In addition to minimizing the problem, another issue that comes hand in hand with protecting group/marital harmony is expressing anger and frustration in an unhealthy manner. Gottman’s four horsemen are one example of how terribly arguments can progress when anger is not addressed appropriately. However, there is also a second method that South Asians couples tend to use to express anger and frustration in an unhealthy way: passive-aggression.
Passive-aggressive behavior is essentially feeling anger or frustration with your partner and expressing it in a way that harms or sabotages your relationship. It is often used as a way to “make things even” when a partner is upset. Here are some examples of common passive aggressive behaviors used by South Asian couples:
1) It’s Monday night and Samir wants to come straight home to watch the football game but Miriam asks him to stop by the grocery store first to pick up some milk. He really doesn’t want to do that so he “forgets” to go to the store and comes back home at the time he originally wanted leaving Miriam in a jam.
2) Ajay wants to spend 2 evenings in a row with his parents who Sarita, his wife, does not get along with. She would rather spend only one night with them and the second night doing something else. However, she does not tell him this and instead goes to dinner with Ajay and his parents but sulks and looks upset the entire time both evenings.
3) Vidya and Amar get into an argument over the cleaning schedule at home. Amar is still upset with Vidya after the argument so he vacuums around Vidya’s suitcase from their last trip, leaving it untouched in the middle of the clean room.
4) Rishi wants to invite some friends over for dinner and asks Meena to cook. She has had a long week and is upset that he would ask her to cook on a night she wanted to take off. She puts the pots and pans on the stove a little more loudly than she would normally and closes the cabinets a little harder than usual. When Rishi asks her if anything is wrong, she replies, “I’m fine,” in a tone that clearly indicates she is not happy.
5) Vikas is very upset because he and Shaira are running late to pick up some friends for a concert. Once they are in the car he says, “You know, it would have been nice to show some respect to Sheila and Manu by being on time to pick them up. They're probably outside on the curb in the cold waiting for us.”
Passive-aggressive behavior occurs for multiple reasons. Primarily it happens when one or both partners feel like they have lost control of the relationship. When either feels that their words have little to no effect, if they feel disrespected or that they cannot influence their marriage, they start to feel powerless. One way to regain power is to avoid talking about the real issue and instead “take revenge” on their partner usually in non-confrontational ways.
In the next set of articles we will address passive aggressive behaviors in more detail to understand exactly why it occurs, what happens during the conversation, what it means for your relationship when your partner is being passive-aggressive and what to do about it.
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