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Is he "Passive Aggressive" or practicing "Anger Management"?

Updated on January 21, 2012

In search of peace of mind...

Upon graduating from high school a lot of young men are given a graduation card containing the poem “If” by Rudyard Kippling. I’m paraphrasing here but I wanted to point out the first sentence and the last.

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…..You’ll be a man my son!”

Men are taught it’s the calm person who is in control of a situation. We admire those who don’t freak out under pressure.

The Seesaw Effect

Over the past couple of weeks I have come across questions and articles from women concerning anger over their men being “passive aggressive” or “shutting down” during arguments.

One such article accused the man of being a (diabolical manipulator) because he kept a calm demeanor while she blew her lid. In fact the calmer he was the angrier she got. Some therapists have coined this behavior as being “The Seesaw Effect”.

When her husband asked, “Why are you so upset? She went ballistic! After some time passed she began to question if she was justified in getting so upset and wondered if there was something wrong with her. According to the article the woman saw a therapist and learned her husband was “passive aggressive”. They have since divorced.

Aggressive People Vs Passive Aggressive People

Essentially what we are talking about are the methods used by people to get what they want. The aggressive person gets in your face, tells you what they are thinking, and what they want to see happen. More often than not aggressive people are “proactive” when it comes to going after what they want. Passive aggressive people are usually “reactive” and non-confrontational. When pushed instead of pushing back they move out of the way or seek a way deflect an attack. They look for ways to get what they want without having to reveal their motives or ruffling feathers. In all honesty every one of us has been both aggressive and passive aggressive at times. It all depends on who we are dealing with and who has the most power in the relationship. The less power one feels they have the more likely they are to be covert or passive aggressive. Neither method is good or bad. A person judges his or her own methods by their effectiveness.

Gender Differences in Fighting Styles

Women are likely to feel more comfortable with yelling, arguing, and crying as part of the process of resolving issues. Aside from some men that enjoy seeing their women wig out….the vast majority of men would rather not deal with that kind of drama. In fact most men see “in your face” arguing as foreplay before a (fist fight) breaks out. If it were a man in his face instead of a woman he’d probably knock the crap out of him. Most people don’t like being yelled at, bossed around, or talked down to.

Verbal Spankings and Shutting Down

All the while a woman is giving her man an ear full he is trying his best not to put his hands around her throat or punch her lights out. He sees they aren’t going to ever agree on the issue so he chooses to withdraw by tuning her out and if need be physically removing himself from the room. This further incites some women so they follow him room to room or corner him. Depending on the man this could be a very dangerous tactic. Men shut down to avoid displaying violent anger. In their mind they are practicing “anger management”. They initially try to use logical reasoning to calm things down. When that doesn’t work they tune her out. And if that does not work they leave the room. The majority of women in these circumstances believe they are “right” and it's their men that need to change. We are who we are.

What is a woman to do?

1. Be grateful you are with a man who does not believe in hitting women.

2. Learn from previous arguments and fights you have had with your mate.

After a while you should know if you do (a) then he is likely to respond with (b).

It’s been said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. If you want something different then you have to do something different.

3. Remember the only person you can “change” is yourself. The vast majority of our fights are tied to the frustration we have over our mate not doing what we want them to do. People change when they want to change. All you can do is ask for what you want. Don’t assume communication will lead to action.

If he can’t or won’t give you what you want then you have to decide if it is a “deal breaker”.

If it is, get out. If it’s not, learn to leave without. It’s a waste of time trying to change water into wine. In order to have a happy relationship both people have to want the same things most of the time.

4. Try being “the man”. If you are very upset get out and go for a run or to the gym, take a walk, or do whatever until you calm down and can have a rational discussion. Once you start yelling he stops listening.

5. Keep the goal in mind when making your case. Avoid rhetorical questions such as “Why did you…?” If you have already made up your mind there is nothing he could say that would satisfy you. There is no point in jumping through those hoops. The only thing it does is put him on the defensive. You are not going to get what you want when the other person feels the need to hold their ground or justify their behavior. Ideally every argument or disagreement should teach us something about our mates and ourselves. Realistically you are not going to agree on everything. Therefore it’s important to pick your battles carefully. Fighting in a relationship is not about winning or losing. It’s about establishing boundaries in the relationship. If your mate loves you he or she will try to avoid hurting you.

Anger is the mask that hurt wears…..”

One man’s opinion!


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    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 5 years ago

      Arlene V. Poma, Thanks for stopping by and posting your comment. I especially like your statement, "We are a team". Too many couples think in terms of (I & Me) and not enough in terms of (Us & We). I also agree that many people who are passive agressive developed that behavior during their childhood. We do tend to stick with (what works for us) even after we reach adulthood.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

      I stay away from passive aggressive people. PERIOD. My husband is not a passive aggressive person, and neither am I. He does not fight. If he does "fight," he fights fair. He will TELL you how he feels. I will do the same. Therefore, we do not fight. We do not raise our voices to be heard. We are a team, and when you have a successful team, it's because it's understood that no matter what, you will work it out and make the right decisions for the team. This teamwork is based on respect. What you failed to bring up is that passive aggressive people can be a blend of different behaviors, and all of it has to do with control or whatever they did during their childhoods to get it. And I've seen some real doozies. (Just one woman's opinion).

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 5 years ago

      wonderful1, Thanks so much for you comment and sharing your story. Your statement "it was about how he could push my buttons to make me so angry in seconds, transfer the guilt onto me..." This is something I was alluding to with my "Aside from (some men) that enjoy seeing their women wig out….the vast majority of men would rather not deal with that kind of drama."

      You are so right about the pent up anger. Both men and women are guilty of "going along to get along" while harboring resentment. Eventually (the last straw breaks) and they want out.

      I believe most men are more comfortable having a physical fight than arguing. They would rather live alone than fight. Logically this makes sense because if you're fighting a lot it means you don't want the same things or don't have the same priorities. In short you are wrong for each other. Since the majority of men don't hit women they just want to curtail fight without having to declare they were "wrong". Unfortunately for some people "winning the argument" becomes more important than finding a solution. Thanks again for your insightful comment!

    • wonderful1 profile image

      Sheila Varga Szabo 5 years ago from Southern California

      Good points made in your Hub, and useful tips for any couple trying to get along. Relationships are hard work, and both have to compromise and be willing to work together maturely (or it won't work out).

      I was married to a passive aggressive, and the only difference I'd say from your description, is that my ex was a manipulative, hurtful person with his covert abuse. It wasn't so much about being calm and quiet during arguments, it was about how he could push my buttons to make me so angry in seconds, transfer the guilt onto me, and skirt the subject without even noticing he went off on a tangent. The PA types have poor coping skills, and can't communicate maturely. My ex couldn't tell me to my face if something bothered him, so he would "get revenge" by hurting me other ways: avoiding me, not communicating, slacking off with his share of duties around the house-- anything to push me over the edge.

      The only way I found out about PA behavior was when my ex left and I did a lot of reading about midlife crisis, passive behavior, and so on. When I read the description of PA, all the tell tale signs were describing my ex. When he dropped the "d-bomb" on me, he made excuses like, "everything in the marriage was what YOU wanted," and "I agreed with you to keep the peace in our marriage." So, while he was telling me he loved me and was happy, he actually had pent up anger, resentment, and hatred that he was too cowardly to express.

      Since he's been gone, my anger went away, and my home is peaceful and quiet. No more pounding my fists into doors when I feel like I'm going insane. My ex would make my blood boil, and when I blew my top, he'd point his finger and say, "see, you're the crazy person!" Well, my insanity is cured since he left. PA people are toxic, and if you spot the behavior in someone, get out immediately! They don't change, and usually deny there's anything wrong with them. I'd rather a guy yell and tell me like it is, and have a good old fashioned argument than have someone push my buttons and be aloof.

      Thanks for bringing up the subject. I love to help others with advice on this because it's very close to home for me.