Why is my ex stuttering?
October 18, 2011 3:05 AM   Subscribe

My ex has developed stuttering when he talks to me. Am I being played? Is there such a thing as emotionally-caused stuttering?

In the past, in very emotional circumstances, at our previous break-ups, he developed a stutter. At the time one reason we broke up was that he admittedly lied to me and most oftenly about unimportant things. This has left me with a lack of trust, somewhat, in his genuineness.

I ended our 20 year marriage in December. I allowed him to keep using my credit card because (he said) he couldn't get a bank to give him one, and I kept the house payments going while he was in financial difficulties. He asked me to work out how much he'd racked up in 6 months ($5.5k). I have also recently told him that I've met someone. He was already aware that I was dating and did not seem to have a problem with it.

In our split, I have been as kind and gentle as possible, always welcoming him when he visits, offering to help him with things, listening to him when he has problems. I've not criticised him for racking up such a debt on my credit card. I've avoided using negative words at all around him. Although a great part of our split was due to his neglecting his health (and libido), spending irresponsibly, and having a negative attitude to the point of complaining about trivial things, I've accepted my responsibility for not dealing with these things, and refuse to blame him for the end of the marriage. I never use an angry voice when I speak to him, and I'm gentle and careful of his feelings. I avoid rehashing the reasons we split, and don't rub his nose in the fact that I'm seeing someone else. In short, I try my very hardest to make this as easy as possible on him. He's always going to be in my life, as the father of my two children, and he has been a good friend in the past.

Now, however, he has started seriously stuttering when he talks to me (on the phone). I don't know if he stutters with other people. A quick Google doesn't show up "emotional stuttering", and I'm wondering if he's trying to make me feel guilty for moving on (because he knows I associate his stuttering with suffering), and causing his life to be so miserable.

His recent posts on Facebook (yes, I know) indicate that he feels life has become much worse for him, and that the debt that he incurred came unexpectedly. (I have offered to wipe the debt, or half of it, if it will help, though I earn 1/3 of what he does, and he does not pay me alimony or anything like that).

So basically tl;dr - stuttering because you're upset, does it happen? Is it an ongoing problem (over a period of days at least) or is he trying to make me feel bad, or some third option I hadn't considered?
posted by b33j to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: instead of googling "emotional stuttering" try "stress stuttering".

For people who frequently stutter, the more anxious they are, the more they typically stutter.

It's also easy to fake a stutter, and none of us can tell you if he would be manipulative enough to do something like that.
posted by idiopath at 3:15 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you - that was enough for me to find this at Wikipedia: "Psychogenic stuttering may also arise after a traumatic experience such as a bereavement, the breakup of a relationship or as the psychological reaction to physical trauma. Its symptoms tend to be homogeneous: the stuttering is of sudden onset and associated with a significant event, it is constant and uninfluenced by different speaking situations, and there is little awareness or concern shown by the speaker"

It's therefore possible, and I will stop worrying about it.
posted by b33j at 3:23 AM on October 18, 2011

Best answer: I am trying to remember the context, and failing, but I had a short term stutter problem with someone... all I can recall at this point is that I was pretty shocked myself that it had suddenly developed, and that it was specific to one person. Unless you feel he is a very manipulative guy, it sounds to me like his stress and feelings of helplessness and inadequacy to you could bring this on.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:41 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had a very invasive stutter when I was a kid, and it resurfaces once in a blue moon, always when I'm in a very stressful situation. Because I've trained myself to talk to strangers more easily, it does tend to spring up more around people I'm more comfortable with, because I'm not as aware of using my coping strategies for talking clearly around them.
posted by xingcat at 4:26 AM on October 18, 2011

Yes, stress can trigger such things. It will alleviate when the stress does.

However, liars can also continue to lie.
posted by mleigh at 4:48 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had an employee who I thought had a very severe stuttering problem until one day I overheard him talking to his coworkers and he didn't stutter at all. When I asked around, it appeared that he pretty much only stuttered around me, because I made him anxious. So, its certainly possible.
posted by Lame_username at 5:05 AM on October 18, 2011

I'm hardly an expert on stuttering in general, but I have stuttered nearly all my life. In general it's worse when I'm stressed, but I also sometimes stutter really badly when there is no stress; just hanging out with friends.

Given that, it's hard to imagine an adult developing a stutter out of the blue. Even if it is "legit," it seems that it's just another reason to cut your contact as soon as possible, both for you and for him.
posted by zachawry at 5:51 AM on October 18, 2011

I developed a stutter after a bad car accident. Never had one before. It was constant for about two weeks after, and then gradually tapered off. I find that now, almost two years later, I stutter when I talk about the accident in anything more than passing.
posted by swingbraid at 6:56 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think he really is broken up about the split and the debt he's run up since then, and that's why he's stuttering. I feel bad for him, and for you, because you are trying your best to make this as painless for him as possible.

But I also think he is in denial, or rationalizing away, his share of the responsibility for what went wrong.

So, even though it is kind of you to want to help, giving him your credit card and then offering to pay part of the debt (!) is just going to enable him to keep floundering along, and I don't think that's really helpful for him in the long run, and certainly not for you or your finances.

Gently ask for the card back--it has been six months, after all--and suggest he should stop relying on you so much, because it is just holding him back from moving on without you as his partner.
posted by misha at 7:24 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you and your ex are descending into a codependent spiral. I also think the stuttering is a subconscious manifestation of his repressed guilt about your involvement as collateral damage of his own personal depression. It sounds like he needs serious emotional support right now, but you're unfortunately the last person who should be giving it to him.

Cut him off from the card. Eat the loss if you feel it will make you sleep better at night, but be clear and firm that the faucet is dry.
posted by mkultra at 7:42 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think the stutter is guilt because deep down he knows something you do not. Something connected to his habitual lying.

I go with guilt, not stress.

The stutter is about you, but I think you might be misinterpreting the motivation. Be really careful about your finances and any other areas of vulnerability moving forward.
posted by jbenben at 7:47 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think you are being played but maybe not about the stutter.

I'd be really careful about your finances. Maybe even cancel the card he had access too.

At the moment it also seems a little like you haven't moved on as much as you think you have if you are still helping him with money etc when you have 2 children together and he earns more than you. Though I do guess that depends on the age of the children and who they live with.

There is nothing wrong with being kind to someone you still care for or helping them a out a little, but a bit like jbenben I'd be more worried the stutter was from guilt and make sure my finances were well protected. I'd also set out some sort of payment plan for how ever much you feel is right for the money he owes you. I'd try for all of it, but it might be easier to just walk away from it. I would then try really hard to actually move on.
posted by wwax at 7:54 AM on October 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think I might understand how you've gotten in this position where you're sacrificing your own well-being to support your ex-husband; I assisted my troubled ex-wife for several months after we split. I didn't even have kids so there was no necessity for me to see my ex at all, yet it was brutally difficult to change those old, deeply entrenched patterns. This is a completely understandable but profoundly unhealthy situation. You are surely being taken advantage of, but there's no need to look for a bad guy. The absence of malice, of a bad guy, does not change the fact that the sooner you can disentangle yourself from this mess, the better for you and probably for everyone else.
posted by jon1270 at 8:29 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Stuttering as evidence one is lying has even made the music charts (in Canada, anyway). Fefe Dobson -- Stuttering
posted by cgg at 8:48 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: folks, I know it's tempting to give relationship advice but this is nominally a question about stuttering, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anecdata point 1: I develop a very noticeable stammer (prolongations and blocks more than repetition) when under exceptional levels of stress and/or anxiety.
Anecdata point 2: I can replicate this stammer precisely at will, should I choose to.
posted by robself at 9:56 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's completely possible that stuttering is caused by stress or anxiety. I have a good friend who usually doesn't stutter, but, any pressing arguement/discussion or accusation directed his way, and it's like a switch is flipped.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 11:12 AM on October 18, 2011

My ex-boyfriend stuttered whenever he was telling a lie.

It did not work out.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 12:01 PM on October 18, 2011

Response by poster: The finance thing is sorted, thanks. He has his own credit card, and no more access to mine. Thank you for the information about stuttering.
posted by b33j at 12:37 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

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