Carolyn Hax: Boyfriend has anger issues, but he won’t go to therapy on his own

Carolyn Hax
Columnist October 16, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I am dating someone whom I love but who has a very short fuse, gets frustrated easily and blames me when he cannot resolve a problem. I have asked him, while with our counselor, to get anger management or therapy on his own. He keeps avoiding it, even though he does acknowledge this issue freely and willingly.

I don’t know how much more I can take, walking on eggshells. The reason I don’t cut and run isn’t just love, but also because I know his anger is pain that is unresolved (emotionally and physically abused as a child and a recent, sudden death of a parent) and I know what peace would lie on the other side of therapy for him and I really want that for him and us. How to convince him that therapy would be the saving grace for our relationship?

Angry Boyfriend


You can’t.

You’re not rescuing an injured bird here; your boyfriend is an adult human being. You have every right and reason to expect a fellow adult to take the steps that he believes he needs to be healthy.

So, with that in mind, let’s convert his actions into a list of the steps that he believes he needs to take to be healthy:

1. Maintain the status quo.

Where do you think that’s headed?

If you want to go there with him, then stay. If you don’t want to go there with him, then break up with him and tell him why. It’s terrible that he has suffered as he has, but you can’t undo the terrible for him; in fact, I could argue that the more patiently you stand by him, absorbing his anger, the less incentive he has to seek help.

Dear Carolyn:

My brother did not show up for either of our parents’ illnesses until he found out they were dying, and then he showed up and acted the bereaved son. He all but ignored my parents and me for over 10 years until their deaths. Now he wants to be my friend on Facebook. I have ignored his requests.

Now he has friended all of our relatives and is constantly asking questions about me. I have been sick and almost died last year. I do not want him around me and I do not want him in my business. How do I go about dealing with this?

Anonymous

It isn’t possible he was actually bereaved? Or that he grew up in those 10 years and is genuine in his desire to reconnect?

Certainly, I’ve seen plenty of situations where cutting ties was the only rational choice. However, you don’t really offer any facts to refute the idea that he has changed, that he regrets his long absence, that he really cares about you and/or that he really misses your parents.

To be fair, you don’t offer any facts that support that idea, either — but what that tells me is that unless you have recent evidence that your brother is chronically self-absorbed, you’re using his poor judgment then to justify shunning him now. Please simply ask yourself whether you’re sure you’re actually protecting yourself from him or just protecting your grudge.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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