Passive vs. Aggressive Problem Solvers: Which One Are You?

Do you tackle problems head-on with a burning desire to resolve them as quickly as possible? Or would you rather take your time processing a conflict before you speak up about it?

As a step toward constructive problem-solving, it’s important to identify whether you solve problems in a passive or aggressive manner. The type of problem solver you are can easily damage the sense of emotional safety in your marriage, so it’s important for you both to get familiar with your problem-solving style–and then compare notes.

The Passive Problem Solver

People who prefer to deal with issues passively are content to reflect on difficult situations before rushing headlong into an attempt to fix things. They’re comfortable with taking their time in dealing with conflict, and they don’t feel a desperate sense of urgency to just get things over and move on as quickly as possible.

Passive problem solvers tend to be people who have a lot of self-control. They’re patient with their spouse and the situation, willing to cooperate, and considerate of their spouse’s feelings. They think (and sometimes overthink) before they speak, and they’re reluctant to push too hard for a resolution.

When stressed out or under pressure, passive problem solvers tend to slow down more. Their anxiety ramps up, and it becomes difficult to make decisions. If a conflict crops up, they withdraw–sometimes to an extreme degree.

The Aggressive Problem Solver

People who solve problems aggressively want the problem solved yesterday. They’re protective of the time it takes to actually solve a problem, so they push to get it over with quickly. It’s agonizing for them to have to wait for a resolution, and they tend to spring into action at the first opportunity to fix an issue.

These individuals are usually tenacious, bold, determined, and self-motivated. When they’re stressed, they become blunt and impatient, and conflict can trigger confrontational behavior.

Aggressive problem solvers can be pushy and unreasonable in the name of getting something over with. This can also translate into destructive impulsivity.

Combining Problem-Solving Styles in Marriage

The combination of problem-solving styles in a marriage can dictate so much about how a couple approaches their issues. For example, if you’re an aggressive problem solver but your spouse is more passive, you could clash…or your styles could complement one another.

Two aggressive problem solvers could experience volatility in their marriage if they don’t learn how to navigate their problem-solving style. And, two passive problem solvers could continually avoid actually facing their issues…which may lead to passive-aggressive behavior.

Fear’s Role in Problem-Solving

Insecurity and fear bolster our passive or aggressive problem-solving behaviors. When we’re feeling fearful during a conflict, we’re more likely to double down on our default problem-solving style. And if we’re afraid, it’s likely because something we deeply value has been threatened.

In short, fear is where communication breaks down.

Four major areas of value (we call them “fear factors”) that could be threatened by conflict include:

  • Controlling or protecting your time
  • Getting (and keeping) the approval of others
  • Your loyalty to your spouse, or your spouse’s loyalty to you
  • Your specific, high standards

Do any of these fear factors resonate with you? Take some time to take an inventory of what frightens (or triggers) you during heated discussions. Our book, Love Talk, delves deeper into these fear factors to help you identify what sets you off so you can be more self-aware–and aware of one another’s core fears.

Emotional safety is key to effective problem-solving. If the individuals in a relationship don’t feel secure while resolving conflict with their spouse, chances for worse, prolonged conflict skyrocket. Feeling emotionally unsafe can lead to aggressiveness, conflict-avoidance, and other behaviors that can ultimately be detrimental to your relationship.

What kind of problem solver are you? What about your spouse? How do you work together to resolve conflict? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

One Comment

  • Brandon Meidam says:

    I am a passive problem solver and my wife is the aggressive problem solver. We are currently having a very hard time solving problems at the moment. These descriptions of the two types describe us perfectly.

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