Is Your Ex Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, or Assertive?

Ever feel like you're speaking a different language from someone who should understand you perfectly – like your ex? Chances are, you have different communication styles. This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and fights.

The four main communication styles are passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. As hard as we try to be clear, kind, and assertive, emotions often muddle things up. You might find that you use a mix of communication styles and that certain people bring out negative tendencies in you, but one style is probably dominant.

Luckily, with a little effort, you can learn how to more closely sync up with each type of communicator. Let's dive into each of the styles and explore what each looks and sounds like. Then, we'll discuss how to communicate more effectively with people who use the various styles.

Passive communicators

  • Avoid speaking openly about their feelings, wants, and needs
  • Defer to others to make decisions
  • Try to diffuse conflicts with humor or a nonchalant attitude
  • May use excuses such as being tired or not feeling well when someone wants to talk
  • Classic response: "I'm fine," or "It's fine," (when clearly it is not fine)

Aggressive communicators

  • Freely speak their minds
  • Tend to place blame on others
  • May interrupt, raise their voices, and have defensive body language
  • In extreme cases, they may become abusive
  • Classic response: "$%#!"

Passive-aggressive communicators

  • May seem assertive, but there's often sarcasm or subtle criticism laced into what they say
  • Frequently remind others of this or that, which may be perceived as nagging
  • Whether intentional or not, they tend to manipulate others into doing what they want rather than asking directly
  • Often take the role of the victim
  • Classic response: "You never/always ____."

Assertive communicators

  • Clearly express what they want, need, or feel
  • Are usually open to feedback and discussion
  • Are not overly emotional
  • Can come across as narcissistic, cold, or as know-it-alls
  • Classic response: "I feel/need ____."

How to communicate more effectively with any style of communicator

Yes, being assertive is the most positive style of communication, but a strictly assertive approach can have its flaws, too. After all, there are two sides to every story, and just because you're assertive doesn't mean you are right and that what you want is reasonable for both people. The best thing you can do with any kind of communication where you aren't seeing eye to eye is not react to their behavior. Try to listen to what they are saying beyond any emotion or nonverbal cues they toss into the mix. Chances are, they are trying to get you to react negatively and thus "prove their point." 

Try a collaborative approach. Say you want to sit down and work this out together. Ask them to explain specifically how you can help. Even if their response seems ridiculous at first, be open to listening to their suggestions. At the very least, tell them you will work on it (unless it's completely unreasonable). If it seems reasonable, try to do what they are asking and see how it turns out. Maybe it'll work better than you expect, or maybe it'll go so wrong that they can't help but accept defeat.

Bottom line: We all want to feel heard and validated. By taking on a collaborative, open mindset, communication can flow much easier.

Want to learn more about communication styles? Read this article.


Head of Content
Communication, Relationships, Personal Growth, Mental Health
As Hello Divorce's Head of Content, Katie is dedicated to breaking down the stress and mess of divorce into clear, helpful content that delivers hope rather than fear. Katie most often writes about the emotional toll of divorce, self-care and mindfulness, and effective communication. Katie has 20+ years of experience in content development and management, specializing in compelling consumer-facing content that helps people live better lives. She has a Master's in Media Studies from the University of Wisconsin. Katie lives in Texas with her husband and two adorable cats, and you can find her hiking and bird watching in her free time.