Avoiding confrontation at any cost is not the way to run a relationship. People tell me all the time about how their spouse/partner does things that bother them. I invariably ask: “Why are you telling me and not him (her)?” They invariably say something like: “I don’t want to risk a confrontation.” The major error in this line of thinking is simply this: Confrontation need not be painful or irrational.
Many people have had bad experiences with confrontation in the past and they fear the same will continue to happen. Not necessarily so! For example, if you had bad experiences with your parents, family or a romantic relationship, it is simply because you (and they) did not know any better. And it also possible you were dealing with an irrational person. The point is this: You can always change. There’s no mystery to communication. Simply be polite yet firm about what you want. Put the request in the form of a question, when possible. Don’t be hostile or defensive. There’s usually no reason to be. And if there is reason to be, then this might not be the best time to talk — or maybe even not the right relationship for you to be pursuing.
There’s a big difference between saying, “You never listen to me! You never do what I want!” and saying, “I’d like to work out some ways to better organize and share the responsibilities around the house. Once we agree on how to do this, we can write them down so we’ll remember. Are you OK with that?” Most rational people will respond well to the latter approach.
The world is full of people who give too much. They give even when they don’t have anything to give, or when it’s not their job to give. They have internalized the mistaken idea that they’re supposed to give, with little or no reference to their personal needs. As a result of this self-inflicted imposition on their time and resources, it’s no surprise that they end up resentful, inefficient, or noncompliant. Passive-aggressive people intensely dislike confrontation, even small ones like, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you move this weekend. I have to spend time with my children.” Or, “Please understand, I feel really uncomfortable loaning my car to anyone.” The person they’re addressing would most likely accept the rejection with no hard feelings. But to the passive-aggressive individual, it’s intolerable to even risk a reaction. So instead of facing it head-on, the passive individual states outright that he’s happy to help. But when the time comes, he either no-shows or does a halfway job – resenting it all the while.
The irony is that passive-aggressive people start out as “too nice,” because they can never say no. But they end up coming across as inconsiderate and dishonest, as they fall into the psychological trap they create for themselves by this irrational fear of directness. Passive anger is much worse than direct anger. Direct anger, even when based on a faulty premise, at least implies some recognition that anger should have a reason. Even if someone just says, “I’m angry,” the inference is that there’s some reason for that anger. They accept responsibility for the anger by clearly expressing it. Passive anger, on the other hand, is a sneaky attempt to avoid responsibility and conflict. A person who hides their resentment behind a smile — not owning up to the anger even when confronted — is trying to have their cake and eat it too. It doesn’t matter if that anger is justified. The method of expressing it invalidates any claim to its legitimacy. Quite frankly, the victim of somebody’s passive anger is right to simply ignore it.
Give confrontation a chance. But keep in mind that confrontation can and must be rational. There’s no reason why you have to remain stuck in the old ways.
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