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Carolyn Hax: Husband sometimes ‘blows up in a very awful way’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband normally is a very loving, caring guy, and we have a very happy marriage, but occasionally he blows up in a very awful way. He is hard-working, does more than his share of his work around the house and is a very involved father. I rarely have occasion to get upset at him. But if I do, I can’t predict how he’ll react.

Yesterday, I got upset at him about trash in the kitchen and glared at him and whisper-hissed that I had asked him three times and he hadn’t taken out the trash. I kept my voice low, because kids were in the next room, and we never argue in front of them. In response, he grabbed me and shook me hard while yelling at the top of his voice that I don’t get to behave like that and to fix myself. I yelled back at him to stop manhandling me and our angry argument escalated.

I am horrified that the kids saw this. A few minutes later, he said sorry for his behavior, but I don’t think that is okay. He is angry at me for still being upset about it.

This is certainly not the norm in our relationship, has happened maybe five times in our 10-year marriage, but I can’t overlook that he shook me in front of the kids over something so little. The last time it happened was two years ago, in front of my visiting sister, in the parking lot of a restaurant.

How should I react to this? He feels justified because I was rude and he did say sorry and that should end the matter. Am I overreacting here?

— Horrified

Horrified: Oh my goodness, no. 800-799-SAFE. Please. Today. And here’s a primer on healthy/unhealthy relationships from the One Love Foundation.

There isn’t a threshold for a “safe” or “okay” or “very loving, caring” amount of violence in a relationship. Or for the amount it’s okay for a child to witness. Any amount is a dangerous amount. Take care of yourself and kids and make the call.

Readers’ thoughts:

· Please, please reread what you wrote and think about how you’d react if a friend was telling you. You’re in a loving relationship, but:

1. You don’t know how he’ll react if you get upset him, so you tiptoe;

2. You can’t argue in front of the kids, which suggests that you don’t have very constructive ways of working through differences of opinion;

3. He has physically assaulted you at least five times, and your primary concern is that he did it in front of people, not that he did it.

What do you think your kids are learning? That you can’t have disagreements. That being physically aggressive is an appropriate response to being asked to do your chores. Yelling is normal. Physical abuse is normal.

· Please get out and soon. I could have written this letter when my kids were young. As they got older, he got worse, and this led to a disaster of a divorce, where he was allowed joint custody for a few years and abused the children until a kind judge saw the problem. You will never forgive yourself when he does this to your child. HE WILL DO THIS TO YOUR CHILD. And you will never, ever completely forgive yourself. I have not.

· Your husband needs anger-management counseling, and if that makes him angry, seek outside help at reaching an agreement from him on this. Your whole family is in danger without you taking decisive action now.

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