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November 9, 2011 9:29 PM   Subscribe

Advice and resources for dealing with passive-aggressive people who aren't your SO?

My youngest sister's my roommate, and she can be pretty passive-aggressive on certain things. Mostly her reluctance to clean house, but I've read a lot of the roommate/cleaning askmes. She's 6 years younger than me, the baby of the family, and so I didn't spend much time with her while she was in HS and I went to university. Until now. Mostly she's fine, just that 10% of the time... Just curious about dealing with passive-aggressive people in general, what advice do you have for me?
posted by lizbunny to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
She's not your significant other, but she is family.

I suggest you move out, get your own place or room without a passive-aggressive sibling in the house.
posted by arnicae at 9:35 PM on November 9, 2011

Can you give some examples of the passive aggressive behavior?

Different behaviors / methods of passive aggression have to be dealt with in different ways. Sometimes ignoring the behavior works, sometimes confronting the behavior works, sometimes taking away the tools enabling the behavior works. (All I know is that being passive aggressive in response does not work, not that you are doing it.)

Also read this fantastic comment about ask/guess culture, as I have found it fundamental in understanding a lot of things, passive aggressive behavior being one of them.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:35 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your two choices are: 1) facilitate an overall change in her personality and approach to life with gentle guidance and example, 2) be very direct, aggressive and confrontational to the degree she is passive-aggressive (so, not a whole lot if it's just housework), and leave her no room to wiggle back to passivity. The first takes longer (with a chance of running out of time) and the second takes more guts (with a chance of backfiring.) Both can be exhausting but the benefit to your sister and your relationship with her makes helping her change worth it.
posted by michaelh at 9:35 PM on November 9, 2011

Seriously set up a schedule with her. I'm minorly passive aggressive and it's mostly when I feel that I'm being condescended to. Make her feel that you are not the mom or the way smarter better older sister. I'm not saying that you are really being condescending but us passive aggressives tend to be pretty insecure about our social status.
posted by boobjob at 9:45 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty blunt, and non-aggressive. And irritating to the passive aggressive, because I don't rise to it. I just verbally call out the underlying issue, and then respond to that. Example: a now ex friend was upset someone she liked was paying me attention, so she, I kid you not, threw something at me which stuck in my ethnic hair, then made a joke to the guy about my my ethnic hair. I took the thing out, looked at her, told her deadpan never to do it again, then turned back to my conversation with him. Point made. No more stunts that day.

Address things head on, calmly. Repeat until she stops trying to be passive aggressive?
posted by OompaLoompa at 9:47 PM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Mostly her reluctance to clean house

Throw her out.
posted by flabdablet at 2:43 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

flabdablet: "Throw her out."

Agreed. I can't think of a single more common cause of problems between housemates, no matter what the relationship. Dishes, floors, bathrooms, general tidiness, it doesn't matter. Incompatible is incompatible, and it rarely gets better. Part of the problem (from my experience - from both sides, I confess) is that the more messy person just doesn't understand the effect it has on their housemates, because they themselves can just ignore it.

A friend called it the "magic fairy principle" - to a messy person, the act of cleaning house often doesn't seem like something someone actually has to do. Just every now and then a magic fairy comes and cleans everything up.
posted by vanar sena at 3:44 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

She's your younger sibling, and you're sharing a place together? This should be pretty easy. You should be able to just say "Fuck off with your passive aggressive bullshit, or go find somewhere else to live". That's what big brothers/sisters are for. You'll be doing both her and yourself a favour.
posted by Diag at 3:47 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't really word that well, what with the swearing. That's just what I would say to my little sister if she was like that. Maybe "Hey, give the attitude a rest. I'm your brother/sister. We're family. You'd better shape up, or you're outta here".

My point being, you should be in control here.
posted by Diag at 3:52 AM on November 10, 2011

I'm seeing a lot of aggressive responses to her passive-aggression. That won't work, guys. It will make her react even more strongly against her big sister. Her entire life, big sis has likely been an additional parental unit, as older siblings generally are. Now she's on her own. Is anyone gonna tell her what to do? Fuck no.

You need instead to be assertive. Be collaborative. What needs to be done? When can you both agree it should be done? Like this or not (sorry in advance by the way) but it sounds like for better or worse you are coming off to her as a dictatorial freakshow. How? By talking about how the house MUST be cleaned. Let me be illustrative here.

She's your roommate now. A roommate is a business arrangement to share rent and a space for $X per month. That's it. Any bells and whistles, including cleaning schedules, are up in the air. You need to have a little sitdown with her and work out what you feel should get done. Then let her talk about what SHE feels should get done.

I've had roommates who have insisted dishes must be done immediately. Fuck that. If there are clean dishes and a reasonable amount of space in the sink, I ain't wasting my time. My current roommate agrees.

She's now a partner. Stop dictating and start collaborating. Don't pull any big sister shit and you'll be fine. She might not come up with a schedule you agree with 100% but it'll be something you both worked on.

Alternately, propose she pay more rent in exchange for you doing all the cleaning. She might dig that. I'd do it as a last resort.
posted by satyricaldude at 4:42 AM on November 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Following on from my earlier comment, it's possible that what you are classifying as passive aggressiveness is possibly your sister just looking at a clean house as not enough of a big deal. As Diag said, if you aren't able to convey to her that this has a real effect on your sense of well-being and comfort in your own home, kick her out without judging her too harshly.*

* I had a housemate who was a lovely, responsible guy with a solid career and excellent taste in all ways save one - every day a half-finished can of coke and a dismembered newspaper would appear on the living room floor. We tried putting them in a box, but soon they would come out and re-spread themselves over the floor. We tried ignoring them to "prove" what was going on, but after about a week there was not a bare surface left in the living room (no exaggeration) and new detritus was still appearing and forming additional layers. Next up - dumping them in his bedroom door. No luck there, he just stepped over the gigantic mound. It's like he was blind!

Eventually after coming to an understanding that we had incompatible standards of cleanliness, he moved out to live with other slobs, and we are still good friends ten years later.
posted by vanar sena at 4:47 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Siblings. She's your younger sister. Are you sure you're not labeling her as passive aggressive? Maybe she's finding you bossy and domineering.

Siblings living together is different than freinds and is different than random roomates found on craigslist that you'd just kick out.

I'm surprised and shocked by a lot of the comments above that are so blase about it.

"Just 10% of the time." "Pretty passive agressive about things.. she won't clean house."

So it's just that she's not neat like you? Or refuses to take out the vaccuum, ever ever ever ever?

I'm liking satyricaldude's suggestions. Have a talk, agree to chores around the house, with rent attached (rent goes up if chores aren't done).

Or, have her hire a cleaning service to come in once a week.

But, really, people - kick her out? Sheesh! I take it there are some serious family issues going on with some of you!
posted by rich at 6:02 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

rich: "But, really, people - kick her out? Sheesh! I take it there are some serious family issues going on with some of you!"

Perhaps I phrased it too harshly? My main points are basically this: 1) Don't put your long term relationship with your sister on the line because you have different standards of cleanliness/neatness. 2) Do be careful looking at a possible difference in lifestyle standards as passive aggressiveness. 3) If an agreement can't be reached through discussion, don't let a possible difference in standards turn into you resenting your sister in the long run - it is quite possible that you should not be living together and that doesn't make either of you bad people.

(As to my family - well, I considered it and it doesn't seem like we have any out-of-the-ordinary issues, so I don't think that's it)
posted by vanar sena at 6:33 AM on November 10, 2011

I am super passive-agressive when it comes to a lot of things including when I had roommates. This is because I am socially retarded and have a lot of anxiety dealing with people I don't know or sometimes people I DO know - especially if they are overbearing, condescending or not easy to talk to.

If I were your sister, I would like to be approached very casually - like, "Hey - when you get a chance, can you clean up your dishes? I'm afraid of bugs!"

What else is she passive-agressive about?

Personally, because I don't like confrontation, I do my best to avoid it - which means not doing anything that might piss someone off.

Telling her to just "move out" is ridiculous.
posted by KogeLiz at 6:45 AM on November 10, 2011

I take it there are some serious family issues going on with some of you!

Nope. But I've shared enough houses to understand that there's no way for people who don't respect shared spaces to live sustainably with people who do. The person who cares the most about not living in filth ends up doing all the cleaning and resenting the hell out of the free-rider slobs - who in fact know perfectly well when the kitchen needs cleaning but also know perfectly well that if they continue to act as if their cockroach-bait mess is invisible then the neat freak will crack first.

People who have not grown up enough to take responsibility for their own messes should live with other juveniles, pay somebody else to clean, or GTFO.

They generally don't, though. What generally happens instead is that the people who do understand about not shitting where they eat eventually get pissed off enough to leave, the house starts breeding mice and flies, it gets filthy enough that the pre-inspection whirlwind clean fails to impress the landlord and then everybody gets evicted.

If I were your sister, I would like to be approached very casually - like, "Hey - when you get a chance, can you clean up your dishes? I'm afraid of bugs!"

And if I were your sister, and I'd had to ask you nicely to clean up after yourself every other night for the whole time we'd been living together, I would start gradually amping up the confrontation until you either got your shit together or were miserable enough to leave.

Slobs deserve no slack. Just turf the selfish bastards out.
posted by flabdablet at 7:23 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm still not sure how somebody passive-aggressively doesn't clean the house. Does she make snarky comments? Does she just ignore you? Does she pout while cleaning? Does she call you names?
posted by jabberjaw at 7:42 AM on November 10, 2011

Read a small book called "Your Perfect Right". All sorts of ideas on how to recognize and deal with various behaviors. Highly recommended. I agree with satyricaldude that a lot of the responses above are aggressive and likely to be counter-productive.
posted by PickeringPete at 8:06 AM on November 10, 2011

flabdablet - yes, my comment was a bit snarky. However, my point was that typically, even in a slightly disfunctional family (such as mine), you do deal with family differently than you would a friend or some random roommate you acquired on the interweb.

My sister-in-law is a clean freak. She would possibly side with you on 'bugs and mice will be everywhere!' reaction. But I feel the question is being blown out of proportion. 10% of the time is not a big amount. It sounds like she is a decent roommate other than sharing the housework.

Your approach of 'amping up the confrontation" is passive-aggressive in and of itself. Actually having the discussion, setting clear rules/chores or identifying other options (paying for cleaning help or paying more into rent and the roommate who wants things clean keeps things clean, or something like that).

My wife is not a clean-freak, but has some behaviours probably caused by living with her sister around cleaning that are odd. I'm not a messy person, but I do tend to put off a bit of cleaning in favor of a major, tear everything apart and clean down to the seams along the kitchen sink with a toothbrush effort a few times a month.

Younger people tend to be more messy (operative phrase is 'tend to' - so if you're 18 and a perfect house maid, don't jump al over me), as are the 'babies' of the family (of which I am one). It's not one of her major priorities and she can't understand why such a big deal is being made of it, so she'll roll her eyes and be all "yeah, whatever!"

It's family. It's your younger sister. Sit down, admit your issues around being clean might seem crazy to her, you're not saying she's a lazy slob, but for both of you to live together happily, you'd like to figure out a good way to keep the house clean.

Reasonableness on all sides is required.
posted by rich at 8:28 AM on November 10, 2011

Your approach of 'amping up the confrontation" is passive-aggressive in and of itself

There would be nothing passive about it.

It would start with a simple statement of expectations backed up by reasons, which would have some minor effect for about a week and then be apparently forgotten. It would proceed from there to a description of consequences for further mess-leaving, and those consequences would be followed through.
posted by flabdablet at 9:40 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always call them out on it.

That simple. I say "Hey, that's some passive-aggressive bullshit you're trying to pull there. I don't appreciate that, okay?"

It always works for me. And by "works" I generally mean something along the lines of "gets them to steer well clear of me, or at least stop interacting with me any more than is absolutely necessary." And it makes no difference at all if they're family. In fact, I'm rather more likely to do it in that case. If you can't talk straight to your family it's unhealthy.
posted by Decani at 11:01 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is little sister being passive-aggressive or are you a neatnik who wants her to be as tidy as you? It's her house too. Some people want dishes washed after every meal; others want no dishes in the sink overnight and others wait until they run out of glasses or silverware.

It can be difficult to have a good balance if styles are very different. I had a friend who used to be furious when her roommate wouldn't put her bike away. It wasn't in the way, but it's mere visibility just annoyed my friend to no end. The roommate would sometimes leave it out out of convenience and other times because she kind of forgot about it and didn't notice it. Neither person was actually wrong, it just mattered to one and not the other.

For me, good roommates need to be a little blind and a little considerate. People do things differently and have different perspectives.
posted by shoesietart at 11:29 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

others wait until they run out of glasses or silverware

and then after several months cover every surface in the kitchen, including all the food preparation surfaces and the interior and contents of the cups and plates cupboard, with long-acting insect poison spray because they are grossed out by cockroaches.

I wish I were not speaking from personal experience here.
posted by flabdablet at 6:24 PM on November 10, 2011

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