15 signs you’re in a relationship with a passive-aggressive person

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Did you eat the last donut and later find that your wife has adjusted the seat in your car?

No, this isn’t normal behavior. This is what’s known as being a passive-aggressive person.

Toxicity and abuse within relationships don’t have to involve screaming or physical violence. Passive aggressiveness is subtle and toxic, and nearly half of all men and women experience some form of psychological aggression at some point.

The first step toward extracting yourself is recognizing this type of behavior.

If something doesn’t feel right, here are the signs that these feelings could be coming from the person you believe in the most.

1) They love giving you the silent treatment

Do you remember not talking to your parents because they wouldn’t let you go to that rock concert when you were 14?

That’s the silent treatment, and it’s not confined to sulky children. Real-life adults also use it to punish their partners.

It can come in many forms, including complete silence, curt tones, or avoiding intimacy. The goal is to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong and that you’re being punished because you deserve to be punished.

And that’s why two in three people have experienced the cold shoulder.

2) They like to indulge in doublespeak

Saying one thing but meaning another is doublespeak. And there’s a reason why this is the tyrant’s hallmark throughout history.

Take your partner. Do they like saying yes to avoid an argument but never following through? That’s passive-aggressive doublespeak racing to the surface.

Unless you want to advance the concept of doublethink, like in George Orwell’s novel 1984, it’s time to stop letting these incidents slide.

3) They love to score keep

Here’s the thing about the passive-aggressive partner and unhealthy relationships. They will seldom confront issues directly, but they’ll score keep as much as the average umpire.

They’ll keep track of every time they were wronged, but they’ll rarely let you know the current score.

Yes, scorekeeps usually internalize their tallies, which is how they justify their behavior.

4) They feel like they are doing you a favor

Did you know that passive-aggressive people believe that their behavior is a mature adult approach to problems?

In their eyes, they’re avoiding conflict and taking one for their team. Even though letting things slide is sometimes the smart path on minor issues, the passive-aggressive party doesn’t let things slide.

Instead, they’ll display their discontent in other ways, as you’ll soon see.

5) They like to pretend they are helpless

In the world of the passive-aggressive, “I can’t” isn’t an issue of low self-esteem. It’s an issue of can’t vs. won’t.

Has your partner ever messed up basic tasks like washing the dishes or taking out the garbage? They’re hoping you’ll never ask them again or drop the matter entirely. It’s part of why women consistently do more chores at home than men.

But did you take a stand and put your foot down? Then you could be in for something much worse, which you’ll discover below.

6) They allow their resentment to simmer

Nothing’s more sad than a real-life adult who likes to deploy brooding as a weapon. If you’re resisting their game, they may like to display their resentment.

Anger unspoken and upset barely concealed are on show for a reason. They’ll often deny they’re mad with curt phrases like, “I’m fine!” and pretend to be happy.

And you’ll notice because they’ll go out of their way to make you notice.

7) They like to make everything an uphill battle

For the same reason as feigning helplessness, passive-aggressives love nothing more than to make everything a struggle.

They’ll say “Yes” to something and then implement delaying tactics, whether excuses, forgetfulness, or general stalling. The point is that they want you to know that they’re unhappy and that you should give up trying.

But did you refuse to accept this behavior? Then the passive-aggressive has an even more sinister tool in their toolbox.

8) They’re not above direct sabotage

Have you ever looked at your partner and thought, “They cannot be that useless”?

You’re right. They’re not that useless. They’re actively sabotaging your efforts to undermine both your authority and confidence.

When done successfully, the passive-aggressive can get themselves out of any future obligation or responsibility because you’ll never ask them again.

And that’s assuming you even notice the sabotage. But that’s okay. They won’t remember it if you confront them because…

9) They love to not remember things

Intentionally forgetting plans, events, and errands is a popular past-time for passive-aggressive partners.

Take Michael Scott from the TV series The Office. This bumbling regional manager regularly uses intentional forgetfulness to navigate social and work-related challenges.

While done for comedic effect, it’s a power play and a form of abuse. In Michael Scott’s case, he argues his corner so fervently that the person he made plans with begins questioning themselves.

But when this mental deception doesn’t work, there’s always the old-faithful…

10) They like to sulk

Passive-aggressive partners are often people who don’t show their emotions. But they do love a good sulk.

Sullen behavior, like being moody, often comes from childhood. These are the people who knew that sulking would get them the attention they believed they were entitled to.

And this can carry on for days and weeks until their partner submits and apologizes.

11) They are never angry

Passive-aggressive people are often unwilling or incapable of expressing their emotions, including anger.

There’s a real phenomenon appended to this behavior, and it’s known as Alexithymia. Perhaps they grew up being taught that expressing anger is unacceptable. Maybe there’s something else going on in their heads.

Either way, the anger is there, but they just can’t show it. And that tends to end up being expressed in other behaviors.

12) They are always the victim

One of the things that every one of the above characteristics can be tied back to is always being the victim. Whether it’s actively pretending to be the victim or making you feel like you have victimized them, there’s no end to the blame shifting.

If you see any part of your partner in Ross Geller from Friends, then there’s a good chance that you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive.

Note that this isn’t always used to manipulate you.

It can also be a lie they tell themselves to avoid taking accountability for self-destructive behaviors, such as alcoholism, drug consumption, gambling, or even infidelity.

But don’t assume that passive-aggressives always stay passive. They can also go on the attack. Read on to find out how they do this.

13) They like to deliberately trigger you

Passive-aggressives often cannot assert themselves, which is why they resort to these behaviors. But they can also get nasty.

For example, does your partner constantly like to bring up negative aspects of your past? Why won’t they let your abusive father go, or why won’t they back you up when bringing up your terrible manager?

That’s because they’re pushing your buttons to put you down. They’re looking for the things that get you going, so they can control you.

Thinking about calling them out? They’ve got a plan for that too.

14) They are incredibly sarcastic

If you’ve called your partner out again for embarrassing you in front of your friends, then be prepared to look like the bad guy.

Passive-aggressive partners love to express their psychological superiority with a round of sarcasm.

Ever heard the following statements that no self-respecting person would ever say?

  • Can’t you take a joke?
  • Oh, get over it. I’m just kidding.
  • Why are you overreacting?
  • Why are you being so oversensitive?

The chances are now you’re questioning yourself. Are YOU being oversensitive? CAN’T you take a joke?

And now, the passive-aggressive can move to their final form, which is why countless partners stick with their emotional abusers for years. Keep reading to find out.

15) They are dependent on you, and you are dependent on them

The greatest fear of passive-aggressive people is becoming dependent. They know they’re indecisive and non-assertive, so you can never pin them down.

But the great tragedy of these people is that even though they fear dependency, they’re entirely dependent on you. And that’s why they try to control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

It’s a nasty cycle that can feel impossible to break, but you can come back from this.

Overcoming passive-aggressive behavior by refusing to engage

Passive-aggressive behaviors are effective because they lay the trap, and you do the rest. It’s textbook emotional manipulation, and the only way to tackle it is to nullify it.

You can break down those walls by not engaging in the way they expect and refusing to budge. Sometimes, the person may change through therapy.

But others may be irredeemable, so maybe it’s time for you to question your place in the relationship or even if you have a place at all.

Honest talk, professional help, and a willingness to change must all come together if you’re going to beat back passive-aggressiveness. But it all begins with spotting the tell-tale signs in the first place.

10 signs your partner is stopping you from reaching your full potential in life

15 things men do when they’re down on confidence