6 steps to defusing passive-aggressive relationships

We humans are polarizing people. Our actions create opposite reactions.

That Facebook friend who rants against Trump actually creates Trump supporters. Strong conservative stances create liberal stances. We make our polar opposites.

In our interpersonal relationships, those who are passive instigate frustrated, impatient aggressiveness in others. And those who are aggressive instigate defensive, disengaged passivity in others.

I know my wife finds herself frustrated by inaction on my part. When she responds aggressively, it makes me that much more passive. But when she engages me personally and trustingly, I find myself eager to do what she asks of me.

We had an interesting exchange over text messaging yesterday evening which highlighted this for me.

I was dropping off one of our kids for one of their many evening activities and my wife texted a frustrated message that drew an annoyed non-response from me. But she almost immediately changed gears and sent another personal message which reengaged me, tapping into our relationship. I responded by asking if there was anything she’d like me to do for her. She did have something and thanked me for it, repeating her thanks in person when I arrived at home.

Interestingly, I’ve been finding a similar pattern in the book of Psalms as different psalmists engage with God, trying to get him to do something for them.

  1. The request. The first thing the psalmist does is lay out his petition to God. Listen to me! Help me! I’ve got this problem that I need you to attend to.
  2. The name. Almost always when a psalmist needs God’s help, he doesn’t use the generic word “God” (since “God” isn’t our God’s name). He uses the name Yahweh (rendered in all caps as LORD in most Bibles; as GOD in The Message). This draws on their relationship, encouraging our Lord to act out of his covenant loyalty, not just out of his world-making power.
  3. The trust. At some point, the psalmist expresses trust that Yahweh will in fact actively intervene.
  4. The repetition. The request is almost never made once. Even with a single psalm, a request will be repeated. The assumption being that any request needs to be made more than once — and not just with recalcitrant kids, but with God himself.
  5. The acknowledgement. Once the action has been done, the psalmist acknowledges it. There is no assumption that what was asked for ought to be done. There is gratitude.
  6. The praise. The gratitude spills over into praise. And in some cases, the psalmist will tell others, bearing witness to God’s good deeds in the great congregation.

I have a hunch that these same six steps seen in the Psalms would work just as well in our homes and workplaces as in our prayer lives.