Obstructionist Partners: Uncooperative Loved Ones

Living with an obstructionist partner, who denies everything and makes life difficult, is exhausting. As a rule, this behavior is really common in passive-aggressive profiles. Let's take a look.
Obstructionist Partners: Uncooperative Loved Ones
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Obstructionist partners make coexistence difficult. In fact, they turn everything or almost everything into a problem. They’re defined by a negative attitude, are hostile, and almost always lean toward conflict. However, the most complicated thing is that they often exhibit passive-aggressive behavior. Furthermore, many of these actions are frequently devious and manipulative.

This means that every time you make a suggestion or try to solve a specific problem, they’ll avoid responsibility and do nothing. It causes your relationship to be filled with unresolved disagreements. That’s because you’re the only one in the relationship who’s pulling your weight. This is both draining and exhausting for you.

Obstructionism is a behavior that defines many people. It can also often hide more than one underlying psychological reality. Let’s take a look.

Living with someone who’s negativistic and obstructionist is like having someone who constantly overshadows you.

Representation of obstructionist couples
The obstructionist attitude is accompanied by frequent gestures of contempt.

Obstructionist partners

There are few things more complex than dealing with an obstructionist partner. Perhaps the simplest and fastest thing to do in these cases is to end the relationship, thus avoiding any further suffering and attacks on your self-esteem. However, there are times when obstructionist behavior arises suddenly, as a consequence of a specific experience.

For example, long-term unemployment is a frequent trigger. It often results in feelings of depression and the demonstration of this kind of behavior and attitude. In these instances, there’s often a mental health problem behind the oppositional behavior and, as such, it must be identified.

In other cases, the person themselves may be oriented toward abuse, hostility, and contempt. It’s crucial that these kinds of traits are identified.

The characteristics of obstructionist partners

We understand obstructionism as the kind of behavior that hinders or boycotts any attempt to reach an agreement. At the relational level, this same dynamic can appear, motivated by a partner with a clearly problematic personality. As a rule, they exhibit these kinds of characteristics:

  • Immature and hostile communication. This is the main characteristic of an obstructionist partner. They don’t reason, don’t listen, don’t express what they want, and use silence as punishment.
  • Constant denial. They’re extremely skilled at distorting reality. In fact, faced with any problem or complicated situation, they choose to lie, downplay the issue, and evade all responsibility.
  • Voluntary forgetfulness. When something is asked of them, or when they’re expected to act or take responsibility for a specific task, they always end up experiencing sudden forgetfulness.
  • Ambiguity as a response. If they’re forced to make a decision or clarify a certain point they opt for the “Yes…no, I mean no” and the No… no, I mean yes” kind of response. This ambiguity makes coexistence incredibly difficult.
  • Constant lockdown. It’s almost impossible to take any steps or make plans with an obstructionist partner as they see flaws in everything. Furthermore, they often don’t really make it clear to you that they don’t want something. This ends up taking away your desire to do anything at all.
  • Incompetence in everything. They’re incompetent. They can’t be trusted to do anything. In fact, they leave everything half done, delegate to others, and procrastinate on a daily basis.

Oppositional and obstructionist behavior can either be a personality trait or characteristic of a psychological disorder such as anxiety or depression.

What explains the behavior of obstructive partners?

One of the traits that are often behind obstructionist partners is the passive-aggressive personality. Michigan State University (USA) conducted a study in which they explained that this condition is no longer listed as a stand-alone disorder in diagnostic manuals. Indeed, it’s no longer considered a ‘disorder’ as such. However, it’s still very present within personality theories.

This is clearly a problematic profile that’s linked to negative moods and cognitions. Often, this behavioral and attitudinal tendency is part of the person’s own temperament or innate personality. Nevertheless, as we pointed out at the beginning, this negativism can be the cause of depression or anxiety disorder.

Whenever behavior interferes with someone’s life, it’s important to understand the cause. It’s certainly clear that it’s impossible to live with someone who demonstrates this range of behaviors. That said, before ending a relationship, specialized help should always be sought. Then, the reason for the obstructive partner’s way of being and responding can be clarified.

brothers arguing
Instead of criticizing the obstructive partner’s ways, it’s better to make them aware of the effect of their behaviors.

How to act with an obstructionist partner

When you’re faced with a partner with whom it’s difficult to communicate, and who denies things and avoids responsibilities, you must be careful. That’s because discussions, calls for attention, and ultimatums don’t work with this kind of personality. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably be the one who loses both your patience and your will to carry on.

You have to act assertively, clearly indicating to your partner that there’s a problem in your relationship. You must tell them about their behaviors that are harming you and that you don’t like. Don’t blame them. Instead, focus on what they’re doing and not so much on their way of being.

Be prepared to set boundaries. Indeed, it’s important to make clear what you’re willing to tolerate and what you’re not. Try to bear in mind that they won’t always recognize what’s going on, but you must understand who it is you’re dealing with.

You might want to request psychological support. If there’s no progress or they don’t show any desire to change, you’ll have to make a decision. Remember that if they’re obstructing your life together as a couple, they probably don’t know how to build a happy and worthwhile relationship. It’s worth bearing in mind.


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.

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