Passive Aggressive Dynamic

Passive Aggressive partners make and break commitments. They criticize, nit-pick and frustrate those who depend on them.

Ironically, untangling this pattern begins not with the passive aggressive person but with their spouse.

Watch this video to learn about the role differentiation plays in disrupting this very enmeshed pattern.

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Please comment below.  Please share in the comments below a new idea you got from the video. 

Starting in just a few days! Our Developmental Model Training Program can provide effective strategies for working with Passive Aggressive partners. Click to learn more, www.couplesinstitute.com/developmentalmodel.

9 responses to "The Passive Aggressive Dynamic"

  1. O how I love what you say and how you say it !!! Already you have helped me change in my work . I am taking the lead with more conviction and grace and it is working. Trust in myself has grown and my work is better.

  2. This was really interesting and has given me much to mull over as I am an individual therapist and am just starting to work with couples. It seems that the PA partner would benefit from individual therapy – but perhaps it would be more meaningful to make the changes needed in the context of the couple relationship ? Provided that the other partner has the emotional skills to handle that … food for thought here, thank you Ellyn!

  3. Wonderful presentation, Ellyn.
    Thank you.

    My best guess ( and I wish it
    were more than a guess) is that the passive partner is , down deep,
    scared to death, that he ( and it
    seems to me that it is typically
    the male that plays this role),
    will be abandoned by the more
    powerful mate if he becomes
    confrontational and angry

    • Yup Jesse, I think that might often be the case.

      And that's where you can help him with his dichotomous thinking, that either he stays in passive resentment and powerlessness, or he attacks for what he wants, which often seems to be to get his partner off his back. (As Ellyn mentioned, they focus on negative goals, and lack the ability to make positive goals for themselves.)

      The third option for them, the part that Ellyn and Pete emphasize more in their course, is that the PA individual can seek more life satisfaction through their own growth, and moving out of blaming others. That movement away from underfunctioning is not just to serve the partner, but to serve themselves in enriching their lives and their relationship.

      Often they do not have the courage to even know what they want, or to dare to make their own happiness. It's something like a depressed individual with low self-efficacy, but with a devilish reinforcement mechanism: having the overfunctioner take care of things. It's easier to sit back and watch others do the work, and complain when it isn't great, than to dare and hope and try.

      So you remove that reinforcement by getting the overfunctioner to back off and self-care more. And you encourage the PA person to become more effective in life by focusing on what they can do, instead of ineffectively blaming or even sabotaging their partner.

  4. Fabulous presentation!
    You are such an inspiration and have been a terrific guide since your earliest workshop in the 1990’s! Thank you Ellyn!

  5. Thanks for your insights on the passive-aggressive couple, Ellyn! I'm getting more of a feel for how differentiation in regard to each of the couple, is so important. I'm working with such a couple right now, and the anger between them is strong, though less so than when they began therapy. When the passive-aggressive male does begin doing more of his share in the relationship, no matter how minor, he turns challenging anger toward his wife to make changes that he thinks she needs to because they frustrate him. She's slowly made some of these changes, but he doesn't notice that there's improvement on her part, and when she points them out to him, he says it's not enough and stays angry. I pointed out to him that when he begins to make changes, no matter how small, he likes his wife to notice and show appreciation, and that she needs that patient appreciation from him.

  6. You describe so many things that I saw in a session I had with a couple a few days ago. After this video I have a new idea for the next session. It's so common to see those patterns in my practice. I work with young couples who are so eager to rush in a committed relationship and end up with pasive agresive behaviors towards each other. What a usefull video.

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