Stepfamilies Are a Fertile Ground for Passive Aggressiveness

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Passive aggressiveness runs rampant in our stepfamilies.  I hypothesize that there is a minimum of one family member who exhibits these behaviors.  Are you one of the passive aggressive family members?  Or, are you living with passive aggressive people who drive you insane?

Passive aggressiveness is when someone is agreeing with someone, but really doesn’t agree.  They are your family members who say ‘yes’ to something, but really mean ‘no’.   “They offer cooperation through words but follow up with how they really feel—in actions that contradict their words.”* Passive aggressiveness is a coping behavior that one learns in childhood.  How many times have you been confused because someone has said that they were ‘okay’ with something, then acts incredibly negative at the time of the event.  Have you seen this behavior in the ex-wife? Your partner?  The stepchildren?  Yourself?

Let’s face it.  If passive aggressiveness grows in situations where you feel powerless, then there is a good chance that you answered ‘yes’ to this question.  In fact, I would further hypothesize that even if you did not learn passive aggressiveness in childhood, living in a stepfamily may create these behaviors.  Why?  Because stepfamilies are confusing.  There are so many people to please!  Worst of all, the people that we fear losing are asking us to do things that none of us want to do.  Does any of this look or sound familiar?

Family Member They Say… They Really Feel… Here is How They Act
Stepmother “I’m happy to pick up the stepchildren because their Mom is late.” (for the 100th time) “I’m everyone’s slave. I feel used.” Grumpy towards the children and partner. Everyone else is wondering, ‘why’?
Your Partner “Sure, I’ll go on date night.” My kids are here that weekend.  I never get to see them and I would rather spend the time with them. Late getting ready to leave.  Is terrible company and starts picking on your every action.  You are left wondering, ‘why’?
Stepchildren “Sure, Dad, I don’t mind if stepmother goes with us to dinner.” What else am I going to say?  I don’t want to be rude, but I just want time alone with my Dad. Says very little.  Feels bitter and angry.  May be rude and exhibits bad behavior.  You are left wondering, ‘why’?


Recently, Dr. Andrea Brandt was a guest on our radio show, The Evil Stepmother Speaks Radio Show.  Dr. Brandt wrote a book called 8 Keys to Eliminating Passive Aggressiveness.  If you can take the time, listen to the interview and read the book.  Here are a few tips from that interview that can be life changing for all of us:

  1. Honesty
    Dr. Brandt said that honesty is more important than keeping the peace.  Be clear about your expectations and desires.  Remember that you may keep the peace for a short period of time, but anger demands to be expressed.  Your anger will show itself one way or another.
  2. The Power of No
    When you are able to say no in life, you have more options.  Have you ever felt trapped in your stepfamily life?  Say no when you mean it.  It is one of the keys to freedom.
  3. Don’t Depend on the Facts
    Speak in “I feel” statements.  That is, tell your family members how you feel.  Do not talk about the facts as it will only lead you to a doom loop.  Here’s an example of expressing yourself with facts.Stepmother says, “You said that we were going to spend time alone tonight.  Now, you picked up the kids and they are staying for the whole weekend?  We had plans.”
    Dad says, “I never said that we were absolutely going to be alone for the whole weekend.  I never get to see the kids and I had the opportunity.”
    Stepmother says, “What a bunch of crap.  You promised me.  Remember that conversation?”
    Dad says, “I never promised.”
    And so it goes…on and on and on.Here’s an example of expressing yourself with I Feel statements:Stepmother says, “I felt unimportant and invisible this weekend.”
    Dad says, “Why?”
    Stepmother says, “I love the kids.  But, we had made plans to spend time together and I was looking forward to it.  I love you and our time together is just as important as time with the kids.  It felt as if you didn’t feel the same way.”
    Dad says, “I love spending time with you.  I didn’t meant to make you feel unimportant or as if your feelings didn’t exist.  It’s just that when the kids’ mom called, I instinctively said yes.  I should have discussed it with you first.”
    And on and on and on…but, it’s better, right?Take extra time before you agree or disagree with anything.  Give yourself the gift of mindfulness so that you don’t fall into that passive aggressive trap.  Don’t let the complexities of stepfamily life become fertile ground for bitterness and a life less lived.






4 Responses to Stepfamilies Are a Fertile Ground for Passive Aggressiveness

  1. I find myself in this position all the time. I say one thing but feel another. Thanks for the reminder that eventually anger will show itself in one way or another. In the moment, it often feels like avoiding conflict is the best solution.

  2. It is a good idea to talk it out, but we should not be naive and assume that issues in blended families can all be resolved by an airing of grievances. All of the examples above show one essential conflict: different priorities. Most [good] fathers prioritize their kids over their new wives. Most kids want to be with their dad, even if they like their new stepmom. The Stepmom (in this situation, apparently childless stepmom)is the only one prioritizing the marriage and the new blended family.

  3. I think in our family, we ALL participate in the “passive aggressive” route at times…. and I appreciate both Renae and Kate’s comments, but, I don’t necessarily agree that “good” fathers prioritize their children over their wives… there has to be balance. Sadly, in my case, after over 5 years of marriage, I am realizing the extent of the damage that passive aggressiveness, and the resulting resentment that follows- makes it too difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel…. stepmothering is NOT for the faint of heart- no matter how prepared you think you are for the ride.

  4. I agree…there is a lot of dishonesty and passive aggressive behaviors. It only adds to frustration, but how do you end it? I find myself saying all the time, Ok I’ll do it, only to feel anger and frustration and to feel used…why do I always get stuck doing this? Why can’t bio-parents take car of their own kids? I also find my husband in this mode…he’ll often agree with me only to pacify me but then does the opposite…Oh I agree 17 year old SD should eat what we provide for her, but if she wants her own food she can go out and get what she wants…Instead DH takes her grocery shopping and I”m again left frustrated. It stinks.

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