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Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Change Passive Aggressive Behavior in Your Relationship

In my prior blog post,  I described what signs to look for that either you or your partner is engaging in passive aggressive behavior.  I also gave a short fictionalized scenario to illustrate examples of passive aggressive behavior in a marriage.

How to Change Passive Aggressive Behavior in Your Relationship

Changing Passive Aggressive Behavior in Your Relationship
In this article, I'm going to focus on what you can do, once you've recognized that one or both of you are engaging in this dynamic so you can change it.''

In my last article, I discussed a fictionalized couple, Mark and Sue, and the problems they were having with Mark's passive aggressive behavior, including "forgetting" to do a crucial chore around the house, procrastinating about their couples counseling session so that he did not come because the session would be over by the time he arrived and, during the next scheduled couples counseling session, "forgetting" his checkbook so that both Sue and he had to scramble to pool their cash so they could pay.

As I mentioned in the last article, this scenario is representative of many relationships where one or both people engage in passive aggressive behavior, and can ruin a relationship.

Of course, whenever there are two people involved in a relationship, the problems never rest with just one person.  Although Mark was the one who was passive aggressive, at this point in their relationship, Sue had become emotionally reactive to Mark's behavior because she was frustrated after so many years.

Changing Behavior in Your Relationship:  Emotional Reactivity

To start, after getting their family histories, since it was clear that both Mark and Sue were triggering reactions in each other, I asked Sue to look at her emotional reactivity to Mark, and I asked her to think about, journal it at home and think about how else she could have responded (see my article:  Responding Instead of Reacting to Stress).  Sue agreed and went home and journaled about several incidents where this occur and what she could have done differently.

To help them overcome their problems, I recommended:

Steps for Mark:
  • Write about several incidents where he engaged in passive aggressive behavior, including "forgetting," losing things, and procrastinating.
  • Reflect on these incidents and write about them in terms of how he felt about himself in these situations after the fact
  • Develop a greater awareness of his behavior and how it is affecting his relationship
  • Can he detect a pattern in his behavior?
  • How far back does this pattern go?
  • Where did he learn to engage in this behavior?  Was this a pattern with his family when he was growing up?
  • What were his feelings and intentions in these situations?
  • Did he get the outcome that he wanted?
  • Accept that he has certain feelings that he might not be comfortable with in these situation?
  • Is he willing to get feedback from Sue?
  • Is he willing to alter the behavior that is having a negative impact on his relationship?
  • What could he have done differently in each of these situations?
  • Practice being honest and tactful in his communication with Sue

Steps for Sue:
  • Write about her emotional reactivity to Mark when she is angry about his behavior
  • Reflect on these incidents and write about them in terms of how she felt about herself in these situations after the fact
  • Develop a greater awareness about her emotional reactivity and how it could be affecting the situation
  • Is there a pattern that she can detect?
  • How far back does her emotional reactivity go?
  • Where did she learn this behavior?  Was it a pattern in her family when she was growing up?
  • What were her feelings and intentions in these situations?
  • Accept that she is angry when she senses Mark's passive aggressive behavior at the same time that she recognizes that the way that she is reacting isn't helpful
  • Is she willing to hear feedback from Mark?
  • Is she willing to alter her behavior, which is having a negative impact on her relationship?
  • What could she have done differently in these situations?
  • Practice calming herself and being tactful in hr communication with Mark
There is no "cookbook" solution for this type of problem in couples therapy.  But, generally, the steps outlined above are a start.

In the next blog post, I'll continue discussing this issue, which is a common problem for couples.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your loved one are stuck in negative patterns of relating to each other, rather than allowing these patterns to ruin your relationship, you could benefit from attending couples counseling.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call  (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.