Passive Aggression: The New American Epidemic?

In a recent article posted on AOL, Dr. Epstein (a Ph.D. based out of San Diego) revealed that 10 to 20% of American marriages are “sexless.” That is, sex happens once a month or less.

Our neighbor in the blogosphere, PA Don’t Stand for “Palo Alto” has an interesting spin on this article that should give you something to think about - does this mean that 40 million Americans are in marriages suffering of passive aggression?

"… I’m no doctor, and I’m sure that some people have matching low libidos, but the cases I know about are ones where one person desperately would give almost anything to feel desired and have sex, while the other in the couple is a passive aggressive.

I hope any of you who may be seeing a therapist are honest about where you stand. A psychology professor once said this:

When sex is good, it’s 5 percent of the marriage, but when it’s bad, it’s 95 percent of the marriage. “The key is to understand what’s good and bad,” he says. Good means that each person’s sexual needs are being met. Bad means that at least one person’s needs are not being met.

If everyone agrees that due to low libido, children, aging, that not having sex is okay, at least temporarily, that’s one thing. Having a passive aggressive spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend that “withholds sex” is totally something else. I would give almost anything to know how many of these people are passive aggressive, but since the psychological community doesn’t recognize that anymore (LOL), I guess we’ll never know."

How do you feel about this? It’s definitely true that withholding sex as punishment is a passive aggressive trait that many partners suffer through. But do they reveal it? Dr. Epstein makes a good point in saying that many more marriages are probably “sexless,” but people don’t reveal it out of embarrassment. If in their marriage, their partner withholds sex as punishment, certainly there could be many people who participated in this study, but didn’t come forward! Passive aggressive punishment is very crafty, in inducing shame and making the victim feel like they “deserve” it!

If your partner is using this device against you, don’t suffer in silence or continue to blame yourself! Withholding sex is not about your inability to perform for your partner - it’s about their need to control you by ignoring and denying your needs!

Do you need someone to talk to about this or other personally hurtful passive aggressive behaviors? You can have a private, one-on-one conversation with our Conflict Coach, Coach Nora. Your first conversation with her is free.


Dr. Nora

Dr. Nora

Dr. Nora is a well known coach, conflict solver and trainer, and CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions, Inc. Sign up for free, here on her blog, to be connected to her innovative conflict solutions, positive suggestions and life-changing coaching sessions, along with blog updates, news, and more! We can begin by you having a complimentary consultation with Dr. Nora. Visit her coaching site today to talk with Dr. Nora and receive a plan for action to change your life. She's ready to help!
About Nora Femenia

Sign up for your Free Coaching session with Coach Nora, where she will help you understand your specific situation and what would help you most.
Please, click here to schedule your no charge session


  1. MirroredTruth says

    I’ve been with my husband for about 6 years now.  We met when we were teens as we were neighbors.  We clearly had an attraction to each other although we never really dated.  He would definitely make me feel like he was so attracted to me but he never really asked me to “offiicially ” be his girlfriend. Looking back now, I remember feeling confused and like I wasn’t good enough for him.  But I didn’t understand why, I always thought I must be the problem.  I was coming from a home where my stepfather was an alcoholic, and my mom would take out her frustrations on me.  I had good grades, wasn’t a “problem child” but I was unloved and abused by my Mother. I felt alone, unlovable and was really hurting.  All I dreamed of
    was to find myself loving someone and having someone love me back.I dreamed of a successful, respectfu, loving relationship. But that never happened.  I feel like I’ve gone unconsiously in a circle that I  didn’t want to be a part of but somehow could never avoid.  To make a long story short, after our teen years and when we became adults, my now husband and I went our own ways and he married  someone and also divorced as I did as well.  When we met again as adults, I thought wow, this must be another opportunity life is giving us to be together, now older and wiser. So I thought…
    We started dating and eventually got married.  In the time we’ve been married I’ve had serious accidents and I think it’s due to lack of focus and confusion I’ve felt and been affected by due to my terribly abusive marriage. I alsohave suffered depression and anxiety. At first, he made me feel like he was such a gentleman, but after we got married he showed me another side of him I never knew. He has made me feel so unwanted by his rejections and his constant blame for anything and everthing. For instance,during the time I was hurt in an accident and when I asked for his assistance he told me “I’m not here to cater to you”. At first I took it as a joke, but then I noticed he was serious about it. In my mind I thought he was just having a bad day, but I was really hurt.  As time progressed I noticed more and more how he was so uncaring, unloving, neglectful, blaming me for everything,lying, giving me the silent treatment, witholding sex, (even stopping in the middle of intimacy and telling me that I had done something wrong to him and that he couldn’t go on). I felt so degradated and angry. He would ignore me when I spoke to him and he would say he didn’t hear me. If or whenever I tried to hold a convesation about the issues that were affecting the relationship he would raise his voice and start yelling, or would talk over me until it became an argument because he refused to hear me out, and NEVER had any accountability for his actions. Or he would “forget” anything that was important to me. Would not remember to give me anthing for my birthday, or any special occasion, and if he did, would always give it to me late.  A perfect example is last Christmas he had my present all wrapped up in a corner of our bedroom for 2 months before I would receive it.I got my Christmas present late in Feb 2012. Oh and he was laid off from work more that 3 years ago and he is STILL unemployed and not making any concerted efforts in getting employment.This morning he now blamed me for being an inpediment for him to seek and obtain employment. He has also blame me for his ex-wife taking him to child support court for not paying child support. When he leaves the house he’ll go to his mother’s house and make social calls, watch TV, and he claims to go job searching online and applying to employment but when I ask to show me proof he doesn’t. In the meantime, due to so much stress at home and at work, I became so affected by these toxic situations, that I fell into depression, and anxiety. I haven’t been able to work and all the financial responsibilities are on me-but he’ll do nothing to help the situation. I been taken to court for late rent payments, going crazy to make ends meet, without losing myself completely. Today, I know that I have to get out of this marriage, which has left me dumbfounded, although I really don’t have the funds to get a divorce right now.  I wish I would have acted before when still had a better chance , than now where I’ve been so negatively affected. So the lesson I’ve learned is,… that I shouldn’t have allowed myself to wait until I had so much anger,  felt so defeated, with little self esteem, and that I shouldn’t have allowed someone else to cause me to doubt myself and to go through so much pain and suffering.– because I will need great strenght to be able to get out of such an abusive, confusing,toxic situation.

  2. Monique50 says

    I am so happy to read these posts.  I am currently in the middle of a divorce from my own passive-aggressive husband.

    Linda, you have expressed so eloquently, and so darn accurately, EVERYTHING I’ve been going through for almost 15 years.  I could never talk to my husband without him making everything about him.  As you said, just to feel sorry for himself.

    I too kept thinking if he loved me he would “see” his neglect and selfishness and how much he was hurting me by withholding sex.  But, he didn’t.  When I quit begging for sex, we completely quit having it.  Completely.

    I’m now trying to get over the bitterness that is so deep in my soul.  Thank you for speaking up so beautifully.

  3. Hi Nora,

    Thank you for the honest reply.  I have filed for divorce and am waiting the required time for the divorce to be final in my state.  I admit, it still hurts to think he used me this way.  I know he did and would still continue to do so.  Like these other ladies, sex was strictly for his pleasure.  Anything I suggested was shunned and he acted like I should feel shame for suggesting. 

    I have been seeing a therapist and have a few good friends that are helping me to see that I can have love with another.  I am scared I will repeat my history and know I have a lot more to learn about myself and need to have confidence.

    Being married to a PA has been the lonliest experience of my life.

  4. In David Schnark’s, “Passionate Marriage”, he says that the way a couple relates in the bedroom is like a microcosm of the entire relationship. Looking at sexual dynamics can tell you what the larger problems are.

    I do own my part in creating the situation. I had unhealthy ideas about sex that I brouhgt into this. We are taught to use sex as a tool to get attention and then use it to keep our man happy so he won’t stray. Women are trained to bolster men’s egos by acting like they are good lovers, when they are really selfish.

    I must say that for a long time I invited and encouraged him to use me as much as he pleased.
    My idea was that he would eventually mature, want to understand more about me and it would grow into a more reciprocal relationship. I had no idea that it would become such a nihgtmare.

    As I began to accept the depth of my unhappiness and my inauthenticity, I also had to accept that it had been my choice to remain quiet about my needs. So many of us think: “If he loves me, he will notice my suffering and sacrifice and want to make it better”. My new plan was to educate him on the differences between women’s sexual experience and men’s. I really let him know what was happening with me and many other women.

    That is when the REAL hurt begins. When you share something so deep, personal and humiliating and he responds with anger and apathy. Prior to that I could pass it off as ignorance or youth. Over the years I have spilled my guts repeatedly. All it does is make him feel sorry for himself.

    The thought of living like that for the rest of my life is unbearable. I will not repeat this mistake again. Here is my take away: I will never again use sex as a tool to catch or keep a man. I will only engage in sex with a man who values me as a whole person and who demonstrates the desire and ability to be a skilled and generous lover.

    In the end, the problem is not that THEY are inconsiderate – but that WE were entirely too accommodating and failed to convey a set of reasonable expectations. Game over.

  5. Maria Ines M. says

    Well, we have here several women telling the same story….of waiting, and hoping, and getting frustrated but accepting the status quo as the “normal way to be married…” Are we perhaps the children of a generation that refused to accept and defend that women have their own needs? we have denied and covered them for so long, in the hope they would become extinct, that now is quite a surprise to realize they never died, or went underground or got forgotten.
    Our needs for real companionship, for tender love and real skin to skin touch are here, as ever. How could we think that they would be postponed and whiter away? Who told us that it was possible to wait and wait without starving?
    This is a generation of women starved of the real nurturing of intense, real, person to person connections, necessary to live life to the fullest. We have become a shadow, in the wait for the fake sex life that passive aggressive husbands decided for us…
    The problem is that we have waited for too long the love never delivered as promised, that now it looks impossible to find satisfaction to those old needs.
    Whatever satisfaction to our love needs we can get now, the rage against the unnecessary and useless frustration is here; 
    an indicator is the raising number of divorces for people beyond their fifties. Why are those people leaving old marriages?
    Basically because the end of the line is here; you decided not to wait any more. Does he want to pursue this simulacra of sexual life he always offered? no more is acceptable. 
    There is a going back to the dignity of being single, of not keeping up with a facade of a marriage where there is not the basic sexual communication to guarantee a minimum of love…
    This generation, starved of good loving communication and good sex, prefers to live alone, and so stop the pretense of companionship where there is only solitude. 
    Being in the truth, finally, brings a healthy sense of self-respect.

  6. Trudieoliver says

    Hi, it is so refreshing, almost a relief, to read this information provided by others striving to be successful in their intimate relationships with a PA husband/partner.  Just before Christmas (2011) I took the decision to separate from my husband who has exhibited what I call issues with ‘control’ for as long as I have been in a relationship with him, nearly 14 years, nearly 12 of those married.  During all those years sexual intercourse has lasted no more than a few minutes but I always accepted, rather submissively I think, that this was how it was – I loved this man so much.  In between the periods of 3 or 4 days emotional withdrawal on a monthly basis he was the nicest man you could expect to meet.  It is this part I am struggling to come to terms with losing.  For the past 3 years my husband has been behaving in a truly passive aggressive way, actually in ways that have reduced me to a hysterical mess on many occasions.  When I tried to assert myself and stay strong he continued with whatever he could covertly to hurt me, he knows all my vulnerabilities and has exploited everyone of them.  When I eventually collapsed in an emotional heap he ‘came back to me’.  I could cope no more and called an end to our marriage.  Sadly, he says he wanted to make the decision 3 years ago but couldn’t, since Christmas he has filed for divorce citing me for unreasonable behaviour on the grounds, I think?, of me accusing him of changing as  aperson which has affected him as a man.  We continue to live in the marital home, which is sold, but we are waiting for the decree nisi and financial consent order before being able to move on.  Thank you for listening.  T

  7. He is not “having sex” with you…he is only using what he has handy for his release. Sorry about this answer, but you are very clear in your comment: this behavior is nothing like “making love to me…”
    So, how and when are you going to learn “how to truly love another,” if it not with him?

  8. Linda,
    many thanks for your invitation to a dialogue here and now, on this issue. As you know, I’ve been dancing around this issue, but never addressed it with the honesty and depth that you are asking for.
    It’s not only that there might be a bit of taboo around the issue of sex…is that, in the context of a passive aggressive relationship, is painful as hell. 
    It is the most hurtful issue you can bring up….
    Sex is emotional connection at the deepest level….when it is based on love. Other versions can be more superficial, but even in that case, you get touching, and this forgotten sense, -touch- is really important for our sense of being connected and loved. What this sex rejection brings is the deprivation of being touched and connected at such a basic level (too raw to be described with words), that only can be perceived as a hideous frustration of the most basic need: to be seen.
    He doesn’t look at you, he doesn’t touch you in any meaningful, heartful way, and the core of what you are, your sexual self, is avoided and ignored.
    This is the basic hurt here; it’s not that you want “sex” as he can accuse you of: is the deeper sense of connection that means that you are together with another human being, defeating the basic human solitude for once, that you (and we all) are looking for.
    I have no words for this lack; for this deeper human connection deprivation that renders all others forgettable. Is so offensive, so damaging that only thinking that only a very crippled, damaged person can do it to another can make it a bit understandable….because he has to kill the sense of pleasure and life connection within himself in order to be able to do it to you. 
    At this point, my only thought is asking the basic question: if we are in life to learn and to experiment with increasing forms of love and connection, and he is precisely blocking you from this life aspect, what is your main duty? Are you obliged to help him keep the reciprocal frustration up?
    or is it for you to find other ways to get the gentle touching and loving connection that you need in order to learn and thrive? 
    Only you can answer this question: who are you loyal to? to your own life goal of happiness and growth? or to his convoluted way of frustrating meaningful sexual connection for both?

  9. My PA hsuband will have sex with me, but it is over almost before it begins.  I truly believe this is his way of getting his needs met, while denying me mine.  He says he cannot understand why I want more than a few seconds.  And he hasn’t made love to me either.  In his mind he has, but that is all in his mind.  He has no idea how to truly love another.

  10. I am leaving a 22 year marriage for this very reason. He has been a good provider and has been able to grow and make progress in some areas, but not this one. Despite recognizing his PA and going to a counselor off and on (more off) for several years – no progress in the bedroom!

    It is the thing that hurts me more than anything and he knows it. Even though we discussed it more times than I want to count, and I let him know that it is killing the marriage, he refused to deal with it. Never even discussed it with the counselor. Didn’t do any research on his own or treat it like something that really needs fixing.

    He was too angry at me for not being satisfied with what works for him. Sex is for a man – wives are NOT supposed to have their own separate needs. I was supposed to be all about meeting his needs while he remained completely ignorant of mine.

    I gave him plenty of time to grow up and get over his ego. I showed him what really great sex can be like and let him know a few simple things that would make it really nice for me. Nope. He would play along the one time and say how much fun it was – then “forget” everything.

    I am convinced that PA men just want a body to use while they play out their fantasies in their minds. It ruins it for him to be actually present with me. Having to recognize my unique desires and pay attention to whether or not I am responding to his “programmed” routine makes sex unappealing to him. He would rather do wthout. 

    You’ve heard that a PA man will have sex with you, but will never make love to you, and it is true. Their egos are so fragile that you can not even bring up the subject. They must punish you for hurting Them. He is so focused on himself that he doesn’t have anything left over to offer me.

    He  understands that I completely catered to his needs for years without complaint. He even says I am justified to feel this way. But he cannot get over himself enough to act. I have broached this subject  on this site before and got no feedback. Sex is still such a taboo subject  – even in the context of marriage. I hope this post opens a much needed dialogue.

%d bloggers like this: