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Passive-Aggressive Example
Boyfriend Gets Defensive

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. The suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. Also, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. For more, read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People and 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Question:I asked my boyfriend when was he planning on leaving the transitional house he's been in for 8 years. He starts asking what would be the benefit of leaving? The conversation then starts to escalate. I'm trying to explain the benefit of leaving...which is a no brainer. Then he starts to yell. I tell him to lower his voice which meant that I was yelling as well. He then says "You're yelling louder than me" and how could he get a word in when I'm talking over him? Then he storms out. The conversation did not get resolved.

Response: Although I think this writer is complaining about her boyfriend's passive-aggressive (PA) behavior, this is a good example of how PA behavior can create PA behavior in the other person. If we examine her description of the event, we can see how her initial PA behavior caused this situation to devolve into an argument rather than create a productive discussion.

Let's look at this more closely. Why am I saying her behavior is PA? When she says the benefit of leaving is a "no brainer" she is indicating she only wants one answer. She doesn't really want to have a discussion about him moving. She just wants him to do what she wants. Additionally, this indicates that she is angry with him about this issue but rather than expressing her anger appropriately it comes across as a controlling type of PA behavior. I don't know exactly what she said to him but he obviously got this message from her in some way: "I don't care about your reasons for staying, I just want you to move."

So, how can this interaction be changed? Fortunately, this is under her control because she can change her PA behavior. Instead of discussing the "benefits" of him moving, she can express how she feels. For instance, she can say "I feel frustrated because I don't understand why you won't move." By making this an "I" statement she is owning her feelings rather than making accusations about him. "You" statements such as "you should move because..." only cause the other person to become defensive which then is likely to escalate the disagreement.

The second step is instead of telling him what she thinks, she should listen, listen, listen! He apparently has some thoughts on the subject but she is "talking over him." He doesn't feel heard. Certainly, this may not get her what she wants. She may not be able to control the outcome of his decision. However, it is more likely to lead to a better relationship because it allows for greater communication. Most likely, she believes that she IS communicating because she is telling him what she thinks. However, communication also involves active listening.

What is "active" listening? It means not just waiting for the other person to finish so that you can say what you think and get him to agree with you. It means to truly listen, ask questions, and express in your own words what you think the other person is saying. "What I understand that you are saying is that you don't want to move right now because you think..." This allows the other person to more thoroughly explain his position or to correct any misunderstandings. This is what true communication is all about.

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