Here’s Exactly What To Say When Someone's Being Passive Aggressive

The last thing you want to do is mirror their behavior.

by Kristine Fellizar
Passive aggressive behavior can be frustrating, so here are some polite texts to send to open up the...
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Passive aggressive behavior can be one of the most frustrating conflicts to deal with in a relationship — romantic or otherwise. Instead of talking through a problem and solving it as soon as possible, one person decides to pretend like everything is “fine” even when it’s clearly not. They may even shut you out or give backhanded compliments. When you’re on the receiving end of this behavior, it can be tough to know what to say and leave you feeling pretty helpless. If you’re stuck on what to do, there are some texts you can send someone who’s being passive aggressive that will help open up a dialogue between you two.

As Dr. Caroline Madden, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle, passive aggressive behavior comes from a place where someone doesn’t feel like they have an equal amount of power. “It’s like what you do to a boss you don’t like,” Madden says. “You can’t tell him off, but you can take an extra 10 minutes at lunch that he doesn’t know about. It’s a tactic that children use, and it’s harmful because the passive aggressive person has a mindset that even if they told their partner directly, they wouldn’t get what they want. By being dramatic about it, they make that prediction come true.”

Everyone deals with hurt feelings and conflict in their own way. According to Madden, some people are naturally passive aggressive and have a tough time opening up about their feelings, while others may have learned that being direct doesn’t work. If your friend or partner has a hard time letting you know how they’re really feeling, it’s important to be patient and calm. The last thing you want to do is mirror their behavior and cause even more distance in the relationship.

If someone in your life is being passive aggressive, here are some examples of texts you can send.

“I hear what you’re saying, and I apologize if my actions made you feel that way. That wasn’t my intention. Can we maybe talk about how this may have been a miscommunication?”

Even if you don’t think you’ve done something wrong or you don’t even know why the other person is mad, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings. As Jose Ramirez, licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle, this is a good text to send because it shows your partner that you get that they’re upset, and it validates them. “Asking to discuss how this may have been a miscommunication softens it up and will help clear up any confusion,” Ramirez says. “This is a good way to deescalate a tense conversation and not play into the passive-aggressive behavior.”

“I think we should talk about what’s going on with us.”

When someone is acting up, it might be your gut instinct to leave them alone until they get over it. But as psychotherapist and writer, Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, tells Bustle, that’s the last thing you should do. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away, and some people really do need encouragement from others to help them open up. “You can text them and let them know that there are some things that you'd like to talk to them about. Then try to meet them in person to go over your concerns,” Mendez says.

“I’m feeling hurt by what’s happening right now.”

If you’re dealing with someone who’s passive aggressive, it’s important to be direct. Skirting around an issue won’t solve any problems. In fact, Mendez says, some people don’t even realize that they’re being passive aggressive. It’s just the way they deal with conflict or negative emotions. “Be kind, but upfront about what you notice and how you feel,” Mendez says. In order to minimize the potential for more conflict, stick to “I” statements. This approach puts the focus on you so you’re more likely to receive a positive response.

"Walk me through your thought process.”

“Walk me through your thought process” or “What’s going on in your head right now?” are good texts to send because you’re letting your partner or friend know that you’re ready to listen to them. “It also gives the other person who is being passive aggressive an opportunity to look at their behavior, attitude, and choices for a second time,” Ashley Hudson, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. “It's a creative way of allowing the person to say what they actually want to say instead of being passive aggressive.” For instance, if you’re in an argument with your partner and they go, “You’re always right,” you can respond with "OK, let’s talk about that. Walk me through your thought process on why you think that is.” Your partner may realize that the real issue isn’t what they initially thought.

"I think I misunderstood something. Can you go over that one more time?"

Sending this text is another way to get clarity on what’s really going on in someone’s head. “Let's say the partner is indirectly communicating their anger by giving you the silent treatment,” Hudson says. “Letting them know, ‘Hey, I think I misunderstood something earlier,’ lets them know their communication was missed, and they need to find another way to communicate their anger if they want to be understood.” It’s another way of letting your partner know that you can’t solve anything if you don’t know what the problem is.

“Let me know when you are ready to talk."

If the person you’re dealing with still isn’t giving you enough clarity, it’s OK to save the conversation for later. “The conversation is over until the partner is ready to actually discuss what they truly want to,” Hudson says. If you go this route, be sure to remain calm and avoid becoming passive aggressive yourself. It’s easy to get frustrated and respond with a sarcastic, “OK, I guess everything is fine then.” Don’t do that. If you feel like you’re not getting anything out of your partner, just leave it for now and let them know you’re open to talking it through at a better time.

“Can we talk over the phone or meet up in person?”

Although texting is an easy way to reach someone, you may want to consider having the conversation over the phone or in person. According to Madden, trying to work things out via text may make a bad situation much worse. “They’re already in a mood, and we all know that even the most friendly text can be misconstrued as something bad,” she says. “However, over the phone or in person, you can say, ‘I feel like something is going on between us. Our relationship is important to me. Let me understand what is happening for you.”


Dr. Caroline Madden, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist

Jose Ramirez, licensed mental health counselor

Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, psychotherapist and writer

Ashley Hudson, licensed marriage and family therapist