Dealing With a Passive-Aggressive Husband

One of the first things to do if your husband is passive-aggressive it to learn to not push him into it. I realise this may seem like blaming the victim, but it’s not.

I said the other day passive-aggressive is often the result of choosing not to be physically violent. I would include screaming in the category of physical violence for this. If you push your husband to the point of anger, he may feel he has no good choices. If he feels in danger of becoming physically violent, shutting down will seem like his best option. This leads to passive-aggressive behaviour.

Frustrated wife © Warren Goldswain |

One way women trigger this is with way too many words. As I’ve discussed before, men generally are not as skilled in conversation, and we can become overwhelmed. Throwing more words at us when we get flooded feels like hitting us when we’re down, and it causes anger. Of course, the women saying “too much” isn’t trying to cause anger, she’s trying to get her husband to talk. Her intentions are great, and her actions would work well with another woman. Thing is, her husband is a man.

Getting him to change means helping him find other ways of dealing with his anger. It also means helping him find ways to disagree. If disagreeing with you always results in a fight or some other consequence, passive-aggressive looks like a good choice. Anyone who’s passive-aggressive has some issues they’re not dealing with, and those issues must be dealt with to end the passive-aggressive behaviour. If you’re not willing to deal with the issues in a fair and reasonable way, you’re enabling ongoing passive-aggressive behaviour.

Strategies for Coping 

A good way to deal with passive-aggressive behaviour is to find ways to make it less effective. If the goal of the behaviour is to attack or hurt you, work on how you react. Yes, this is tough, but it’s possible. Work to avoid being at his mercy for things. The less you need him to do, the less he can hurt you by not doing things. If experience tells you he’s unlikely to do something, try to find another way to get it done.

Another option is to let things remain undone. If he chooses not to do something, let it go. Don’t do it, don’t nag him to do it, and DO NOT apologise or make excuses for him when someone else is upset. Take the attitude your husband is an adult and he can make his own choices and deal with the consequences. If he promises to help someone and doesn’t follow through, it’s on him. You’re not his mother, and no sane person expects you to make him do what he said he would do.

Try to work with him when he is being passive-aggressive with others. Valid his anger when it is reasonable, and suggest ways he can deal with his anger appropriately. Help him see it is acceptable to express his feelings and concerns, as long as he does it correctly. In addition to teaching him new ways to deal with anger, you’re telling him you’re not scared of his anger or disarrangement. 

One other thing – realise he’s not getting his needs met by being passive-aggressive. He’s retaliating against the wrong he feels is being done to him. While retaliation makes him feel better, it’s not what he really wants; it’s what he is settling for. If his needs are met, he loses the motivation to be passive-aggressive. Being passive-aggressive is acting out of his hurt, and he has something to gain from things being different.

Pushing Him to Get Help

Most men who end up in therapy for passive-aggressive behaviour do so because their wife gives them an ultimatum. While this sometimes works, it’s the emotional equivalence of beating him to the ground and dragging him to therapy against his will. The process increases his desire/need to be passive-aggressive, and he will need to deal with his feelings of betrayal at some point. I’m not saying this is always wrong, and sometimes it’s the only option. However, it’s a drastic choice, and it can easily go bad.  Start with a gentler approach, and consider an ultimatum a last ditch effort.

A Few Warnings

I’ve seen some rather questionable things from people “treating” passive-aggressive individuals.

  • Some lists of passive aggressive behaviours include things that can have other roots. Deciding some personality trait is passive-aggressive is not going to end well for anyone. Two men can do the same thing for very different reasons with one being passive-aggressive and the other being the man God made him to be.
  • Some people, especially women, don’t seem to see any validity in the anger behind a man’s passive-aggressive behaviour. They’re more about ending his anger than giving him healthy ways to deal with it. This reinforces the anger-is-unacceptable lie, making the issue worse.
  • I also see women who think the solution to passive-aggressive men is for them to act more like women. 
  • Some call passive-aggressive behaviour abusive. While there’s sometimes truth in this, it’s not always the case and it is rarely the whole story. Heaping judgement on a man is not helpful in general, and especially when it’s not true.
  • Given the gender issues involved in this, I’d think a man is much better off getting help for this with a man. The last thing you want is your husband thinking you and his female counsellor are ganging up on him!

~ Paul – I’m XY and I’ve become less and less passive-aggressive


How to Stop Passive-Aggressive Behavior: No, You’re Not Crazy | Dr. Joanne Wendt 
The Secret To Dealing With Passive-Aggressive People |
Confronting Passive Aggressive Behavior | Psychology Today 

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4 Comments on “Dealing With a Passive-Aggressive Husband

  1. Good post, Paul. It is nice to see this addressed, and you did a great job with it.

    Do you think there are also many times when PA is the result of something besides anger? My DH has recently apologized to me for being passive aggressive by regularly “forgetting” his lunch at home, or making up excuses why he couldn’t eat it at work, and spending hundreds of dollars we don’t have on eating out. (And we’re not talking about fast food value menus, here.) In his case, there is a disconnect between what he thinks he *ought* to be doing, and what he actually wants and chooses to do. So, it’s not a result of anger, but of wanting to self-indulge without really owning up to it. (It makes me think of one of your earliest posts,

    Do you think this is another form of PA, or is he misusing the term? If it is another form of PA, would there be different strategies for dealing with it? And, could there be even more manifestations of PA that neither of us has experience with?

    • It’s certainly very similar. Maybe it’s passive-resistive? Say you will to avoid the argument, then do what you want. It would be interesting to look at various marriages for similar types of things.

      My suggestion (I’m a guy, can;’t help myself) would be to find out why he does what he does. Is there a social part to this – either because he enjoys eating with others or fears not doing so could hurt his chances to be promoted? Does eating a lunch he brought make him feel poor, or is he concerned he will looked down on?
      A partial solution would be to have him do some of each. Start with one bag lunch a week and work up to three. Not what you want and he knows he should do, but far better than eating out daily.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Choose to LoveMy Profile

  2. I get what you are saying here, but let me warn you that this smacks of putting all the burden of passive-aggression on the woman. If I read this 2 years ago, I would have checked into a mental hospital…having read one too many help meet books on making your Jan happy and not rocking the boat. Now that I have matured a little, I can understand what you mean, but still cringe at every paragraph.

    Sometimes I will point out to hubby that he is being passive aggressive and would he like to solve it or sulk. He does the same to me, too, because I am passive aggressive, too.

    I dont want my passive aggression avoided or placated, I want to solve the issue. That takes communication, maturity, and trust for both spouses

    • It is easy to blame the victim.

      My thing is addressing the person who you’re talking to, and telling them what they can do about the problem. I think this is valid even when they are not the source of the problem and in reality their spouse needs t make some big changes.

      Your last paragraph is the perfect place to be, and when both spouses get there wonderful things happen. I don’t always react as well as I would like when Lori points out something I have done wrong or should do differently, but I have asked her to do this for me, so getting angry would be stupid. And as you say, I was able to ask her to do this, and am able to hear it, because I trust her so much.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Choose to LoveMy Profile

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