Every marriage has its hurdles, and communicating properly with your spouse when things don’t work out is essential to avoiding future speed bumps down the road. However, it’s common to mask your feelings in passive aggressive phrases. While we convince ourselves that we are taking the higher road, we express our anger and displeasure covertly, saying one thing and meaning another. This does nothing to solve the problem and only creates more resentment between the two of you.
“It is hard to call out and confront passive aggression because its passive nature makes it unexpected, a bit sneaky or something that is difficult to point at directly without sometimes sounding ‘over-sensitive,’ says leadership coach and author Suzanne Wylde. “People may not even know they are doing it as it may be a learned behavior.”
If you notice that people are not reacting well to you, it’s important to consider what you say, how you are saying it, and the underlying reason for saying it. If you pinpoint passive aggressive tendencies, it’s crucial to root the behavior out, because, well, it make you sound like a jerk.
“It can sour all of your relationships and burn bridges irrevocably,” says Wylde.
A big step in defeating passive aggressive behavior is understanding what phrases may be perceived as it. Look and see whether or not any of these phrases have worked their way into your conversations with your significant other. If they have, it might be time to weed them out.
“I don’t mean to be rude…”
If you preface a statement with this qualifier, you’re being rude. It’s a defense tactic designed to offset the rude remark and put the ball in the other person’s court. That way, if they’re offended by what you said, you’ve given yourself an out. “It means you are knowingly being rude but want to take away the other person’s right to respond accordingly,” says Wylde. “Reconsider saying anything at all, or if you need to then find a way to say it respectfully.”
“That was a surprisingly good decision…”
Adding “surprisingly” or “shockingly,” or anything in that vein immediately turns a positive sentiment into a backhanded compliment. This creates confusion and conflict in the person to whom you’re speaking and will only undermine any good intentions you may have had.
“Backhanded compliments are ways to confuse people and criticize them in a way that is harder to react to,” Wylde says. “Because we naturally feel good and more open when complimented, it conflicts with the healthy anger that would usually fend off an insult. Just give genuine compliments without qualifying them.”
“You’re so lucky you got that promotion… “
Whether it’s a promotion or any achievement, attributing it to luck devalues and belittles it. By telling your significant other that they’re lucky for achieving something basically means that you believe that they didn’t have to work to achieve it. It also takes the moment away from them and puts it back on you.
“If you’re viewing someone else’s achievement through the lens of how it makes you feel, you might want to consider if you want more for yourself and what you want to do about that,” Wylde says. “And remember when complimenting people for an achievement, never to downplay the effort that inevitably went into it.”
“If only you were better at that…”
You might think that you’re simply stating the obvious, or merely commenting on something you both know is true. For example, if a repair is needed at home, and your partner isn’t handy, you might say, “If you were handier, we wouldn’t have to hire a contractor.” While that statement may be true, it’s still hurtful, as it is pointing out a shortcoming of your partner. Illuminating their weaknesses can sometimes be a way to make you feel better about yourself, which is equally damaging. If you find yourself doing this then try to tackle these feelings within yourself and take responsibility for your own level of success,” Wylde says. “You will probably find that you don’t need to say anything, because it has nothing to do with the other person.”
“You’re too sensitive…”
This is a big no-no, as it is immediately invalidates the other person’s emotions. You may have crossed a line and hurt your partner, and this statement is your way of deflecting the blame off yourself and putting it back on them. “If you are tempted to say this to someone,” says Wylde, “first consider what you are saying that leads to these reactions and how you would feel if someone said the same thing to you.”
“If that’s what you want to do…”
This is a dangerous one, as it opens the person you’re speaking to to entrapment. They might think that you’re giving them permission to do what they want to do, but the reality is far different.
“The first word in the sentence really shows a connotation of disagreement,” says Keischa Pruden, a licensed therapist in North Carolina. “Instead say, ‘I don’t agree with your decision, but I will go along with it.’ Another option is, ‘I really don’t want to do that. Can we do X instead?’”
“Well, If you like it…”
Tone of voice is key here, but this phrase is often used when one person isn’t happy with a choice the other person has made, but doesn’t want to verbalize their displeasure directly. Instead, the intent becomes putting the decision, and the burden, back on the other person. “If that’s what you want to do, then we’ll do it.” If you aren’t happy with a choice that’s being made, just speak up, says Pruden. “Say, ‘That’s an interesting choice,’ or ‘That’s not something I would do, but it’s your choice.’”
“I’m not one to talk…”
Similar to some of the earlier remarks, this phrase is usually teeing up something insulting. You might say, “I know I’m not one to talk, but you’re really packing on the pounds.” Nothing good can come from this, even if you set it up by pointing the finger at yourself first. “Maybe if you are flawed in the same area you should rein in your comments and apply them to your own life instead,” says Wylde.
“I don’t understand why you like that, but I guess it’s your thing.”
You and your partner might have different tastes. He or she might be passionate about something that you can’t understand. But that doesn’t mean you have to belittle their interest by expressing your feelings this way. “If you find yourself criticizing something you know the other person likes or is invested in emotionally, consider why,” says Wylde. “If you think about it, and know you genuinely differ in opinion, ask yourself what result you are hoping for?”