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Dear John: Expressing Anger Through Sex. Or No Sex, Actually.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

I’m in a pretty serious relationship with a guy who is mostly pretty great except for this tendency he has to withhold sex when he’s unhappy with me about something and also to refuse to acknowledge that he is even doing this. But it’s so obvious, and it’s a pattern. We’ll disagree about some minor thing or he’ll be annoyed I’ve made plans for us to go out to dinner with another couple or something trivial like that, and he’ll just get kind of closed off, but he’ll insist nothing’s wrong. And I will attempt to bring him out of this by being intimate only to be rejected with some lame excuse. And then things will get worse because at this point I feel rejected (because I was) and angry that he can’t just admit that he’s annoyed and that’s at the bottom of all this and instead we have to do this dance, and finally me getting angry will be what brings him around, and I can tell that he’s over whatever was eating at him the same way I could tell he was annoyed. But he will still claim that no, he just felt bad I was getting so upset. Why can’t we avoid all this and he can just say what he’s thinking in the first place!



Dear Tired,

You can’t avoid it all because the two of you are locked in a ritual, or dance, as you appropriately call it, that is as familiar and comfortable to you both as it is counterproductive and exasperating.

From what you have written, your boyfriend is a classic passive-aggressive type who refuses to acknowledge he’s angry but who expresses it by rejecting you when you’re seeking closeness – hence the term “passive” aggression. It’s there despite his denial of it, and it comes out indirectly.

These behaviors are usually learned at a very young age, and your easy ability to play your part in this indicates that perhaps you learned the role of the passive-aggressive person’s partner at a young age, as well. If you’re serious about this relationship, you should seek counseling as a couple if he will go – a big “if” since denial that anything’s wrong is a major part of this. If you’re less than serious, though, you should ask yourself whether it’s worth staying involved. I really don’t see it getting better without professional help.

Dear John,

I am writing to you to see if you have any ideas to help me and my wife through a disagreement we’ve been having. It’s important and it has to do with our daughter and there’s really no way to compromise or meet in the middle. This is an either-or type of situation.

Our daughter is 15, and she has a boyfriend. She’s a great kid, has never been in any kind of trouble, gets good grades, and she can have some attitude more often than we would like, but that’s the worst I can say about her and I’ll take that any day of the week. I feel like my wife and I have a great relationship with her, loving and close. And my wife would agree with this assessment.

Where we disagree is how much blind trust we should have in her. In a way, kids are the same as they were when I was growing up, but in a way they’re different, too. All the boys are watching hard-core porn all the time, and this is something that was unheard of when I was their age. All teenagers think about and are curious about sex, but these kids are all exposed to it so much that I think what’s normal has shifted, and what they expect has shifted, and I worry about my daughter. I worry about her sexting (which I KNOW at least one girl in her class has been revealed as doing), I worry about her getting pressured to do things that seem normal because maybe her peers do them, but none of these kids think beyond next week. It’s not that she has given me specific reasons to fear any of these things, mind you, but how can any parent NOT fear them who doesn’t have his head in the sand?

So I’ll cut to the chase. I want to keep an eye on my daughter’s phone without her knowing. I know her password and she doesn’t leave it lying around, but occasionally she does and I could take those opportunities to take a look at her pictures and texts. But my wife thinks this is a bad idea and that it’s too drastic an invasion of her privacy without having any reason to doubt her. But my response to that is, by the time we have reason to doubt her, it could be way too late! We have really locked horns on this. My intentions are nothing but good, John, I’m just trying to protect my daughter while she’s in these difficult teen years. My wife’s intentions are good, too, and she would say the same about mine. So give us your point of view, please.


Trust But Verify

Dear Trust But Verify,

I can see both of your sides in this. I think you’re right that the combination of teenage hormones, a ubiquitous porn culture, and the ease with which pictures can be taken and shared are an explosive combination for adolescents today. But I also understand your wife’s perspective. Great intentions are not really an adequate justification for secretly invading the privacy of someone who has given you no reason to do so.

I do think couples have to agree on something like this before taking any action. It’s not a good idea for your relationship with your wife to take it upon yourself to do what you want to do against her objections just because your intentions are good. So if you can’t persuade her, you should abandon your plan.

However, that doesn’t mean there are no other options available to you. The number one thing you and your wife should do with your daughter is talk frankly with her about your concerns. Not once, but regularly. If you see a news story that illustrates your concerns, have your daughter read it and talk with her about it. Remind her through the things you say and do that you care about her wellbeing and that you’re aware of the issues that she and her friends face every day. Ask her if she ever feels any pressure to do things she doesn’t really want to do, sexual or otherwise. If you don’t have these kinds of conversations with her already, start to do so today. In the long run, I think they will have a more positive effect than snooping through her phone anyway.

Dear John,

Greetings from Wyoming! When I started reading your column, my family (wife and 11-year-old daughter) lived in Rhode Island, but I moved west for a new job. But I still check the Go Local site regularly to keep up with things.

I like your column and I’ve wanted to write in but I haven’t had anything I needed advice on, to be honest with you. But something happened to me about a month ago I’ve thought about many times since then and I had the idea of sharing it with your readers. It’s not a question, it’s more of a lesson.

My daughter – 11 like I said – takes dance lessons. I was waiting for her to come out from her class and I was getting steamed because I knew the class was over and she was just taking her time getting changed, gabbing with her friends and whatnot. I was really getting worked up because this has been an ongoing battle. I’ll be waiting and she knows I’m waiting but she is always the last one out. I’ve waited almost half an hour for her to get changed and come out before! I have stressed to her so many times I don’t expect her to rush, just don’t be so pokey. Don’t be the last one out all the time.

Anyway, this day I had someplace I had to be, I had stressed to her that I was in a rush today, I’d already called to her once through the door to the changing area, and I was just starting to fume. A lady older than I am was waiting there too and she must have been able to tell I was getting pretty agitated because she gave me a little smile, and I said something like, “I just want one time when she’s not the last one out. Just one time.” She made some remark about kids and then said something I will never ever forget: “I had a little girl like that many years ago, but she passed away. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to be sitting here waiting for her.” I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say for a second and then all I could think of to say was, “I’m so sorry.” Needless to say, when my daughter came out, I had forgotten all about where I had to go or how mad I was getting. I just gave her a long hug and shook this woman’s hand and thanked her and said goodbye.

So I thought I’d share that with your readers. I never caught this lady’s name or why she was waiting there and I haven’t seen her there again. I sure have been a lot more patient with my daughter since our paths crossed, though.


Patient Dad

Dear Patient Dad,

Wow. What an incredible story. I’ve composed and deleted a series of possible responses, but there really is nothing more to say besides thank you so much for sharing it.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].


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