How do I stop acting contemptuously towards my partner?
November 16, 2009 5:39 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop acting contemptuously towards my partner?

(Side note: I've been a member for a year and a half, and this is my first RelationshipFilter question! I feel like I've reached a milestone.)

My partner and I, both in our mid-twenties, have been together for 5 years. We have a very strong relationship marked by lots of affection and mutual respect. In general, I'd say we communicate well; we don't yell at each other and we try to talk through problems using non-accusatory language. When it comes to tough issues I think we handle them pretty well -- not perfectly, but as best we can.

The problem is that when it comes to the little issues, I have a knee-jerk contempt reaction that I haven't been able to control. Frequently, when we have a dispute over a trivial thing -- how to load the dishwasher, how to prepare food, whatever -- I wind up rolling my eyes and treating my partner like he's an idiot. I don't do it voluntarily, and while I'm doing it there's a part of my brain saying, "Wait a minute -- what are you doing? Why are you acting like such an asshole?" But that part doesn't kick in until after I've already registered my contempt.

I think I probably learned this from my parents, who interact with each other in this manner pretty much continuously (and have been married for over 40 years, so I guess it works for them). I also have issues with anxiety and insecurity, so I'm guessing this behavior serves as some kind of defense mechanism for me.

I don't want to act this way. I know that contempt is one of Gottman's "Four Horsemen," and I know it doesn't feel good to be on the receiving end. (My partner recently expressed displeasure with it, which served as the kick in the pants that I needed to really address the problem.) Even when I genuinely think I'm right and he's wrong, I should be able to A) express it in a way that's not dismissive, or B) suppress the urge to say anything, depending on the situation. And in general I am far from contemptuous of my partner; I think he's brilliant and funny and talented, and most of the time (I think) my behavior reflects that opinion. It's just these stupid little issues -- usually when I don't think he does housework in the right way, or when he gets really angry about something that I don't think warrants such a dramatic response -- that cause this reflexive reaction of mine to kick in.

The feminist in me also hates this regression into traditional gender roles, where the man is a bumbling idiot whenever it comes to household labor and the woman is a capable nag. I try not to watch when he does housework, because usually his work yields perfectly fine results even if I think his methods are wrong. And in the future when we're a little more flush with cash we'll probably (read: definitely) hire someone to clean our home. But neither of these solutions addresses the underlying problem, which is that I have this counterproductive reaction that seems so ingrained that it feels like I have no control over it.

I'm hoping that someone out there has dealt with a similar problem and can recommend some techniques that can help me alter my behavior or the underlying thought processes. I'm able to recognize the behavior, but only after the fact, when it's already too late. What can I do to stop being so obnoxious?

To head off the inevitable "you need therapy" answers: I'm already seeing a therapist to deal with anxiety, guilt, and related issues; couples therapy is not an option right now due to time constraints but is not completely out of the question in the future (though I suspect my partner is not quite so gung-ho about it as I am).
posted by pluckemin to Human Relations (32 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds more like a control issue. When he is loading the dishwasher, leave the kitchen, don't supervise. When he's vacuuming, find something else to do. Does it really matter if he doesn't do it perfectly? Let it go. Don't be that nag.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:49 PM on November 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I did this in my last relationship, and I couldn't stop, mainly because I really did hold him in contempt. But, one thing I am doing in the new relationship and that I did in previous ones is to remember to treat my partner as politely and sweetly as I would treat a stranger. I try to say please and thank you when applicable. I try to actually try to pay attention when I'm tired and he's talking about something that I'm not specifically interested in. And so far it's working quite well. Or, he's just that freaking awesome that he doesn't bring out my bad side. :)

Also, and I try to do this with my friends as well, when they do something that I think is 'wrong' or go about something in what seems to be an assbackwards way, I try to ask them why. And not "Why the hell are you doing it that way?" But more "Wow, I never thought of doing it that way, how does it work?" or "I don't understand why you're doing it that way, can you explain?" The point is the tone and to be geniunely curious and not judgemental.

It's really hard and the older I get, the harder it is to find tolerance for people doing routine tasks in other ways. But it's worth it to not feel that rise of resentment and contempt. I mean, it's just washing the dishes, or taking out the trash. If the results are the same, why does the process matter? It all comes down to a need to exert control over the little things, start to remind yourself that they are small and don't matter, and the need to have them be 'right' will lessen.
posted by teleri025 at 5:54 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

usually his work yields perfectly fine results even if I think his methods are wrong.

I would focus on this point, which you are very wisely already aware of. If someone's headed to where you want them to go anyway, ignore how they get there.
posted by crazylegs at 6:01 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I also have issues with anxiety and insecurity, so I'm guessing this behavior serves as some kind of defense mechanism for me.

Bam. I have acted similarly toward partners in the fact and it is definitely rooted in insecurity. I think it some way it is about asserting control; mainly, at least for me, it kicked in when I felt attacked or demeaned, even if the other person didn't mean it that way! You mention him getting disproportionately angry; in the past, I have been in that position and felt hurt and disrespected, and some knee-jerk thing in me switched on and said "Make him feel as bad as you do right now." You feel less vulnerable if you drag someone else down into it, too, right?

As for fixing it, my main piece of advice is to remember that putting the other person down will achieve nothing. You may very briefly feel asserted and like you've "won," but it will not last, and you'll be left writing AskMes like this, feeling poorly about your actions. Also, the next time you have a disagreement, keep your ears open to find if there's something in particular you're reacting to, or anticipating, in your partner's behavior. If you're aware of the triggers that cause the contemptuous behavior, you may be able to stop it before it starts, or constructively share what has hurt you with your partner.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:08 PM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]

Yeah, there is usually more than one way to do something right. I have seen this many times in surgery, even (IANASurgeon, just a "helper").
And I have learned this in my (and others) relationships too. It's nice to get to a point in one where both persons involved are ok with the other's technique in a task.
And just a heads-up: It seems to come up as a whole new troublesome matter when kids become involved.
posted by bebrave! at 6:28 PM on November 16, 2009

Hmm. If you have more sex, it will probably help you laugh off the dumb things that he does. Even if they're not dumb.

Ask him for advice. That will help soothe any hurt feelings.

Every time you do it, apologize as soon as possible and donate $20 to a political group that you hate.
posted by kathrineg at 6:35 PM on November 16, 2009

I don't do it voluntarily, and while I'm doing it there's a part of my brain saying, "Wait a minute -- what are you doing? Why are you acting like such an asshole?" But that part doesn't kick in until after I've already registered my contempt.

This is great, you're almost there. :-) When you find yourself doing that, stop and say, "God, I'm sorry, I'm being an asshole about this, I don't know what my problem is." Seriously! My husband and I don't have this happen often, but when it does, stopping and pointing it out yourself and immediately apologizing helps so much, for both of you. After a while you'll stop doing it, or you'll start to laugh at yourself when the feeling comes on.
posted by Nattie at 6:48 PM on November 16, 2009 [12 favorites]

Thanks for the answers so far! I just wanted to add -- answers that tell me that I am behaving irrationally or that I should just "let it go" are, by and large, not addressing my question. I am already aware that I am behaving irrationally and that I should just let these things go. My question is how I can go about doing this when the behavior feels so thoroughly ingrained as to be involuntary. Nattie and sarahsynonymous, for example, are giving the kind of specific suggestions I'm looking for. So is katherineg, even though her suggestions are kind of weird.
posted by pluckemin at 7:10 PM on November 16, 2009

Two suggestions: 1) Tell your partner that you know this is a weakness/problem and that you're going to make a commitment to work on it. Allow him to call you on it. He doesn't have to be nasty about it. He can just say "hey, you're rolling your eyes/acting contemptously." When he calls you on it, apologize. I think you;ll learn to modify your behavior.
2) My Husband I have a rule that if we are arguing about something silly, we can just make a fish face. It's impossible to stay mad when one or both of you is making a silly face.
posted by bananafish at 7:12 PM on November 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think that since this is, as you say, reflex, and the first thing that you do, what you should try to do is to stifle any immediate reaction. Count to 10. Once you have achieved mindfulness, then you can say things in the adult way you know you want to, rather than channeling your parents.

So you see that yet again, there's an unrinsed pot in the dishwasher, and your mouth is locked and loaded. Stop. Count to 10. Reorganise. Ask yourself what a rational adult would say. Then say it.

But yeah, before you practise saying the right thing, practice stopping and saying nothing.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:24 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. When you are not actually interacting with your partner, consciously reproach these thoughts in your mind whenever you experience them as consistently as you can. Be aware of what you are thinking and explicitly dispute it in your thoughts. It can be easy to indulge these sorts of thoughts when you are alone as a sort of catharsis or harmless venting but this establishes and legitimizes the reaction. I think it is perfectly normal to have irrational, knee-jerk reactions about stupid things when you live with someone. I have irrational, knee jerk reactions towards myself. But they don't have to be indulged. We live in a mean-spirited society. It is good to oppose it wherever possible.
2. When you are interacting with your partner, try apologizing when you behave in an untoward manner even if they do not explicitly respond or acknowledge how you are acting. I find that after I've apologized for some crummy little tendency a couple of hundred times my "uncontrollable" reactions mysteriously start to dry up.
posted by nanojath at 7:26 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I found Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh to be helpful in combating those very same knee-jerk reactions that you're talking about. I suffer - rather, everyone around me suffers this from time to time. You are not alone!
posted by handabear at 7:27 PM on November 16, 2009

I did this too, with my ex. Picked on him for tiny, trivial things until he actually disliked spending time at my place (and perhaps, with me.) Granted it was a symptom of larger frustrations I had with him at the time, but I still wish that after my often unprovoked snips over things like proper towel placement and leaving clothes on the floor, I'd said something like "Wow I'm sorry, I was totally mean to you for no reason" and given him a kiss instead.

You're self-aware and that's already half the battle. Talking to him about it is crucial. Let him know you're aware it's a problem and that you are working on stopping. Some monitoring/light sanctions from his end might be helpful. For example, you might ask him to gently point it out if you're being unreasonably mean. Perhaps he could say "Pluckemin, you're doing that thing we talked about you not doing." And you could take a minute to think on it, reverse it, and apologize. Include him in this mission.

It doesn't sound like you want to push him away. Don't.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 7:28 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I admit I am pretty hard on myself, but if this were me I would take a few minutes and visualize then write down my behavior I am displeased with. Next I would figure out what I am feeling/thinking at the time. Do I need to control? Is my identity feeling threatened? Am I being competitive? You get the idea. Then decide if these instances are indicative of how I feel now or much of the time, or if I am replaying old feelings that don't even apply.

Next I would think of someone who is infinitely patient and who's behavior I admire, and imagine how they might have responded. I would also apologize to my spouse, which it sounds like you have already done, and ask them to gently remind me if I ever do it again, so that I may have the chance to rephrase, and practice being appreciative of their contributions.
posted by kgn2507 at 7:33 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

My spouse has the "right way" syndrome about the dishwasher, too. When he starts lecturing me on the right way to do it, I hand him the dirty dish and say, "When I do it, I do it my way; if you want to do it your way, do it yourself." When the tables are turned and I get on him for something, my husband can let me know that I am "being the dishwasher police" about that thing, and I know i need to lighten up. Your partner should definitely call you on your behavior when you are acting this way, and when he does you should back off right away.

Getting out of the kitchen, or wherever he is doing the task, is good advice. If the end result is the same, you don't need to supervise, or even know what method was used to get there.

About the fish face suggestion: when you unconsciously roll your eyes and then catch yourself at it, I think something like that, that immediately takes away the sting and makes you into the more comical figure, is also a good way to deflect until you can get past using the gesture entirely.

Which brings me to this: your parents treat each other this way, you mention. You say it must work for them, but how did it make you feel when you saw it happening? You love both your parents, so didn't it make you cringe when you saw one attacking the other with contempt? Keep that image in your mind consciously and don't let yourself off with the "well, it's a kneejerk reaction" excuse. Habits can be unlearned. Spend a month saying at least one complimentary thing to your partner every day, and it will become your new kneejerk reaction.
posted by misha at 8:05 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am the nitpickiest nitpicking nitpicker anywhere, and my husband will gladly attest to that. In my case, my snarky tone is passive aggressive. There's something I want to say but I'm not. It's almost never related to how he folds the towels. When I'm at peace with him and myself, when I've said everything I need to say, I don't care about the dirty socks next to the hamper (dude, seriously, it's RIGHT THERE). Those things don't even register.

So what are you not saying? What unspoken resentments do you have? Even if you let the contempuous sneer cross your face, you can backtrack and say "you know what, I'm not really upset about you not using a coaster. I've actually been anxious about our finances..." and go from there. You describe your reaction as "knee-jerk," which indicates to me that you're really not aware of what you feel. Spend some time paying attention to how you feel, when you're feeling it, and why. The reaction will become less instantaneous. Make sure you're telling him how you really feel about the truly important aspects of your life, and housework will become inconsequential.
posted by desjardins at 8:06 PM on November 16, 2009 [15 favorites]

Perhaps I should shed more light on my suggestions.

Impulse -> Thought -> Behavior (this happens sometimes)
Impulse -> Behavior (this happens sometimes, more so when we're frustrated and angry)

You're getting a lot of good suggestions for the cognitive (thought) part. But you seem to have that part down. The problem is, you get frustrated and you don't get the chance to stop your impulse before it turns into behavior. You simply don't get the chance to think.

My suggestions were more focused on the things that happen before the impulse, and after the behavior.

Feeling more connected to your partner and all the nice hormones that come from sex will make you less frustrated with him (and in general).

Donating money to a group you hate will make you associate the behavior with severe discomfort, even disgust. That will curb the impulse as well and make you more motivated to avoid situations where you know you'll get frustrated.

Asking him for advice will reinforce that it is a situational frustration, and that you value his thoughts and opinions. It will make the impact of your behavior less. It will remind you that he has much to offer and is intelligent, resourceful, etc., maybe that will reduce your frustration with him and lessen the impulse.

Hope that helps.
posted by kathrineg at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whatever else you do, whatever else happens, sit him down, talk to him, and explain that you know you're doing it, that you're not sure why you're doing it -- deeper issue, habit, family of origin issue, whatever -- but that you're doing your best to knock it off, so would he kindly give you the finger every time you do it?

In short, empower him to call you on your bad behavior, and as he stands up to you about it, your respect level for him will probably increase.
posted by davejay at 9:26 PM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

I agree with Nattie. If you apologize as soon as you realize what you've done, it will diffuse a lot of his resentment. My wife and I still act "contemptibly" towards each other after 16 years but find that a quick apology usually leads to other, kinder words.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:40 PM on November 16, 2009

From someone who has had to put up with nitpicky nitpicking behavior lately (ah, work..): Does it realllllly matter if comparatively trivial things are done in a way that you don't prefer?

It's exhausting and kind of stressful to be around someone who has many specific/idiosyncratic preferences for the way things are done, because there's no way to know what they all are, it sucks to be told "you're doing it wrong" all the time, the person who says it is frequently expressing a personal preference in absolute terms of right/wrong.. And the worst part is, you find yourself hesitating and second-guessing things you do wayyyy too often, because you never know where you'll hit the next "you're doing it wrong" for inadvertently stepping on a hitherto unknown preference.

So, I mean, one way to help stop the behavior is to think about how the other person feels. Because it's like, you might only be saying he's loading the dishwasher or slicing vegetables wrong, but do those kinds of things enough, he's probably starting to worry unnecessarily about taking out the trash, vacuuming the carpet, wiping off the cabinets, etc., like "oh man, she's going to be on me for this if I do it wrong, but I don't know what the right way is, but.. arrrrrghhh!!! this sucks!! why even bother cleaning this thing because all she's going to say is, I did it wrong."

Another way might be to learn to laugh at yourself when you start feeling this way. Like damn, what's going on with me, I just about blew a fuse because someone put the dishes away differently. And to laugh (in a nice way) at him for being a bumbling idiot at housework, you know, he's so smart about most things, and he has such a hard time with this stuff! LOL traditional gender roles and stereotypical behavior. As a feminist, I often find this kind of thing funny in an absurd way, all these years of progress and that guy still geeks out over video games, and I still like really expensive uncomfortable shoes.
posted by citron at 9:48 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I once had a roommate who lectured me on how to load the dishwasher. It was years and years ago but I still remember how irritated I was by that lecture and how much it made me not want to even bother. Now I don't live with my partner but I've kept that in mind with the roommates I've had since then. Whenever I get the urge to address one of these issues or, god forbid, actually lecture them, I think back on how annoying the dishwasher lecture was on the receiving end. Then I can ask myself is this an actual Big Deal Issue, like basic cleanliness and tidiness, or is this a loading-the-dishwasher issue? Usually, it's the latter, so I hold my tongue, and let the annoyance go. Because, for most of it, there really isn't one correct way to do something. I like the suggestion for leaving the room.

But maybe my method would help you, too. When you get the urge to roll your eyes or snap at him for a dishwasher issue, think how it would feel if he were to do that when you were doing a task. You'd probably be, rightly, annoyed, so perhaps that will you step in his shoes. Then you can drop all the dishwasher issues and save it for something that really needs addressing. Like cross-contamination with raw poultry or things that might actually matter.
posted by 6550 at 9:58 PM on November 16, 2009

this may be totally off, but...

when your partner does things in ways that seem wrong to you, can you think of it as an anthropological issue?
Hanging out with friends and roommates I've been constantly surprised by how often they do the smallest things differently than I do. Where did they learn that? Where did I learn my way? How do all these channels of informal education work, and how many ways are there to approach one task, and how fascinating is it that even as education and culture grow more homogeneous* all these honest little differences and variations still remain, reminding us that in the end we're all just monkeys bumbling about with home appliances?
What I mean is that you might be able to train your reaction to be "how interesting and/or awesome."

* this part I pulled out of my ass.
posted by egg drop at 10:25 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

Well, when you do do it, be sure to apologize and let him know that you didn't mean it. No one likes apologizing so doing that will have a two fold advantage. He'll know you didn't mean it, and it will condition you not to do it.
posted by delmoi at 11:49 PM on November 16, 2009

I've pleasantly discovered that nagging is not place/person specific for me. Say I spy Mr. Anitanita insanely using the exact same sponge to clean all of the dishes, the countertops, the unidentified mess on the floor, the dirt on the door, and then another dish, one right after the other. Perhaps not even bothering to throw a little more soap or clean it between items.

On my worst days I uselessly passively aggressively make some sort of barbed joke shrouded in meaningfulness, like, "Unidentified floor mess is not a spice (so why is it on my dish?)", that he totally misses. On my best days, I immediately head for the bathroom, where I say something like, "Agggh! Whaa? That is just nasty! Why would you think this was okay? I mean, I appreciate your help, but, yeecchhhh".

So basically I've decided that until I figure out how to let go of my control issues around the 'right' way to do things, I can nag, but I don't have to nag him. He doesn't deserve it. So I just talk to myself in the mirror, or imagine I am retelling the tale to a friend who understands, for about 45 seconds. By the end, I usually feel pretty silly.

Then I come back to the kitchen and I say, "I appreciate your help. Thank you for doing the dishes".... while I check to see if he washed my favorite dish with the sponge of filth. If not, I let it ride. If so, I just remember to wash that dish again before I use it. If it's really bad I'll say something like, "I really want to nag you about something, but how about a hug instead?" and appreciate that he washed the dishes and the countertops, ask him if he can pop the sponge in the microwave, and honestly appreciate that our kitchen looks cleaner than it did 30 minutes ago.

I mean most of that imagined filth on that sponge is probably mine anyway, and my body probably already has the antibodies to fight whatever is on my favorite plate. (Note: scientist-y mefites, do *not* disabuse me of this fiction if I'm wrong.)

In short, you feel how you feel, but distract yourself with whatever you can to avoid lashing out contemptuously. There's nothing sadder than having a claim to fame along the lines of: "But I know how to load the dishwasher the right way, or I vacuum correctly". People don't really give out lots of points for that, so stop saying it like they just lost some for not being as good as you in these areas.

....oh and one last thing - my only exception to 'redirect the nag' is the toilet seat (down). This is one thing that he and I get to joke on continuously. Everyone just needs one naggy outlet I think, I'm just so anal on this one point, he flat out laughs at me, puts down the toilet seat and says something like 'Now anitanita's world is perfect' or 'better than potato chips', and then looks at me meaningfully until I laugh. Of course, he's a trained psychiatrist, so YMMV.
posted by anitanita at 2:16 AM on November 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, god, I totally do this. Only it's not loading the dishwasher or household chores, it's tech stuff (oh, right, you don't know what a rar file is, *eyeroll*) or nerd facts or whatever. I know exactly what you mean, pluckemin, about it being automatic - it's not until after I've done it that I even realize it's happened, and by then it's too late. I agree with some of the other suggestions that communication is the solution here, and giving yourself an easy way to defuse the meanness without having to beat yourself up (which is my other problem).
posted by marginaliana at 7:14 AM on November 17, 2009

I struggle with this, though I have gotten a million times better about it. My partner doesn't clean the kitchen or vacuum the house as thoroughly as I like, so I just make sure we alternate these tasks -- so that every other time the house gets vacuumed, I'm doing the "deep clean," and since I know I'll get a crack at underneath the sofa soon enough, I can relax and enjoy the work he's done.
It also helped to talk frankly about these issues. He knows I am a more thorough cleaner, and we're at the point where we can both joke about how in the world he managed to miss the giant dust bunny behind the door, or how I fell into a trance and decided to scrub the outsides of the kitchen cabinets for a half hour. I do complain when he's supposedly cleaned the frying pan but it's still greasy, but I take a moment to say it in the most constructive way possible -- just straightforward and pleasantly, "this pan isn't clean, look, it's greasy. I'll leave it in the sink for you." Which is much, much better than saying "Do you even know how to wash a dish? You know you're supposed to use soap, right??" or whatever.
posted by chowflap at 8:06 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try paying attention to the physical sensations you experience when you are getting the urge to nag. Where are your muscles tight? Is your heart beating faster? What's your stomach doing? What's happening to your breath?

Pay attention repeatedly until you get to the point where you recognize this bundle of sensations like an old friend. "Ah, hello anxious-wanting-to-lash-out feelings!"

This exercise will help you in two ways. In the moment, it will give your mind something to focus on other than the monologue about what your partner is doing wrong. In the long term, you will hopefully become more sensitive to the beginnings of these feelings, so that you can choose what to do before you've already rolled your eyes.

(I haven't had this exact problem, but I've had very good luck with this technique for other anxiety-related issues.)
posted by wyzewoman at 8:30 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

I find that my worst behavior toward my partner (huffs, nagging, exasperation) comes out when I'm not getting my needs met in other areas. For example, I'm an introvert, and we have little kids, so if I've been childminding for a while and have not had a chance to think my own thoughts, I'll get cranky. Likewise if I go too long without eating and the blood sugar dips. Sure, I wish I didn't take it out on the people I love when my (mental / physical / emotional) reserves get low, but until I become enlightened and improve my entire personality, I try to make a conscious effort to take care of myself and not get so depleted that I'm lashing out at everyone.
posted by libraryhead at 10:34 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Count me in as another one who does this (about everything from cleaning to web design), and i hate hate hate this about myself. I try to apologise whenever I catch myself doing it, so at least he knows that I'm thinking about it and trying to be better. I will also stop myself mid-awful-sentence, hold up my hand, apologise, and then carry on in a much more respectful manner.
posted by ukdanae at 11:37 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was really hoping for a magical answer to this. I am like this too.

I've tried CBT to some success.
posted by k8t at 10:28 PM on November 17, 2009

I just want to jump in and say that I am dealing with the exact same problem with my partner (we've been together for about 14 months) and it has finally boiled over into a serious and possibly relationship-ending issue. My partner is very non-confrontational, generally speaking, and I am more dominant; like the OP, my behavior and our relationship is based on what I learned from my parents. I belittle or "shut down" my partner (the latter is her term) on just about everything. It is, at least partially, a control and insecurity issue on my part. For example, if we disagree about the interpretation of a movie, I have to argue her into submission in order to prove to both of us that I am right. What could have been an interesting discussion and a way to strengthen our bond becomes an act of aggression on my part. I see a lot of my own behaviors in your post, and I think perhaps the root causes with you, as with me, are anxiety, self-esteem, a desire for control, an inability to deal with negative impulses. Probably also part of it is just being wound too fucking tight. I am in the process of looking for therapy, probably with some element of CBT or other practical coping-type techniques; a lot of the suggestions in the post sound like good starts.

Best of luck.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:04 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can tell you about my experience as a wife whose husband is occasionally unintentionally contemptuous but overall a loveable bloke: it was a problem that went both ways. I had to trust what I know of him after 5 1/2 years, and despite the relative rosiness of that picture, the fact that on occasion he would be in a bitchy mood and say something rude to me (I call it entering the "Red Zone," which usually makes both of us laugh and diffuses the situation.) I had to remember that I married him not because he treated me perfectly, but because his overall best effort was loving enough to meet my needs. We're only human, and we all feel anxious and insecure at times, both about what we do to others and what's done to us. That's when the facts you've accumulated from your total experience with someone come in handy.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 at 1:43 PM on December 25, 2009

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