How To Navigate A Relationship With A Passive-Aggressive Partner

One of the most aggravating qualities a human being can have is being passive-aggressive. Passive-aggressive behavior is when someone doesn't want to come out and say what negative emotions they're feeling, so they indirectly go out of their way to let you know they're angry, annoyed, upset — whatever negativity they're dealing with internally — by being mean (via the Mayo Clinic). It is, for the sake of argument, a form of pettiness.

Passive aggression can be expressed in many ways. Sometimes it involves having your texts ignored when the person on the other end knows you need an answer immediately. It could also involve notes being left for you, instead of the person directly confronting you about an issue. Other times, it can come in the form of words — ones saturated with unnecessary sarcasm that feels more like callousness. And, sadly, this behavior goes back to their childhood and their inability to be direct when issues arise.

"Often, it develops when people believe they need to control, hide, disguise or deny their anger in order to preserve their relationships with others," therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC tells MindBodyGreen. Because passive-aggressive behavior can be not just difficult to handle, but can even be mentally and emotionally damaging if you don't know how to deal with it, if your partner exhibits this behavior, then you have your work cut out for you. But you can navigate your relationship with them and come out the other side, as long as you understand what you're up against.

Learn how to communicate with them

Although someone may have a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior, it doesn't mean they're passive-aggressive all the time. It's when they're unable to let you know what they're thinking and feeling that passive aggression kicks in. Because of this, it's a good idea to learn ways to talk to them on their level — without being passive-aggressive yourself, of course — so they'll ideally let their guard down and open up (via Psychology Today).

"Someone may have grown up in a family that didn't rely on direct communication to solve problems, which can trigger a more passive-aggressive response to situations throughout their life," neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., tells Bustle. "It can be a defense mechanism towards uncomfortable situations or when they get annoyed in general... Be open to learning what type of communication works best for them."

This also means keeping your cool. Not only do you not want to respond to their passive-aggressive behavior with your own passive-aggressive behavior, but you also don't want to scream and yell at them. That allows them to win because their pettiness is intended to anger you.

Address their behavior

Fun fact: sometimes people don't even know they have a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior. While most of us are guilty of acting passive-aggressively and knowing that that's exactly what we're doing, people who were raised in a home where conflict wasn't addressed in a healthy manner may not even be aware of what they're doing. Because of this, in addition to learning what communication route will work best for both of you, it's also important to address their behavior so they can, hopefully, work on it. Just be aware of how they might respond.

"Passive-aggressive people will often become inflamed or retaliatory when healthy strategies are put into play," clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly tells Insider. "A passive-aggressive person who is working on self-development may, however, be able to respond in healthy ways." While passive-aggressive behavior can be really irritating and even hurtful, it's still something that can be helped. What's essential for you, as someone who's in a relationship with a passive-aggressive partner, is being direct and assertive (via PsychCentral). You may want to respond in an equally petty way sometimes, but think of what Michelle Obama said: "When they go low, we go high" (via CNBC). Taking the high road when someone is taking the low road — while still asserting yourself — is the healthiest road you can take — for both yourself and your relationship.