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Passive-Aggressive Example
Husband's Unreasonable Expectations of ADD Wife

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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: My husband knows that I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD} which means sometimes I'm not really in the moment when I am doing something. The way he pushes my buttons is to put something somewhere and leave it there knowing that I am working or cleaning in that particular area of the house and he does not say "I need you not to move or touch this thing right here." Then he becomes loud and aggressive when I move it and do not realize where I moved it to.

Response: First, the wife needs to be cautious in her assumption and interpretation of her husband's behavior and his intention. Although his behavior could be passive-aggressive (PA), it is also possible he is reacting out of frustration. He may not be as aware of her ADD all the time like she believes he should be. Therefore, let's look at this situation in three ways: 1} he is not being PA; 2) he is being PA; and 3) challenging her interpretation of the situation.

1) He is not being PA. Her husband may not be thinking about her ADD. Often, we think people are aware of something (because we've told them repeatedly). Yet, most people are responding to situations from their own perspective. In addition, ADD can be quite variable, and therefore, confusing to an outsider's perspective. What I mean is that the ADD symptoms of lack of focus and memory problems are often inconsistent--a person might be able to focus and remember in one situation and not another. Therefore, even though her husband knows she has ADD, he may not always have that in mind and interpret her behavior according to that fact. As a result, when he is reacting it is not due to PA but just frustration about his things being misplaced.

The reason it is important to think of the possibility of this not being PA behavior is because then the problem might be more readily resolved. In particular, they may need to discuss the problem when they are not in the heat of the moment and brainstorm possible solutions. Often, people believe that once they told somebody something once, the other person should always keep those instructions in mind. ADD or no ADD, people don't think that way. We need repeated reminders. If you WANT to make a change, do you tell yourself once and then you have made the change? Or do you need to keep reminding yourself? I find when I'm working with people to make changes, often the hardest thing is remembering. When I ask if they practiced their assignment, initially the response is often "I forgot." And this is with people who are fairly motivated to change. So, both the wife and the husband need to keep in mind that changing behavior requires repeated reminders. And these reminders can't be in anger because then all that is remembered is the anger and the argument. Instead, they need to brainstorm other possible solutions. For example, when the wife is cleaning she could put out a sign (similar to the "wet floor" signs put up in public places) to warn her husband that if he sets anything down it might be put away and forgotten. Or, the husband could put a post-it note on the things he doesn't want touched--if she needs to move them, she could indicate on the post-it note where the item is. In this way, they may solve the problem rather than having the repeated argument.

2) He is being PA. On the other hand, maybe the husband is PA and he takes delight in setting things down for his wife to misplace so that he can pounce on her and take his frustrations out on her. Notice, however, my description shows a very deliberate and well thought-out plan. If this is the situation, most likely the same behavior is occurring in other areas of their marriage.

PA behavior has a purpose. In this case, the purpose would be to escalate an argument so that he can feel better by releasing his anger while blaming her. By doing so, he doesn't have to take responsibility for his behavior. In this type of situation, as I have described elsewhere, it is important to not reward his behavior. The reward is the ability to take his frustrations out on her. To reduce the reward she needs to refrain from escalating the argument by removing herself from it as calmly as possible: "I will discuss this with you when you are calmer." Obviously, she may not be able to prevent the reward completely because he might feel satisfied with his initial blaming reaction or he might try to continue the argument. If that is the case, they may have more serious problems to address.

3) Challenging her interpretation. Finally, there may be some assumptions she is making that affect how she views the situation. By examining her own thinking, she may be better able to determine whether his behavior is likely to be PA or not. We will examine this further in a Cognitive Diary Training Example.

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