidence in myself to say ‘It’s like this?’ in fact, I’m already feeling guilty/nervous for sharing this.

    Sorry, none of this really makes sense. I just feel a bit down today and I wanted to write it down somewhere.

    • Simon
      Thanks. You saved me trying to describe the contradictions of my relationship with my PA wife & my sanity perhaps. As I am trying to play my wife at her own PA game & going nuts.
      I wish I didnt love her so much. I’m in trouble! lol or should that be Sh*******!

  8. I’m 68 and have had a screwed up life. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m beyond that. I’m writing about my feelings, because I have been fooling myself with the thought of being a reasonably decent person, never intentionally setting out to cause angst. It is said everyone is looking for love. I have no memory of experiencing love as a child. I came from a dysfunctional family, and find it difficult to relate to love within relationships. My father’s nerves were shot with nervous anxiety on his return from WWII. He was a hard working man but totally devoid of emotion. My mom wore the “pants” around the house, and was the voice to be heard. Although quick to anger, I do recall an infrequent display of love or kindness. My father didn’t row. It was mom who usually hysterically shouted at dad. This has allowed me to develope a rather jaundiced outlook on women, as confrontational beings. It had been many years later when I realised her outbursts were out of sheer frustration with dad. I never had any girl friends, in spite of being well built six footer. There was nine years between me and my older brother. He too had his emotional problems and left home at 18 years old. He was a good brother to me and I can remember thinking to myself as a nine year old, that I will never see him again. I was right. He remained a bachelor until his death at age 51. My first wife walked out on me for her new found love after 12 years of marriage, and left me with my 12 year old son. She had a long string of broken relationships before she met me. She did not have a loving relationship with her own dad. In hind site this was probably a recipe for disaster from the word go, as we married only six weeks after first meeting. I think we both confused lust with love from the outset. A few months after my divorce I met my second (current) wife at a divorce & separates club. Her husband died and left her with two young kids. We were both lonely, and miserable, so we threw in together, to try and make a better life. We too married shortly after meeting. Bringing up her two and my one, was a challenging nightmare. Nobody really got on well together. I was emotionally ill equipped to deal with such a scenario. I struck my own son once for being out of line and immediately regretted it, and never laid a hand on anyone else since. They are grown up now. My blood son has a family of his own, but both step kids are in there 30’s and still single and are avowed to remain that way. My wife has always been hyper-sensitive, and has suffered with agoraphobia for the last 20 years. It was triggered by a car accident we were both in. In short there hasn’t been many laughs or good times, but I shouldn’t complain as many others are far worse off. I must count my blessings.

  9. Wow…legit complaints from me are met by ” I never do anything right”….or….”you always want to argue”…. Or ….”I didn’t know”….or….”you are perfect but I’m not”…. Or….”that’s my business don’t worry about it”….or “why are you bringing that up” or………etc…..dishes sit in the sink for four days…but it’s my fault for making dishes when I cook…..laundry sits in and on the dryer but it’s, “thorn why don’t you take them out”….but she did the laundry….student loans in default after she waited for seven years to address the issue although I told her that procrastinating would led to default and effect our ability to buy a home….her response….why are you bringing up the past…..wtf do I do?…. I’m frustrated and ready to cash out?

  10. Woke up today to wet glasses stacked on top of wet dishes….wet containers stacked on wet containers…clothes stacked on dryer…all things discussed ad nauseim. Wish I would have paid more attention before having a child with her…I would be out otherwise.

  11. Only a passive aggressive person would counter every point and reverse everything. A discussion on how she treats me as a man and projects her anger onto me is countered with “you leave dirty spoons on the counter.” Idiot.

  12. Wow! I read the help for passive aggressive couples and how to help him. The advice is to give him more down time and praise him for what he does do. Honey, I’ve tried the praise routine. I’ve given him space to relax and decompress an do what needs to get done at his leisure. He never gets done. Right now I am looking at my lawn that hasn’t been mowed in two weeks. I haven’t mowed it, which I normally do just because it has to get done and isn’t worth the hassle. I’ve suggested it. I have said nothing and still it’s like anything else. It doesn’t get done.

    We were working on paving stones two weeks ago. Of course it has to be done with me here or he won’t do it. I praised him, said wow don’t you feel good, isn’t it amazing and so forth. It still isn’t finished because it’s waiting for him to cut some stones. He only worked part time this week as in 16 hours, I worked two jobs. Plus housework. And I still managed to lay down some of the stones.

    Ok sorry, some of that is venting. Seriously, this man is making me crazy. He’s 48 years old. I have no clue he can’t hold a job, he can’t do the most basic of household chores, I am lucky if he feeds the dogs which is about the only thing I can count on. Putting out water for them is a 50/50. It’s like living with a preteen and I don’t have children. But I have heard from people and have lots if nieces and nephews to hear those conversations.

    Here’s my thoughts grow up and put on your big boy pants or please get out. He’s making me sick. I am tired and I can’t keep up the pace. I have to clean up after him too. Plus work all the time.

  13. My husband and I have known each other for over 20 years. When we met as teenagers, (What do teenagers know, right) I thought he was my soulmate. He was so gentle, kind and considerate. His sole purpose was to make me happy, and I felt the same way. Now, it seems like he is a different person. It’s always someone else’s fault; He can’t take criticism; He will say one thing, do another and then defend how I either interpreted what he said or what he did wrong. It is frustrating and heartbreaking to deal with this type of confusion and uncertainty and he seems to be totally ambivalent to the situation. This leads me to question whether he really loves me or is just playing some sort of emotional hokey pokey with my feelings. Almost like he is testing me to see how much I can endure before calling it quits, so he can cluelessly say “What happened.” ” I had no idea you were so unhappy.” ” Did I do something to make you feel this way.” I’m so confused because I feel this is not the person that I fell in love with. To his credit, we have gone to several counselors; however, things will get better for a week and then he reverts back to his old behaviors. I’m emotionally exhausted. Thanks for listening and letting me vent.

  14. As I read all of your responses, the one resounding thought in my head is “my god, they are describing my wife to a TEE!”. Ive been married for 13 years now, and have 2 young children. In the beginning my wife was affectionate, loving, and fun to be with. We lived together for a year before we got married. It was literally from the day after we were wed that her passive aggressive behavior started. After our wedding she stopped holding my had, we took both our immediate families out to dinner and she sat her niece in between us. The I noticed that she began to with hold sex, stopped touching me, and never talked with me about anything. The she started giving me an attitude whenever I asked her to do anything, and even managed to screw up even the most menial task. When I tried to express my feelings, I would me wet with either a blank stare, rolling of the eyes, or she would simply stare off to the side and say nothing, or “whatever”. I was going crazy because I could not figure out what the problem was. We went to couples therapy, and all of a sudden she was a waterfall of emotion, where I was the bad guy, and she told lie upon lie. I swear, I didn’t know who this women was. I tried to stick it out after the birth of our 2 children, but things just kept getting worse. It became clear that she had absolutely no regard for my feelings. And no matter what I said to her she would either come up with some excuse or blame me for it. Nothing was ever her fault. I spoke recently, to a psychologist friend about this and she said that my wife seems like an extreme passive aggressive. I didn’t know exactly what a passive aggressive was until I followed her direction and did some research. My wife and I have not slept in the same bed in years, we have zero intimacy, and no communication. She is also an extreme procrastinator, when we first met she was working on her PHD, 2 years ago I found out that she had let her research lapse to the point where it was no longer valid, I flipped out over that. I sent her to school to do medical transcription, and she did that for a while until she slacked off and got fired, I paid for her to go back to college to get a teaching degree, only to find out that she had taken the last 3 semesters off. Having finally seen the futility of trying to change her or work things out I have decided that my mental health and sanity must come before my desire to keep my family together, and am now seeking a divorce.

  15. I am sorry your journey has been so painful. I hope understanding these dynamics will console you a little bit.

  16. kah

    Wow, I can not believe what I am reading. It fits my husband to a T. Ive been married almost 20 years , and have been confused and upset for so long. Just knowing I”m not crazy helps.

  17. poslaw

    I, too, am in this situation with my husband. I’ve spent the last 10 years battling him, and I’m so tired. I slipped into a deep depression. I went on medication to help me deal with passive suicidal ideation. My physical health has deteriorated. Now I just want him out. I feel guilty because I think he will honestly end up homeless, but I can’t let my 7 year old daughter grow up thinking this is normal. At least now I might be able to stop questioning myself: my perceptions, my observations, my motivations, and my sanity–all because he refuses to acknowledge that *he* might have a problem. Thank you for that. Thank you to all you beautiful people who shared your stories. I am absolutely overwhelmed to know that I am NOT crazy, and it’s not “just me”.

  18. Kitty.

    Do I have to register to post a comment

  19. Fred

    I thought I was ok. Then my wife forwarded this article to me. She said please read it slowly and take it all in. NOW I realize that I am a PA (perfect asshole). This is probably a result of the over critical parental treatment, but I blame myself for not recognizing any of the above. I have always been a good provider, working many years of long hours. I have also often worked at home remodeling, building, etc. The household chores are another story. It is SO hard to do the redundant tasks required by every household. I have plenty of energy, but It just seems like such an invasion on the few precious free minutes that I get (distorted thinking).
    My wife is a dear soul who does not deserve any of the treatment mentioned above in various comments. Life brings enough challenges without dealing with my BS every day. Omitting the detail, the things I just read are way too familiar in our relationship. We are currently involved in couples counseling, but now I feel that I should be seeking individual help. Our marriage will surely benefit if I can change. Bless her heart for putting up with me this long. Thank you for the article and postings, in helping me to be aware of my own behavior.

  20. Sylvia

    Fred,
    That is a very sweet post. Can you talk to my husband? : )

  21. Lost Soul

    So much unhappiness on this page. I came looking for answers, but I think I’ve found more questions. Is my partners behavior P/A? (Silent treatment, “No don’t, I’ll do it as usual”, constant criticism, lack of intimacy, sleeping in separate rooms, an underlying anger, never saying sorry or admitting wrong, never saying anything positive etc). Now I’m wondering is mine? (Always been really defensive to criticism, hate sound of arguing, showing frustration and anger, throwing arms up in the air, feeling unappreciated / unloved).

    Background 2 people 2nd marriages mid forties, met 5 years ago. Her boy 17, girl 14, me son 9 and our daughter 2. Me loud gregarious Mediterranean teacher, her quiet shy stunning looking very English para-legal. She has big intimacy issues with her dad, i had a childhood of loving but constant criticism from mine.

    She hates the son I adore, who stays every fortnight, says its his fault for being nasty and not doing what she says when I’m out of earshot. Everyone else thinks he’s polite and sweet boy.She also angry at me for not being punishing him enough or dealing effectively with his very difficult mother. He is not allowed to eat with us, or be in same room as her. Her 2 children; nice kids I love them, but they seem to break rules with impunity until she gets really angry at them. I feel they are molly coddled, we run round after them, they have no chores, renage on any responsibilities given to them.

    When questioned I feel like I am being cross examined in the dock. If I raise any issues about the kids or her, she gets aggressive, gets even more angry, if I try to walk away. I am therefore pushed until I snap. Not violent, but I’m not nice when red mist descends. Resulting in me getting days of cold shoulder/silence / stone face from someone who is not very warm at best of times.

    Are we both P/A? Are we just a bad combo? Can we change or are we doomed?
    Any advice or help?
    Lost dazed and confused.

  22. Scott

    Hrmm… I feel people are making a lot of assumptions here. I don’t want to sound too passive agressive, because I know I have some problems with that, but sometimes we need to ride ourself of emotion by doing something constructive before pointing the finger so directly at someone else other than yourself. No one can really controle how you feel. What you think is mainly a cause of your own feelings and hurt. Pointing the finger at your partner and not talking directly to them about actual scenarios and turning to a website instead seems a bit passive agressive. Everyone can act passive agressive at times. It seems easiar to divert the attention to something other than the issue at hand rather than deal with it right there and then. Lay out precise observations on truths table. Don’t slam the truth in the face of your loved ones or anyone. The truth speaks for itself. If they are passive agressive then they’ll tell you that that’s your opinion or that you are the one distorting the truth. I’m going to have to think and pray real hard on this. I’m not sure how to approach my wife, I am scared, but it feels good. She shows some chronic signs, but mostly in communication, where I have realized, by all your help, im greatful to you all, that I may be that typical male passive agressive. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to consider it a disease or anything, but I do believe its contagious. Id like to challenge all of us involved to be more assertive now, don’t wait a single moment longer. Anger is a good way to get the dishes done. And if your spouse decides to do them this time, for god sake and theirs, don’t criticize how they do it, just say thank you sooo much. But don’t seem so cheesy like something is up or have anger when you say it and not tell them, because that makes you the passive aggressive. In fact, if you do feel the anger rolling out as they finally did the dishing, you should say, OMG! I’m so glade Im furious! If they ask you why, then you made a break through, and if you don’t tell them the truth, then you are in fact passive aggressive. It is okay to argue! Its healthy! Just DO NOT yell! Passive aggressive people love to get your goat by setting off emotional triggers so they can blame you for their Anger as it is now yours. Just keep in mind! They did not do that to you! You did it to yourself! You are in charge of your own emotional well being. Unattatching yourself from that and finding something else or someone else to blame for it is passive aggressive behavior. Sorry about any grammar or spelling..I’m not even going to re-read it…just send it into the whirl wind. Thanks again to all, but I have to say to some who are sounding like nasty complainers, grow some you know what! You better get tough now. Your emotional well being is yours. Be a rock. Read up on co-dependency issues. If you haven’t heard and you think you are except, then you are in for more of a ride than with this subject. Also, don’t blow your mind online. That’s messed up. Everyone has very real and freakish issues they have to deal with, what counts is how we deal with them. Character is made that way, when all the good times have to be preserved in pictures. Have a total fantastic thrill ride. Out with plastic peace and oneness bull crape, in with healthy anger exercises and division to personal uniqueness. Life hurts and that’s what saves us.

  23. Ana

    Yes, amazing how the passive aggressive husband is loved by everyone except those who know him well. He has no close friends and even his counselors seem to tire of him fairly quickly. He never calls then complains about me not calling. He is an excellent provider, but negative or absent emotionally. He either naps or pretends he doesn’t hear you. He stares into the distance much of the time and shrinks up like he’s being injured if you scream in frustration. He never screams. He rarely talks. In fact, he seems pleased to display no emotion although you can sense how angry and/or resentful he is. When he does tasks, he makes sure to screw them up or ask you a thousand questions. How many ways can you cut vegetables??? I only have about two answers for questions like this. Over the years, I’ve defaulted to, “Cut them the way you want to eat them”. On the tasks where I do specify, he makes sure to not do it. Then, he gets really defensive when I ask him why. I know he’d rather I didn’t ask him to do anything at all, but, then, he seems bored if he’s not disappointing me somehow. The oddest part about all of this is that I can tell that he loves me, and that he is just duplicating how his mother behaved. His father angers easily and screams at anyone for anything at an incredible volume. However, I screamed maybe once a month during the first years of our marriage and once I finished professional school (and the stress was much lower), maybe once every three months. In other words, there is no need for him to feel he must withdraw into silence and play ignoring games with me. However, I know he did it for years with people at work, too. He finally seemed to figure out that it might be related to his lack of promotion to a new title. Now, I’m trying to get him to see that he’s just copying his parents relationship in his mind….that there is no need for him to torture himself. After all, he despises his parents, so I hope he can see what he is turning around onto me. BTW, I am currently in full rebellion mode. After 12 years of marriage and 15 years together, I have gotten sick of doing everything in the house and him taking no responsibility. What makes me angriest is that he will sit quietly (yawning or looking very bored) even when we are out in public, trying to have a date, even though he had earlier said he wanted to go. We don’t even bother with vacations. So, I’ve let the house and the cooking and the trying to have a good date and the intimacy all fly out the window. Shockingly, it seems to be getting through to him. Will it last? Wish us luck. I long for that man I knew for eight years who was so enjoyable.

    • LaTonia

      Wow. Just wow.I totally understand.

      From a personal standpoint, I just wish there was a solution. I hoped for so much more than this. I wish for more for my husband. It just seems for all intents and purposes we should really be living a beautiful life but instead THIS. I showed him a PA post yesterday, he became defensive and derisive of course and felt attacked. I don’t want to give an account of all of his characteristics. You can read any of the comments above for that. I guess I just wish that showing him this would lead to a better life for us, but I have to admit I’m wondering what punishment be will follow up with. It’s so sad for each party involved. I just wish things could be different, but my hope has dwindled and this situation is starting to wear me down. I’m sad, disappointed, disillusioned and also upset with myself for getting myself into this type of relationship.

  24. Kerry

    Wow Ana! You just described the relationship I have with my husband! We are in the middle of divorcing after almost 36 years of marriage. He was my best friend and I loved him dearly. But he made a choice to be angry and harbor resentment towards me about so many things. Things I am just now learning he was angry about. I want to stay together, but I would have to give up myself and my wants, needs, and dreams to do so. I have changed over the years from being an outgoing, fun, productive, active person to a shell of my former self from all the comments and demeaning actions, not to mention the utter lack of respect, support or encouragement. He says that he understands what he has done and that he wants to change. My heart wants to believe him but my head says I can’t. The trust is shattered and I am scared about my future on my own. But I truly believe the only way to save myself is to continue with the divorce. Do others feel this way? Has anyone stayed and been able to successfully change the situation for the better? Do you have to constantly point out the passive aggressive behavior? I am not sure I could do that for the rest of my life.

  25. Fran

    I’m still starting on this journey of understanding. Not entirely sure of why things are as they are, but do know it’s not right – ie meeting my needs and desires, as opposed to his. 27 yrs married, effectively living separately for last 15 because of my job, and he’d been ‘supportive’ on the surface. But I’m beginning to realise that his reluctance to move with me, despite the fact he has given up his business and has not actively sought work in my location owes as much to his PA as to anything else. I’ve found it damaging to my self esteem – why wouldn’t my husband want to spend time with me? – and hugely unsettling. I spend all my time trying to appease him and make sure he is happy. It’s all surfaced again because he resents my family inheritance and is now demanding I spend money on him. I don’t really care about the money but he clearly does. I suppose I should have seen it coming and am annoyed with myself that I let this happen. But I’m thinking maybe this is more about self preservation – not having critical comments, sacarstic remarks, silent treatment, and other undermining stuff will be such a relief.

  26. Lilo

    My husband is two different person, when he is good everything is great, he is responsible and helpful, once he becomes angry (every 2 months)his face changed, in every fights wants divorce, and completely humiliate me, I don’t know why I start to cry and ask him to stay, usually it takes one to two hours, then he accepted and again the cycle starts. Very good moments and suddenly for nothing just a short argument we go to hell and he wants divorce.Should I accept divorce?

  27. kim

    I have been married to my husband for 39 years. He had convinced me I was crazy then 3 1/2 years ago we had a huge fight over his family and their behavior and he said unforgiveable things to me and then a week later told me I was crazy because he never said these things. I know I am an idiot for putting up with his behavior for 35 years but I finally took a good long look at our life and problems and starting researching online to see if other people we’re going thru similar things a5nd there it was-the extreme passive aggressive. He cannot tell the truth about anything-even something as simple as “did you fill up the dogs water”. He uses what I have always called hostile humor which I believe is a way for him to be hateful and then pretend that He was just joking. He has always lied about money. I was so glad when employers went to direct deposit because he couldn’t lie about his paycheck anymore. If I ask him to do something he will either do it halfway or say he will get around to it (which means not in this lifetime). He will not start any chore unless I am there to help. If I ever say anything critical to him he will get furious or ignore me and walk away. The worst thing is he says mean and nasty things to me and when I confront him about what he said he will circle his finger by his head and say I am crazy because he didn’t say anything or he didn’t say it the way I think or he was joking and I can’t take a joke or he will just walk away. I have a list of reasons/excuses he uses (and so does his entire family) when he has something really hateful and he realizes it has upset me or someone. 1) I only said that because I care 2)I was only joking-can’t you take a joke 3) you misunderstood what I said 4) I didn’t say that the way you took it 5) you must be crazy because I didn’t say that at all. I know he had a supercritical verbally abusive father and a mouse of a mother who never allowed her kids to express their emotions in case it made dad angry or failed to protected the kids when dad did get angry. I believe his mother was passive aggressive and taught this behavior to her kids (one is a mouse like her, one is a lesbian and hates men and the other one is a drug addict/drug dealer). I have tried talking calmly to my husband, I have tried rationalizing with him, I have cried and ranted and screamed, and nothing gets thru to him. I did start reading articles about passive aggression to him and he said he did see some of his behavior talked about in the articles and he will try and change and he will go to couseling and so far he has not done anything he has promised. I was a young sweet kind naive young girl with no self-confidence when I met my husband. My father was an abusive alcoholic and my mother was a codependent enabler who taught me to be a codependent enabler-keep the peace at all costs. I believe my husband recognized me as an enabler and realized I was raised to put up with bad behavior. In fact when I was reading about this to my husband he immediately said that it was my fault that he said and did the things he did because I let him get away with these things. (Can you see where this is going). I quit going around my husbands family years ago because he would never stand up for me when his family was mean and nasty nor allow me to stand up for myself because he didn’t want me to hurt his family feelings (he was not concerned that they had hurt my feelings). Wow! I feel better just getting this off my chest. Not sure what I will do. At 57 I am probably too old to start over but am tired of living with someone who will never change.

  28. Pete Pearson

    Kim – I’m glad you got some of your struggles off your chest.
    Your final statement “but am tired of living with someone who will never change” .suggests the next move is up to you. Do you fear living without him is a greater fear than the anguish of living with him?

    There is a really good book that may shed even more light on you and your situation. It is called The War of Art. It is a lot about the demons you and your husband are fighting . The author is Steven Pressfield
    Good luck
    Pete

    • Sam

      Its never too late to leave them. I have been with my husband for 8 years and married nearly 6. I am 53 I eventually asked him to leave as I was becoming ill with it all. He was also constantly on his phone which led me to think he is also an addict. He wouldn’t do anything and on his days off he would sleep, blaming everybody else except himself. They are also selfish to the core. He couldn’t even get up on a Sunday so we could do things together, He never bothers about me or what he is doing to me. I was signed off work for 2 weeks with depression and he carried on with his own life coming home at 8,30 so he could avoid me and play on his phone. I can’t believe all the things I have gone though are the same as other people. In 7 weeks he’s been round 6 times and stayed for an hour each time. I changed the locks and his excuse for not coming round…he wasn’t going to stand at the door waiting for me to unlock or open it like Billy no mates. He is at his daughters as the moment and if I ask how it is he says ” not great it’s not where I want to be” tough he should have taken notice, but it can’t be that bad as he’s not coming round here anyway. I think I have also enabled the process and tried to help him by trying to understand him, help him suggest things to him but it is a waste of time and I don’t have anymore to waste on someone who doesn’t care. We have all had lives that weren’t great but we all get on with them and try to make them better but these people want the victim card and maybe they should try to stop playing the victim and get a life..as you are a long time in a box

  29. Pete Pearson

    Sam – your comment about ” I eventually asked him to leave as I was becoming ill with it all.” reminds me of a woman I once worked with – she was in a similar situation as yours and said after I told him to leave and he did, i noticed I didn’t need anti depressants any more.

    There is a price for staying and a price for leaving – the choice of the price is always ours.
    Thanks for sharing
    Pete

  30. Debbie

    After 27 years of marriage and still dancing the same tune only now at age 53 after reading everyone’s testimonials do I honestly see and understand that my husband is PA. He has pushed me to the point of insanity where I have done anything and everything to get a response from him. I have screamed and shouted, I have thrown things, I have attempted suicide, I have even thrown a glass of wine at him as well as hitting him (I am very ashamed and guilty of my behavior). We have 2 older sons in their twenties who have been privy to some of this dysfunctional behavior. We have been for counselling but he always blames me. I feel guilty about myself and any decision I make all the time. I beg him to talk to me and say what he feels and feel what he says and he just looks at me dumbfounded. If I ask him a question, he sees it as a confrontation and withdraws completely. I sleep in the spare room and he comes into the room asking me everyday if I had a good sleep and would I like a cup of tea??? Yet he never every brings up the elephants in the room. He cannot understand why I have withdrawn from him and tells me I am crazy why cant we just move on. I cant anymore as I have done it so many times to my own detriment and when I see him walking down the passage shaking his head and whistling it drives me insane when there are issues to be confronted and talked about. All our friends and my sons think he is such an awesome, positive person and such fun to be around and I of course am seen as the problem. I left a page on PA traits (which I had printed from the internet) next to the kettle for him to read to try and get through to him- he didn’t even acknowledge it or say anything about it but did ask if I would like a cup of tea. I have not had the courage to leave as I always think he will change, up until now I have always believed that I am the problem. He says that he had the best childhood any child could ever have had, he says he never screams or shouts at me, or ever criticizes me which he doesn’t but at the same time I can read him like a book and know that he is thinking something but not saying what he is thinking or feeling. He puts on this act in front of friends that he is a model husband. I am at a total loss within myself as I know he will not change and that I have to find the courage to move on. My self esteem is so low, I live on tranquilizers to get through each day and have now started drinking early in the evening because all I want to do is sleep and not wake up to another day of feeling bad and guilty about me being the person I am.

  31. carmen

    Wow!!! Im blown away. For most of my 16 years of marriage Ive been concerned that I might have mental issues because I just could not understand what was going on around me and he ALWAYS attacks my character. His favorite saying is …”You don’t have the capacity to…….” You can fill in the blanks there with what ever you like. I am currently on Valium to subdue my panic attacks and I struggle to keep depression at bay. About 2 years ago I contemplated suicide because I went through a severe depression. His mother was living with us at the time, and she too is highly passive aggressive. My mother had just had a heart attach and my father had called for to come asap. They lived about 2 hours flight away from us. My reaction was to immediately ask my mother in law to watch the kids for a couple of days and she flat out said NO…..”I will have a heart attach if I have stay here and watch the kids”…I couldn’t believe it! My husband was out of town on business and I called him to let him know what was happening. He promptly told me that there was other family to take care of my mother and if I should even BOTHER to make alternative arrangements with the kids he would take all my money out of my account so I could not buy a plane ticket. And to top it all off I told him what his mother said and his response to me was…”Well you know how you can be……” What does that even mean!!
    And so my depression began. I have suffered for YEARS. I have fought myself out of that depression and left him for about 6 months to get away from that toxic environment. We are back together but he still hasn’t changed. I know now that I AM NOT CRAZY. And with his mother living with us makes it 100 times worse. I cannot do this ANY LONGER. I am seriously considering divorce. Ive been a stay at home mom most of our marriage. But because he cant keep a job for more than 2 years….which I am now convinced is because of his PA……Ive been working a receptionist job. It doesnt pay much but it feeds our kids and helps with the necessities. He has been out o work for almost 3 years and STILL he says ‘ I dont mean to diminish your job but on your salary we just get by”…..or…” No disrespect but with my salary we would be able to do much more than we do know” Well then keep a job Mr I know it all!!! Im exhausted! Ive been in and out of ER’s, drinking pill after pill for depression and anxiety and the bastard has the audacity to tell me its all in my head! Yes I am angry. Angry for believing that I am the cause of an unhappy marriage. I feel stifled, like my life has been sucked out of me, no have no energy left. I have no friends because he constantly assuming that Im sleeping with my friends if and when I make friends. I know I have to leave….but Im afraid too

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