Carolyn Hax: He can snap at her; is that the start of abuse?

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Dear Carolyn:

My live-in boyfriend (of five years) and I are in our mid-20s and have talked about marriage, but he snaps at me often over what I see as trivial issues. Today, he mentioned some food looked like it was going bad, and I asked him if he'd used it or just noticed it. He raised his voice slightly and said he was just letting me know, stop pestering him, and he doesn't want to have a discussion about it.

This is just one example. I was away last week, and in the day I've been home, he's said something sharp to me five or six times. It's jarring to come back to this roller coaster.

I admit I can be critical and a little controlling, but I actively work to improve my temper. I don't know if our relationship is normal or if most couples are always pleasant to each other. Lately I've been having (overwhelming) thoughts of how we would divide our stuff and whether I'm strong enough to live alone. He treats me well most of the time and we love each other. Am I overreacting?


Either someone treats you well all of the time, or you need to get out. Do not settle for "most of the time." You can have a raging disagreement and still treat each other respectfully throughout.

You've cited two precursors to emotional abuse: One is that "roller coaster." The ups lift your hopes, and the downs kill your confidence. Classic.

The other is your self-doubt -- about your strength, and about your ability to judge what's healthy. People always ask, why stay with an abuser? You've just answered them: Because people tell themselves it's better than being alone, and any relationship would be the same as this one.

Listen listen listen to the voice telling you to get out. Find that strength.

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