How do I deal with my short-tempered husband?
October 28, 2012 4:09 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with my short-tempered husband?

I moved with my British husband to South America three years ago (I am from here). Things are going really well and my husband loves it here. Apart from the odd culture-related challenge, different behaviors, expectations, etc.

Part of this problem is that, at times, he feels people are really taking the p*ss and disrespecting me/us. Two examples:

1- A pizza delivery boy from the pizza join next door nearly run us over while riding on our pavement. My husband went there to complain and took a picture of the courier's license plate to send to the traffic department. He thought that it is unacceptable to ride on the pavement but here, that just happens and everyone just deals with it even if people don't like it. The guy rang the doorbell and said "if anything happens to my bike, you will regret it." I was then advised by friends to cool down the argument, since many of the delivery guys have dodgy backgrounds (some have just come out of jail) so we bought them beers, apologised for taking the picture and that was that. But I really felt like I was kind of targeted by them back then - nothing happened though - and now, nearly two years down the line, these guys don't even say good evening to us, or anything. They might just think my husband is a foreign prick.

2- Earlier today, we were walking the dog off the lead. There was another dog (also off the lead), playing with kids. My dog went up to the other one. The other dog then chased mine and bared his teeth. My husband then shouted at that family's dog, which at this stage was barking at him and growling. He also threatened to kick the dog, and when he did that, all hell broke loose. The dog's owner came to my husband, wanting to beat him up and swearing a lot. The local book owner, who is a bit nuts and also has a dog, joined the guy in insulting my husband and told me that, if he had kicked the guy's dog, my husband would be flat on the floor.

I defended my husband, of course, saying that if their dog was so aggressive, it shouldn't be walking off its lead. But that didn't stop them from shouting abuse at us and all the other shop owners coming out to see what was going on. I don't even know if I will be able to walk past those shops again for the weeks to come.

This may sound like a small incident, but it really ruined my day. My husband has his own values and really does stand his ground - which I really admire him for - but he is extremely short-tempered, while I follow the conciliatory approach. I really do not want to be creating enemies in my neighbourhood and the fact that happened really stressed me out.

Can the hive mind suggest ways in which I can sort of avoid that kind of situation? Also, am I overreacting to the situations I have described above?

I have talked to him, and he promised to try and keep his cool in future because he saw how that affects me, but I just want to be able to deal with these situations in a more peaceful manner and talk things through where possible instead of going crazy and potentially making a bunch of enemies, and putting us in danger along the way.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, that's rough. He may not realize at the moment when he's losing his temper, and losing "face" by having that pointed out explicitly in front of other people might fuel the fire, so to speak, so why don't you two have a code word or phrase to let him know that he's behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable, and so he can maybe back off?
posted by xingcat at 4:12 PM on October 28, 2012

Wow, not overreacting. Kicking a dog who is acting like a dog is like kicking a child.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:19 PM on October 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

I defended my husband, of course


Not rhetorical. As is it sounds like he doesn't have much incentive to stop playing the thug. His wife will mollify the aggrieved parties with beer, and go a round herself in the scraps -- instead of stepping out of the messes when he makes them, and confronting him for acting like an idiot.
posted by kmennie at 4:30 PM on October 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I agree with those above who say you are not overreacting.

Where in South America are you? Are you in the kind of place you can find English-language anger management courses? Are you connected socially with any local emotionally stable British expats in the area that he can spend more time with (ideally as close to him in temperament and background)? These sorts of things - professional guidance and good social examples - are hugely helpful when it comes to anger stuff, particularly if there are mental health issues (feeling isolated, past abuse) or bad social examples influencing the behavior. Keep in mind that what is going on for him internally, regarding his adaptation to local conditions, may not be what you're seeing. Moving to a foreign country is a huge stressor.

I recommend that you look through this pamphlet from the American Psychological Association, this page from the NHS about anger, this BBC resource on anger management, this Mind page on dealing with anger, and this "emotional competency" oriented page about anger. Once you understand all of it, try and figure out what and how to share with your husband. There are videos embedded and such, if that works better than words on a screen/page.

You may also want to set some boundaries like "you and I can't take the dog out anymore if you keep doing that." Also, telling him you will walk away if he starts being confrontational, and following through on that, may help.
posted by SMPA at 4:33 PM on October 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Him promising to keep his cool in the future because he saw how it affects you is one thing. Anger is destructive and toxic. He needs to do more than just keep it together when you're around. He needs to keep it together PERIOD.

My dad used to come home every day in a raging temper because work was awful for a few years. He slammed doors and cabinets, raised his voice to me and my mom, screamed at customer service reps on the phone, and vented his frustrations in every possible way, and it was psychologically disastrous for me as a teen to grow up in that kind of almost-but-not-quite violent environment. (But my dad would never, EVER, EVER suggest kicking an animal that made him frustrated or scared -- never. Please understand that somebody that believes harming an animal in that way needs to be divested of that belief in every possible way.) Eventually I stood up to my father and explained that his anger was destroying his relationship with everyone around him, even though he had never moved into actual violence against anybody else. Even the subliminal threat of violence which was present in his slamming of doors, his eternally short temper, and his angry yelling made me distrust him, and when I told him I was scared of him, it was the first time my dad understood how toxic he had allowed himself to become.

You must not make excuses for him. I don't care if your husband is actually a great guy -- if he threatened to kick my dog in the manner he did, I would view him as a horrible person for the rest of time. When your husband overreacts and becomes short tempered, you MUST say to him, "When you get short tempered, when you yell, when you threaten violence and when you go overboard in your reactions to other people, I will not support you. I love you. I will not support this behavior. It scares me, it scares other people, and it hurts me. Stop now."

When he goes on and on about someone disrespecting you or him (Oh man, I've heard that one before), get him to focus on WHAT IS, rather than what SHOULD BE. "Yes, it is frustrating that X didn't do Y. Unfortunately, he did do Y, and look at how much you're focusing on it. You're letting it get the better of you. Let's move on and stop dwelling on it. I do not want to hear you talking about it anymore."

Get harsh. I had to, because 12 years of listening to my short tempered father be coddled by my mother was honestly one of the most destructive experiences of my life. Don't let this go on. YOU are not overreacting. He is.

This is not well articulated, so if you have any questions, please MeMail me. I can advise you on strategies and phrasing that really, really works. My dad has transformed since I stood up to him -- and my mother reinforces the boundaries and rules that I established which has further returned him to the wonderful man I knew he was. I refused to allow his angry side to be his true persona. Don't let your husband regress into his anger either.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:41 PM on October 28, 2012 [30 favorites]

Just talking about it and promising to try may not be enough. When he gets in those situations, his fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in so fast he may be caught up in his anger before he can think through the situation. If he is short-tempered, he is going to have to really want to change for this work. My thoughts on how to help him
Make a plan what to do in these situations.
* Make sure you talk through what constitute "one of these situations" since he may not recognize them all)
*Ask him "What I can do to help you handle these situations the way that you want to" (yes, he wants just because you want him to but the point is that once he has commited to change, changing is his job, not yours, you are just there to help him however he would find useful.
* when he manages to control his temper (even partially), pay attention, show appreciation, let him know that this is just what you were talking about and you are so happy he handled it differently (positive reinforcement)
* when he blows it, later ask if he needs to change his plan or if there is anything you could do to help out next time or if he has. Assume mistakes are a normal part of change - no big deal.

Since there is a cultural piece to this, you might want to point out how others (locals) are handling similar situations - in the moment when the two of you happen to see something. Be careful to just observe, not nag. It might help him calibrate how other virile men handle similar provocation in this country.

Which brings me to one last point - if the other men are going all tough and macho on your husband, you need to think through what would be a manly response - not how you, as a woman would respond. Still shouldn't kick the dog but he needs to feel like he still has his self-respect.
posted by metahawk at 4:51 PM on October 28, 2012

It may be that your husband may not have become accustomed to living in an area where baseline assumptions including random strangers realistically threatening you with violence in public without anyone batting an eye. To be honest, I'd hate to live in a place where failing to watch my mouth will naturally lead to me getting beaten up or robbed. I suppose your husband needs to learn to live in constant fear and avoid all potential situations where he might feel a need to defend himself.
posted by Nomyte at 5:05 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

The OP said he was from England, so I'd assume he is accustomed to it! Neither of the interactions she describes would go all that differently in most parts of Britain. This isn't some crazy cultural miscommunication. Dude is an angry, aggressive guy even if a feeling of being out of place or out of control is feeding it.
posted by crabintheocean at 5:13 PM on October 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think part of the problem is that your husband has a lot more to lose - but has not yet acknowledged this fact - by getting into it with the type of guy that rings your doorbell to issue threats than the guy issuing the threats. You need to impress upon him (among other things, and in addition to the points made by others already) that jail or burial are not acceptable options for him even though they may be acceptable options for the other guy.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:45 PM on October 28, 2012

Your husband has anger issues and he needs to get help for it. At the best it could be a simple loss of temper but at worst this could be a sign that there is more lurking beneath and you will start seeing worse symptoms as time goes by. Kicking an animal is simply ridiculous and shows signs of immaturity and lack of self control. (There have been many cases when such men turn on their own wife and children so you should be careful here)
posted by pakora1 at 6:56 PM on October 28, 2012

Does your husband think there is a problem? Is he more or less happy with how he lives his life where you are, or does he want to change things? If he doesn't recognize there is a problem, there is not much you can do
posted by KokuRyu at 7:00 PM on October 28, 2012

Uh. I'm incredibly laid back and if you tried to kick my dog, you betcha I'd have some words for you. That's completely unacceptable behavior.

What I'm hearing from your stories is that your husband feels entitled and used to getting his way. I'm living in South America right now, and people don't put up with that kind of behavior here they way they did in the US - there's no "customer service" culture and people are not accustomed to being treated poorly.

He needs to get over himself and realize he isn't the most important person around. Unfortunately, that change needs to come from him, and not you. Best you can do is draw whatever boundaries you need to keep out of the situations he gets himself into.
posted by zug at 7:12 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I opened this question expecting to find a situation like some men I've dated who are incredibly short-tempered during everyday situations. Neither of the incidents you described are everyday, though, and they arent't out of line in my opinion. You described two times in the last two years where your husband expressed anger when his loved ones were threatened. The first incident frankly sounds like you're living in a Mafia town: challenge the wrong young punk for near-homicide and you'll pay. The second incident is not hard to imagine if you view your pets as part of your family - an irresponsible owner allowed their aggressive dog to threaten your dog off-leash and he had to defend your dog against the other dog and its aggressive owners.

It sounds like the value conflict isn't between you and your husband, but between your country's social expectations, your husband's social expectations, and your desire to avoid conflict. He rebels at aggressive acts when you'd rather avoid confrontation. Why is it OK for the delivery guy to threaten to kill you both and you don't even criticize your friends for supporting that?

So, to answer your question directly: talk to your husband about your country's culture vs. his expectations. I don't know that it's fair to ask him to not defend his loved ones, but you might be able to help him build bridges with your neighbors.
posted by SakuraK at 8:46 PM on October 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I kind of agree with SakuraK. I think incident 1 is a cultural conflict, and you resolved it just fine. Your husband had a set of expectations based on his background (that's what a lot of New Yorkerswould have done too). f it's not advisable to kick up a fuss in your area, he needs to hear that loud and clear.

And incident 2 is something I'd so. A dog off leash once attacked my dog while I was walking him on leash, and I was a 17-year-old girl, and I would have killed that other dog if I had to to spare my own dog injury. (But it sounds like you and your husband should never walk your dog off the lead).

I don't think these are rageaholic type incidents. They're someone who might need to learn how to adjust his expectations in a culture and country where the rules are just different than they are at home.
posted by Miko at 9:05 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hm. It sounds like there may be a couple of things mixed up here.

First, I don't think you've made a case that your husband is "extremely short-tempered." Your first anecdote just sounds like a normal level of assertiveness to me --- his response was totally fine, and the shop response was crackers over-the-top. And the second might've been more a protective instinct rather than temper. (I would hurt another animal to save my own from that animal's aggression, for sure.) So if those two incidents are the basis for you thinking he's short-tempered, I think you should consider that maybe you are unusually patient/conciliatory/passive.

There may be a cultural component here, but if so I don't think it's aggressive<>conciliatory. I find British people generally understated, and South Americans expressive. So I wonder if there's some other cultural factor at play -- like, rigid<>loose, or persnickety<>emotive.

Ultimately, regardless of what the underlying issue is, the two of you need to figure out how to handle yourselves so i) you're not embarrassed to be out with him and ii) the family isn't endangered by his behaviour. So I agree with Nomyte and Inspector.Gadget that you should coach him to understand the potential repercussions of how he's handling himself, and I agree with xingcat that a code phrase might be helpful.
posted by Susan PG at 10:31 PM on October 28, 2012

I agree with Susan PG and others that these don't really seem like short-tempered incidents. The first seems more like a cultural issue and the second doesn't seem unreasonable to me. I've kicked at someone's dog for coming at my dog. I have a 125 pound Presa Canario and my neighbor's West Highland Terrier came charging, growling and barking at my dog. Believe me, the Westie was better off being kicked away than me letting my dog have a go at him. I'm not sure what people expect you to do when another dog goes after yours. I wasn't trying to hurt the Westie but I did want him to go away.
posted by shoesietart at 12:45 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is this the first time he has lived for an extended period in your country? I would not be surprised if your husband is at the miserable stage of culture shock, where the novelty has worn off and the small irritations he would not have had in his home country begin to loom large. It's when expats start complaining about traffic, local laziness, etc. It's very common, it's natural, and in his case seems to be manifesting as aggression towards local ways instead of insulting generalisations about 'these people'. He needs to snap out of this me vs them mentality - whether this takes counselling, making lots of expat friends so they can let off steam together, making some very close local friends so that you are not the chief link to this society for him, moving back, or a come to Jesus conversation, would depend on you two and the nature of your relationship.
posted by tavegyl at 12:50 AM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, along the lines of tavegyl, I wonder if your husband views your current location as shortterm, and so he doesn't feel the need to worry about the people in the neighborhood, in terms of of their opinions of the two of you or in remaining on friendly, neighborly terms with them, because he won't be around them in the longterm.
posted by vignettist at 2:21 AM on October 29, 2012

(There have been many cases when such men turn on their own wife so you should be careful here)

He's a human being, not a deranged animal.

Anyway, I hate to say this but some men learn best through the consequences of their own actions. Your interference as natural as it is, is preventing a more permanent lesson from being learned.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:26 AM on October 29, 2012

He also threatened to kick the dog, and when he did that, all hell broke loose. The dog's owner came to my husband, wanting to beat him up and swearing a lot. The local book owner, who is a bit nuts and also has a dog, joined the guy in insulting my husband and told me that, if he had kicked the guy's dog, my husband would be flat on the floor.

I think a lot of us here are assuming the husband actually did kick the dog, but rereading the OP's post carefully, I don't think he did. She writes "when he did that," referring to "he also threatened to kick the dog." Later she says "if he had kicked the guy's dog." Sounds like there was threatening, but no kicking.

I'm now remembering a time when my father kicked a Rottweiler who was being aggressive with our Maltese terrier. I thought that was brave. Two years later the same terrier was attacked by a Doberman when my father wasn't around, and ended up losing one of his eyes. So I dunno: I find myself loathe to condemn somebody for trying to defend against a threat of violence, even if they don't handle it absolutely perfectly.
posted by Susan PG at 11:02 AM on October 29, 2012

I'm an American not in my own country, and I often feel like your husband.

Every time a car nearly runs me over, I get strong urges to hold a key next to me so that the car will get scraped down it's side, or throw a brick through the window. I would never actually do this. I have a couple of time knocked on the window when this happens as an attempt to say 'wtf??' but I stopped doing this as soon as I realized that this might get dangerous. But I often get chances to thank my lucky stars that I'm alive, because these cars are dangerous....I miss my American traffic.

I often feel surprisingly very angry when something that in the local culture is seemingly innocuous happens- because in my country that nuance of behavior is absolutely unacceptable. It's been almost 3 years but it's just SO HARD TO ACCEPT THESE PARTICULAR CULTURAL DIFFERENCES, especially ones that make me feel that my life is at greater risk. This is when in general, I love this country and feel mostly very comfortable with the local culture.

Have you visited his country? I'm sure there were some nuances that you just didn't adjust to. It may not have been something to do with personal or pet security, but I'm sure there were things that were seemingly minute that still drove you absolutely nuts.
posted by saraindc at 11:35 AM on October 29, 2012

I don't think you'll be able to change him in any fundamental way. Most people I know who have short tempers are constitutionally that way and, just like with anything constitutional, are unable (and often not even wanting) to change their innate personality. I think all you can do is not let such a person "get his way" using anger and tempers as a tool. By trying to make such behavior lead to bad results rather than good results, and by making sure you are not intimidated by such behavior if it's directed at you, you have some chance of changing his behavior (but again, not his fundamental personality). One other thing I've found is helpful is to give such behavior a bad name, such as juvenile or adolescent. Sometimes that makes people stop and think about it more carefully.
posted by Dansaman at 4:58 PM on October 29, 2012

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