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How to Be Less Passive-Aggressive Without Being Regular Aggressive

There's a middle ground between not saying what you mean and eviscerating someone.

Calling a loved one “passive aggressive” is perhaps the best way to make him or her actively aggressive. But there need not be a dichotomy in aggression—and there’s certainly a healthy middle ground between leaving a loaded Post-It note on the fridge and starting an all-out brawl in front of the kids,

“You’re engaging in passive aggressive behavior if you withhold something out of anger or act in
a way that you hope will lead to your partner to knowing that you’re angry without telling them directly,” psychologist Rebekah Montgomery told Fatherly.

The first step toward preventing passive aggression from turning into regular aggression is recognizing when you’re reacting to something without articulating. There are four basic forms of communication according to the research: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Passive communication is simply not saying what you want; aggressive is saying what you want and getting pissed off when those needs are not met. Passive-aggression involves the worst of both worlds—it’s when you don’t communicate your needs and you’re kind of a dick about it. Assertive communication is the most efficient. It means articulating whatever emotions you’re experiencing, without acting like a child.

Passive-aggression is frequently mistaken for a feminine trait, but men are equally capable of poor communication and jerky behavior. It just looks different. One way men tend to take part in passive-aggressive behaviors is by using sarcasm, psychologist Bernard Golden explained to Fatherly. “You make statements that can best be described as ‘half humor and half anger’, often with a denial of the anger,” Golden says. And of course, men are not immune to the old standbys of passive aggression—critical comments, not following through with plans, sabotaging the plans of others, the silent treatment.

Whether male or female, people become passive-aggressive when they feel hurt, disappointed, worried, anxious, or some combination thereof. Try to communicate those negative emotions in a calm and clear way, Montgomery suggests. By communicating these feelings, people hold themselves responsible for their own emotions, instead of playing the victim with passive aggression or villain with aggression.