Carolyn Hax: When a spouse is quick to anger

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 3, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, 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

My husband doesn’t handle frustration well. He gets snippy, slams things, speaks to me sharply, stomps around, etc. I told him I don’t think it’s fair that he takes his bad moods out on me. He said I take everything too personally — that since he’s not technically angry at ME, I shouldn’t care.

But it’s still me who has to deal with the snapping and slamming doors every time he can’t open a sticky window. Is it reasonable to ask him to find a better way to deal with his feelings when he’s upset? And short of leaving the room, how can I respond when he does this?

Baltimore


It is reasonable, yes, though you’re going to have to explain it very specifically: “I realize you’re not angry at me, and don’t take it personally. However, a home where someone is slamming doors and saying mean things is an unpleasant one — for both of us, I imagine.”

Then you say you love him and you want to be his partner in this, and you’d like to explore anger-management treatment.

Then you stay as calm as you can in holding this line, even knowing there’s absolutely nothing forcing him to do anything you ask. You can be perfectly right and perfectly articulate and still come away empty.

Because of that, I strongly advise that you figure out what you are and aren’t willing to do if his behavior continues or worsens, anything from taking a walk when he rages to getting therapy without him.

Connect the dots all the way to whether you want to stay married to someone so explosive and unrepentant. While that might seem like overreacting, it’s the best way for you to take in the whole scope of your marriage and options.

For Baltimore:

I am your husband (except I’m a wife). It really isn’t personal — it’s not even about the sticky window. It’s when I don’t feel in control of my life and I’m beating myself up and son-of-a-bleep now I can’t even open a bleeping window.

In my mind, my “short fuse” is actually a long fuse that found a safe place to blow up. It’s something I work on and try to apologize for. The incidents are getting less and less frequent.

Here’s what my husband does, and why he’s awesome: He neither coddles me nor dishes it back. He simply says he loves me and declines to interact with me further. When I apologize, he accepts it fully and without a grudge.

Say all that stuff Carolyn said. If you’re willing to be patient with him, and he’s willing to work on it (and he is loving toward you in other ways), it’s definitely surmountable.

Anonymous

Beautiful, thank you. But you are not his analogue; you admit fault. If he won’t, then Baltimore has difficult decisions to make.

Re: Baltimore:

Does your answer to Baltimore change at all if there are young children involved, who think Daddy is mad at them?

Anonymous

Same answer, higher stakes.

Make the unpleasant-home case, but with added emphasis — that kids won’t distinguish why a parent is angry. Keep telling your kids, too, that Daddy’s not mad at them — and seek counseling. Childhelp gives referrals: 800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453).

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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