10 passive aggressive things toxic people do in relationships

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We all have our own definitions of what constitutes a healthy relationship.

‘But sometimes, we find ourselves entangled in a web of toxicity, painted in subtle hues of passive-aggressiveness that we struggle to identify.

You might look back on your past relationships, or even your current one, and wonder if the behaviors you’re encountering are just part and parcel of a normal relationship or if they’re signs of something more insidious.

How do you determine if what you’re experiencing is truly toxic, or just the typical ebbs and flows most relationships go through?

After years of personal experiences and those of my acquaintances, I’ve compiled a list of 10 passive-aggressive behaviors that toxic individuals often display in relationships.

If these sound familiar, it may be time to reassess the health of your relationship and address any lurking toxicity.

1. They Disguise Criticism As “Jokes”

One of the most insidious ways a toxic person can introduce negativity in a relationship is through passive-aggressive behavior disguised as humor.

You may find them making fun of your dreams, your appearance, or your mistakes, all under the guise of “just joking”.

This behavior can leave you second-guessing yourself, wondering if you’re being too sensitive or if their words contain a deeper, more harmful intent.

It’s important to remember that humor should never be used as a weapon to belittle or demean your partner.

If you often find yourself the butt of their “jokes”, it may be time to recognize this behavior as a red flag signaling underlying toxicity.

Keep in mind, everyone has moments of thoughtless comments, but when it becomes a consistent pattern designed to undermine your self-confidence, it’s not merely playful teasing– it’s passive aggressive and toxic.

2. They Frequently Use The Silent Treatment

Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. However, toxic individuals often exploit this by employing the silent treatment as a form of punishment.

When they’re unhappy or upset, instead of addressing the issue directly, they retreat into silence, leaving you feeling unsure and anxious.

This passive-aggressive tactic is designed to make you feel guilty, to question your actions, and to ultimately conform to their desires just to restore peace.

It’s a manipulative tool that aims to control the relationship and gain power over you.

Remember, everyone needs space and time alone sometimes.

But when silence is used as a weapon to inflict emotional distress rather than a means for healthy reflection, it crosses the line into toxic territory.

3. They Subtly Undermine Your Successes

In a healthy relationship, your partner should be your cheerleader, celebrating your victories and encouraging you in your pursuits.

However, toxic individuals often find ways to belittle your achievements, subtly implying that they’re not as significant as they seem.

I remember when I received a promotion at work, a milestone that I had been working towards for years.

Instead of sharing my joy, my partner at the time remarked, “Well, they probably just gave it to you because they felt bad.”

This comment stung, casting a shadow over an accomplishment I was proud of. It took me some time to recognize this pattern.

Each time I achieved something noteworthy, there would be a similar remark to downplay my success.

This subtle undermining is a passive-aggressive way of maintaining control and keeping you second-guessing your worth.

It’s important to celebrate your achievements and surround yourself with people who genuinely rejoice in your success.

4. They Are Experts at Playing the Victim

Toxic individuals are adept at twisting situations to make themselves appear as the victim, even when they are the ones who have caused harm.

This tactic is particularly manipulative because it deflects responsibility and places the blame on you, making you feel guilty for their actions or reactions.

According to psychologists, this behavior is known as “victim-playing” or “playing the martyr.”

It’s a common trait among individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, a condition characterized by a lack of empathy and an inflated sense of self-importance.

If you find yourself constantly apologizing or feeling guilty without understanding why, take a step back and assess if your partner is frequently playing the victim.

This can be a clear sign of a toxic relationship dynamic.

5. They Use Guilt as a Manipulation Tool

In my past relationship, I often found myself feeling guilty for things that I logically knew were not my fault.

For instance, if my partner had a bad day at work, they would blame it on an argument we had days ago, implying that I was the cause of their unhappiness.

It took me a while to realize that this was a manipulation tactic.

Toxic people are masters at using guilt as a tool to control others.

They twist situations and words to make you feel responsible for their emotions or their failures.

This is not only unfair but also an unhealthy dynamic in a relationship.

Everyone is responsible for managing their own emotions and reactions.

If you find yourself frequently feeling guilty or being made to feel guilty for things outside of your control, it’s a sign of passive-aggressive manipulation and toxicity.

6. They Give Backhanded Compliments

Toxic individuals often use backhanded compliments as a subtle form of criticism.

These compliments, laced with an element of insult, are designed to make you question your self-worth.

For example, they might say something like, “You did surprisingly well today,” implying that doing well is out of the ordinary for you.

This passive-aggressive tactic can leave you feeling confused and unsure of their intentions.

It’s important to recognize these disguised insults for what they are – a tool used to undermine your confidence and keep you off balance.

7. They Frequently Make You Feel Insecure

Toxic people often feed on creating insecurity.

They may frequently point out your flaws or compare you to others, all in an effort to make you feel less than.

This behavior is not only hurtful but is a clear sign of their own insecurities and a need to feel superior.

In a healthy relationship, your partner should make you feel loved and accepted for who you are, not constantly make you feel like you’re not good enough.

8. They Are Always “Fine”

One common passive-aggressive tactic toxic individuals use is to shut down communication by insisting they’re “fine” when they’re clearly not.

This behavior serves to create a sense of unease and forces you to probe deeper, giving them the attention they crave without having to communicate their feelings openly.

Remember, open and honest communication is key in any relationship. If your partner consistently refuses to express their feelings, it might be time to address this issue.

9. They Sabotage Your Plans

Toxic people often sabotage plans or create unnecessary obstacles as a form of passive-aggressive control.

It could be as simple as showing up late for an important event or creating drama that derails your plans altogether.

This behavior is designed to keep you on edge and reinforce their control over the relationship dynamics.

10. They Use Sarcasm as a Defense Mechanism

Sarcasm can be a fun and witty form of communication. However, toxic individuals often use it as a defense mechanism to mask their true feelings or to indirectly express negative emotions.

If your partner frequently uses sarcasm to avoid genuine conversation or to belittle your feelings, it’s a sign of passive-aggressiveness and toxicity in the relationship.

Recognizing these signs is the first step towards addressing toxicity in your relationships and working towards healthier dynamics.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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