Be aware of the cues that signal passive-aggressive communicators
Active communication doesn’t assume someone can read our minds or “just know” what we’re upset about. People cannot know what we are feeling until we clearly communicate those feelings.
If you show frustration or anger through sighing, giving the silent treatment, or making sarcastic comments—this is a passive-aggressive communication style. (There are other cues of being a passive-aggressive communicator. I’ve just shared a few.)
You might say “I’m fine” when asked if you’re upset. Here’s why:
Passive-aggressive communication is a common style of communicating in dysfunctional homes. We learn to communicate this way when we witness adults never directly talk about, process, and find solutions for their issues. We’ve seen parents who shut down, avoid conflict, spout out “because I said so,” or erupt when they’re angry. This teaches us that conflict is “bad” and leaves us without the tools to navigate it.
If you’ve been raised in this environment, you might “ghost” people you aren’t interested in, disappear or avoid people when there’s conflict, or you might expect people to “read” your emotions without you speaking to them. You know this because you'd say, "they should have known it."
You might find yourself constantly asking people if they’re upset, what they’re feeling or thinking, or have a consistent urge to ask someone if you’ve done something wrong. This is because as a child you may had to read your parents’ emotions rather than talking about them. It’s helpful to understand that all conflict isn’t inherently bad. Actually, conflict can create emotional intimacy. It can allow us to understand the people we love on a deeper level.
Do you remember when Jacob cheated his brother Esau twice as recorded in the Bible? He stole his birthright and his blessing! This cheater caused the whole family to be in conflict. Isaac, the father, couldn’t resolve the feud because he was blind and nearing his earthly end. Rebekah, the mother, was just as guilty as Jacob because she was the mastermind behind these infamous cheating deeds.
Subsequently, these two brothers didn’t address their feud and their family’s conflict escalated to a tipping point that many theologians believe is the original reason why two nations are enemies today. Why? Because this family avoided the conflict between these two brothers. I’m not saying everyday conflict will escalate to splitting the family down the middle. While that might happen in some cases, oftentimes we simply avoid people or cut them out from our lives.
Being a passive-aggressive communicator can cause you to run away from conflict. Most of the time this is true, leaving the issue buried in the heart, or in the prayer chamber.
In marriage, we should learn active communication. It's a functional and healthy style of communication.
Active communication sounds like:
- “I feel hurt that I wasn’t invited.”
- “I didn’t like being pressured to go with you after I said no.”
- “I get overwhelmed when you don’t let me take a break from a heated conversation.”
- “I’m not exactly sure what I feel yet, but I need a minute to gather myself.”
- “I want you to ask me before making plans for us.”
- “I need more notice. Planning in advance is important to me.”
Active communication doesn’t assume someone can read our minds or “just know” what we’re upset about. People cannot know what we are feeling until we clearly communicate those feelings. Active communication doesn’t reject what other people feel. We might like it or agree with it, but at minimum, we should seek to understand instead of reject their feelings. It’s important to practice emotional regulation through such measures as learning to listen without reacting, learning to breathe, and learning to pause before having an impulsive reaction.
This will be uncomfortable at first, but with practice, we can become more confident. The plus to our marriage is we develop healthy boundaries, find compromise, and authentic emotional connection.
Proverbs 16:24 is such a wise word from the pen of Solomon by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Perhaps, being mindful of our verbal and nonverbal cues we give through the way we communicate can be the difference between having a good day or not-so-good day with our spouse.