Friday, August 7th, 2020

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
Turning The Kingdom into a Democracy


Dealing with a Passive Partner

We are continuing our series on living with difficult people. Last month we highlighted relationships that are caught up in power struggles.

We likened the struggle to the children's game 'King of the Castle.' With this article we will begin examining three communication styles: passive, aggressive and assertive.

The passive and aggressive styles of communication can keep the power struggle going and are difficult to handle. The last article in this series will be using the assertive communication as one way of turning the kingdom into a democracy.

Things are not always the way they appear. Sometimes the partner who looks like the one in charge or in control may not be. The partner who may be the most controlling could be the one who appears weaker or is passive.

When I was growing up, I heard my aunt fussing with my uncle. She would go on and on while my uncle did not reply. I felt a lot of anger by the way she talked to him. At the time, it seemed to me that she was being mean and picking on my uncle. He seemed like a helpless person who was being unfairly treated.

Later, I realized how frustrating it must have been for my aunt dealing with a passive partner. It was as though my uncle was behind a wall and she was banging on the wall trying to get him to be visible with his thoughts and feelings.

Most passive communicators have a difficult time sharing their needs, feelings and wants. To figure out what they want, we are forced to read between the lines. Mary (fictitious name) told me that she was really angry with someone at the office.

She said she was going to give him a 'piece of her mind.' I overheard the conversation and afterwards, she said, 'Boy! I told him off!!' Her statement amazed me. I must have missed it because I didn't hear anything that was confrontational. That person who was 'being told off' would have never known it!

Sometimes the passive communicator expects others to be mind readers because they only partially or indirectly express what they want. Since many passive people have a difficult time making decisions and saying what they want or need, we are often put in the situation that, when a decision needs to be made, we make it.

After making the decision, we discover what we decided was not what our partner wanted. We may hear our upset or hurt partner say, 'I tried to tell you that I didn't want to go there or do that.' So we are left with anger and guilt.

Next month we will continue finish the passive communicator.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700