When you’re in a passive relationship, you may find yourself deferring to your partner and not expressing your own needs. You may think that you’re keeping the peace and making your partner happy, but in the end, passivity in relationships can lead to unhappiness and conflict.
What is passiveness in a relationship?
If you’re in a passive relationship, you’re likely to sacrifice your own needs for your partner regularly. It is natural for partners to sometimes place the other person’s needs ahead of their own in any long-term relationship.
When you’re passive in relationships, you will find yourself constantly thinking of your partner before yourself, to the point that your own needs fall by the wayside.
A relationship where a person focuses entirely on their partner represses their own needs, cannot express their emotions and becomes submissive and helpless.
Why am I so passive in relationships?
If you’re the passive partner in a relationship, you may be wondering about the reason behind your behavior. Sometimes, passiveness or passivity results from low self-esteem.
If you do not have healthy self-esteem levels, you may feel that you do not deserve to have your needs met within a relationship. Instead of speaking up for what you need, you defer to your partner.
If you’re passive in a relationship, you may also develop codependent tendencies. A codependent partner can become passive because their entire sense of self-worth is centered on making significant sacrifices to make their partner happy.
If you’re codependent, all of your time and energy will be focused on making your partner happy, to the extent that you ignore your own needs because you derive a sense of purpose out of meeting their every need.
You may have been taught to be passive in relationships due to your childhood. Perhaps one of your parents was hard to please or punish you for expressing your emotions.
You may have been made to feel like you were a bother for asserting yourself or that your purpose was to meet all of your parent’s demands. If this is the case, you can quickly grow up in a passive relationship.
Regardless of the cause of the passivity, when a person shows passivity in relationships, there is often an underlying belief that the person is not good enough to have their needs met or does not deserve to have their opinions heard.
In the end, they end up sacrificing their well-being to keep their partner happy.
Watch this video to identify the clear signs of low self esteem:
25 Signs you’re too passive in your relationship
If you think you might be in an overly passive relationship, the 25 signs below can help you to confirm that your suspicions are confirmed:
1. You defer to your partner
Someone passive in relationships will frequently defer to their partner. This means that when asked for your opinion, you tend to respond, “Whatever you think is best,” or, “I agree with whatever you think.”
When passivity is rooted in codependent behaviors, you may become anxious that your partner isn’t happy. This is because codependent people derive their self-esteem and a sense of purpose from pleasing someone else.
When you get a feeling your partner isn’t happy, you’ll become incredibly anxious because you’ll feel as if you have failed at your role.
3. You’re just along for the ride
Major relationship decisions should be made together, like moving in together or adopting a dog. If you’re passive in your relationships, you’re likely to defer to your partner and go along with whatever they want.
This may mean that the relationship moves faster than you want, but you allow yourself to be swept away instead of stating that you’d like to slow things down.
4. You take on all of your partner’s opinions
A passive person may be so afraid to voice their opinions that they accept other people’s opinions.
You may find yourself voicing opinions identical to your partner’s beliefs, even if you never expressed such beliefs before entering the relationship.
5. It feels like you’ve lost yourself in the relationship
A partnership involves two people sharing life, but each person still maintains their own identity and separate interests in a healthy relationship.
If you start to feel that you’ve lost your identity and have become everything your partner wants you to be, you’re likely being too passive.
6. You don’t set boundaries
People who are high in passivity tend to have difficulty with boundaries. Instead of standing up for their own needs, such as asking for alone time or speaking up when they feel disrespected, someone who is passive in relationships is likely to allow their partner to take advantage of them.
In every relationship, there are times when one partner decides where to go to dinner, and it’s not the other partner’s favorite, but if you’re too passive, you can fall into a trap where you never make any of the decisions.
You always defer to your partner’s opinions, whether you’re making minor decisions like what movie to see or deciding upon something more significant, such as a budget for remodeling the house.
8. Your hobbies or interests have fallen by the wayside
Another problem that crops up when you’re too passive is losing sight of your hobbies and interests. Maybe you used to enjoy hiking, but your partner doesn’t prefer this activity, so you’ve given it up in favor of their interests.
Indeed, it is beneficial when you and your significant other have shared interests, but you also have a right to retain your hobbies instead of making all of your partner’s hobbies your own.
Compromise is essential in relationships, so you may sometimes have to give in to your partner when you’d rather say, “No.” That being said, if you never tell your partner no and constantly give in to their needs, even when it means sacrificing your best interests, you’re being overly passive.
10. You avoid conflict
Even the strongest of relationships involve disagreements occasionally, but if you’re too passive in a relationship, you probably find yourself avoiding conflict. Instead of confronting the issue, you may avoid your partner for a bit, hoping that it will pass.
11. You’re often the first to apologize
Passivity often comes with a dislike of conflict, so you may apologize to your partner, even if you weren’t the one in the wrong, to please them and help them move on from being angry with you.
12. Resentment is building
Even if you are a kind and caring person who enjoys keeping the peace, you will eventually start to build resentment if you’re in a passive relationship. Giving up your interests and constantly deferring to your partner comes with frustration, and you may start to feel that they’re taking advantage of you.
When you’re the passive one in the relationship, your partner may have a more dominant personality. This means that their interests and family functions will come first, while you’re expected to forgo getting together with your friends and family.
14. You want their approval
Remember that passivity can come from a place of low self-esteem. If this is the case, your sense of self-worth may come from your significant other’s approval, and you’re afraid that if you stand up for yourself, you’ll let them down.
You may notice that you’ve become entirely dependent on your partner’s approval.
15. You find yourself accepting cruelty
Being the passive one means that you won’t feel comfortable standing up to your partner. Maybe you’re afraid of starting a fight, or perhaps you’re worried that your partner will be unhappy or leave you if you express that they’ve hurt your feelings.
What ends up happening is that you accept cruel and perhaps abusive behavior because you aren’t willing to state your feelings.
16. You’ve given up dreams and things most important to you
In a long-term relationship, you may occasionally give up on your dreams for the sake of your partner. For example, maybe your career is flourishing, but your partner has an opportunity to move across the country for their dream job.
Perhaps you agree to move with them and leave your job behind, with the understanding that your partner will support you in finding a similar job in your new city.
Occasional sacrifices like this can be healthy, but if you’ve sacrificed all your dreams, the relationship is one-sided, and there is no doubt that you’re an overly passive person in a relationship.
17. You’re starting to feel inferior
After a while, constantly deferring to your partner’s needs can make you feel like you aren’t equal with your partner. You may feel as if they are superior to you, and you’re beneath them, which further erodes your self-esteem.
18. Goals have faded away
When all of your attention is focused on making your partner happy, you may start to neglect your own goals.
Maybe you had dreams of going back to school or owning your own business one day, but you’ve given up on that because you don’t want to take time away from catering to your partner.
19. You let your partner make decisions for you
In a healthy relationship, big decisions, like moving to a new house or dividing up bills and responsibilities, are a joint effort. However, you should still retain the independence to make your own decisions regarding your personal preferences and interests.
When your partner starts deciding every aspect of your life, such as what you wear and where you go, your passivity has crossed the line into unhealthy territory.
In a passive relationship, one partner, the passive one, lacks confidence when expressing their opinions.
This means that if you’re being too passive, you may find that you talk very softly when sharing your opinion, or you may trail off and not finish your sentences. This is because you’re hesitant to share out of a fear that it might anger your partner.
Passive people tend to be people-pleasers; they want to make others happy, so they place their own needs aside. This can lead you to be incredibly harsh on yourself.
You may tell yourself that you’re a failure or that you’ve “really messed up” if you and your partner have a conflict or you fail to make them happy.
22. Eye contact is a struggle
Looking someone in the eye when speaking is often regarded as a sign of confidence in Western cultures.
If you struggle with looking your partner in the eye during a conversation, this is a pretty clear sign of passivity.
23. You try to make yourself smaller
When you’re overly passive to the point that you constantly defer to others, you may find that you try to make yourself “smaller,” so to speak. You may downplay your accomplishments, or when offering advice, you may begin with phrases like, “I may not know what I am talking about, but….”
You may even notice that you are afraid to share your accomplishments or look too successful because you don’t want your partner to look inferior.
24. You feel guilty for taking care of yourself
If you’re in a passive relationship, you’ve probably gotten used to sacrificing your own needs and desires for the benefit of your partner. This means that you’ll likely feel overwhelming guilt on the rare occasion that you have to tend to yourself first.
Maybe you’re sick and can’t make your partner dinner like you usually do, or perhaps you want to catch up with a friend from college who is visiting for the holidays, but it means missing out on a gathering with your significant other.
If you choose to do what’s best for you in these situations, you’ll likely feel ashamed.
When you’ve spent most of your time in a relationship being passive, your
self-esteem can sink pretty low. You may even find that you start to call
yourself names, such as worthless or stupid because your passivity has
led you to believe that you aren’t deserving.
How do I put an end to passivity in relationships?
When you’re overly passive in relationships, you’re likely to run into problems. Your self-esteem will deteriorate, and you’ll start to notice that you’ve given up your interests, goals, and passions to please your partner.
Over time, this leads to resentment. The relationship may even become entirely one-sided, to the point that your partner begins to take advantage of you.
It’s no secret that extreme passivity in relationships is unhealthy, but if you’re a passive person in relationships, this has likely become a pattern of behavior for you. This means that you won’t be able to change things overnight.
You’ll likely need to make a conscious effort to change your behavior patterns in relationships. You can begin by having a conversation with your partner and setting boundaries, but you are not likely to see immediate changes.
Remember that passive behavior can have roots in childhood. Maybe your parents were overly demanding, or perhaps they were emotionally abusive and punished you for expressing your feelings.
It takes time to heal from this and develop new ways of behaving in relationships. You may need to seek the advice of a professional, such as a counselor, to help you overcome childhood issues, develop healthier communication skills, and behave less passively.
Group counseling can also be beneficial if you’ve become passive in your relationships.
A recent study found that group therapy can help people increase their self-esteem, so if you suffer from low self-esteem and feel that you do not deserve to stand up for your own needs in relationships, group interventions can benefit you.
Being in a passive relationship can lead to problems, but once you recognize this negative behavior, you can take steps to overcome it. Having an awareness of your passivity can help you identify feelings and behaviors that you need to change.
Working with a counselor is necessary in many cases, as it can be difficult to change long-standing behavioral patterns without support.
It may be intimidating to reach out for help. Still, a counselor can help you process your emotions and increase your confidence, so you’re more comfortable standing up for yourself and choosing healthy relationships.
Counseling is also a safe space for underlying processing issues, like childhood trauma, contributing to your passive relationships. Taking that first step and reaching out for assistance shows strength and courage.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Read more Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.
(Jenni Jacobsen is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Ashland)
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