The Problems of Having a Passive Partner

Passivity is an enemy of love. If you feel that you're carrying the weight of your relationship and your partner takes your affection for granted and doesn't take care of it, they may be passive.
The Problems of Having a Passive Partner
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 04 April, 2023

In the relationship field, there’s one really effective recipe for disaster: passivity. In fact, falling in love with someone who, instead of working on your relationship on a daily basis, takes you for granted and barely pays attention to you, hurts. This is because love requires dynamism. Indeed, as Eric Fromm said, it’s like an art form that demands effort, discipline, and time.

Despite this fact, relationships that are dominated by the passivity of one of its members are common. They’re people who harm their partners without even lifting a finger. Moreover, they disturb them due to their lack of initiative and emotional responses. Behind this kind of behavior isn’t necessarily a lack of affection, but a really distorted way of responding to love.

This dimension has nothing to do with having a calm nature. They’re personalities that don’t understand the responsibility of having a partner. They’re insecure, lacking in initiative, and used to delegating. In effect, they’re individuals with clear inclinations toward dependency, letting their partners decide, act, do, and solve. But, what lies behind this kind of behavior? And, can anything be done about it?

Passivity in a relationship can be one of the main causes of a breakdown.

Guy and girl talking about my partner being very passive in our relationship
Passive behaviors can affect any area in the couple’s lives, emotional, economic, work, etc. 

Possible causes of a passive partner

One phrase that’s often heard in therapy sessions is “My partner’s really passive.” Indeed, it’s common for one partner to complain that the other doesn’t say anything, doesn’t act, and doesn’t uphold the relationship with the same responsibility and energy that they do. In fact, the moment one partner assumes the full weight of a relationship alone, its foundations shake.

Surprisingly, some people are really assertive and decisive in the social and labor area, but really passive on an emotional level. By the time they enter the sphere of emotional intimacy and emotional responsibility, they lack an infinite number of skills.

This means that, for a while, their partner maintains the relationship until gradually, wear and tear, continual contradictions, and suffering make them stop. They find themselves asking if such a sacrifice is worth it. Indeed, even though they ask their partner person to act and respond, they almost never do. But why?

A lack of interest or the weight of a routine in a relationship can be a contributory factor. Gradually, one partner assumes a passive attitude and simply lets the other do it all.

1. Education, cultural biases, and personal factors

Behind the way we build and act in relationships, there are unconscious social and cultural factors. For example, sexism and traditional roles. It could even be suggested that there are still some men who leave emotional aspects, parenting tasks, etc to women. It could also be said that there are some women who are prone to emotional dependency.

However, these realities are changing and there are more relevant factors that can explain passivity in a relationship. For instance, some personalities possess zero competencies in the emotional and relational spheres. This could be because, since their childhood, they’ve been used to others nurturing their needs and validating their emotions.

2. Anxious-passive attachment

Those with an anxious attachment style often become obsessed with receiving the affection of others passively, without investing in reciprocity. They understand love in a unidirectional way, aimed only at obtaining ’emotional resources’.

3. Authoritarian and demanding upbringing: the weight of insecurity

Passivity can be the result of education based on constant criticism and the shadow of authoritarianism. In this instance, the individual has been devalued for so long that, in the end, they decide not to act to avoid any conflict. Due to personal insecurity, they let go and allow their partner to take responsibility for the relationship.

4. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often exhibit passive behaviors in emotional relationships. They might frequently forget many things, not finish what they started, and find it difficult to demonstrate their commitment to their partner. A study conducted by Ohio University (USA) demonstrated the difficulties that are sometimes presented by those who live with this reality.

5. Poor management of discrepancies and conflicts

Some people, after a series of disagreements with their partner, might opt for the classic: “If you don’t give me what I need, I’ll stop working on this relationship.” They’re people with zero communication skills, low resistance to frustration, and low emotional intelligence.

Some people with clearly childish attitudes, after a series of conflicts or discrepancies in their relationship, might decide to stop acting or accept any responsibility. They may even stop talking to their partner.

6. Lack of interest in the relationship

There could be another reason for a passive partner. They may have reached a point where disinterest or the weight of routine is suffocating the relationship. After all, not everyone is able to take the step and say assertively: “I feel our relationship isn’t going too well” or “I don’t feel the same way anymore”.

These are situations in which one partner suddenly sees the other pulling themselves away as they’re no longer interested.

People in a bed to represent that my partner is very passive in our relationship

If your partner is really passive, you must act and demand change. Communication is key.

What can you do if you have a passive partner?

If your partner is really passive, the last thing you should do is make the situation chronic. That said, sometimes, out of fear of loneliness or even a breakup, you might choose to take full responsibility. However, you must be clear: loving someone who’s passive in love means you’re already alone. It means having someone who’s beside you but effectively absent, someone who doesn’t care about you, support you or commit to you.

So, what can you do? Passivity is actually a learned response to another problem that’s being pushed aside. Therefore, the first step is communication. You must establish an assertive and sincere dialogue to understand what’s happening. You must also understand what’s motivating their behavior. Furthermore, your partner has to take responsibility to change.

As a couple, you’re a team. However, you’re also two people with your own problems. You both have latent wounds to heal and specific realities to attend to. If you don’t deal with them, they’ll have an effect on your relationship. Love requires dynamism and reciprocity and being artisans of affection, care, and attention on a daily basis. If this doesn’t happen, your relationship will wither away in no time.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dejnožka, Jan. (2016). Personal Relationships: Emotions and Responsibilities.
  • Foss, Berit & Eriksson, Katie & Nåden, Dagfinn. (2018). Love and Responsibility: A New Understanding of Leadership. Nursing Science Quarterly. 31. 148-156. 10.1177/0894318418757023.
  • Wymbs, B. T., Canu, W. H., Sacchetti, G. M., & Ranson, L. M. (2021). Adult ADHD and romantic relationships: What we know and what we can do to help. Journal of marital and family therapy47(3), 664–681.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.