Would this be a deal breaker for you?
July 30, 2013 9:08 PM   Subscribe

If you were a passenger in a car your partner was driving, and the two of you got into an argument, and your partner punched the steering wheel to express their frustration while going 65mph in multi-lane interstate traffic, what would you do?

It seriously scared me, but I have anxiety problems and have trouble trusting my feelings. Partner says he wasn't "that out of control."
posted by macinchik to Human Relations (58 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In my past, no, but in retrospect, having continued that type of relationship, yes, that would be a dealbreaker.

Be with someone who always makes you feel safe.
posted by srrh at 9:15 PM on July 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

It's less unsafe than arguing with a partner while driving, and while not ideal, is a reasonably appropriate outlet for anger, so I myself would not worry about it much. Others will have different preferences.
posted by deadweightloss at 9:15 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would ask them to slow down, pull over on to the hard shoulder and take some deep breaths.
I've been in this situation recently, and at least getting the car stationary and safely off the road allowed us to focus on one thing, not two dangerous things. Also relevant: the relationship is now over.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yes. Aggression towards objects other than me has in the past escalated into aggression towards my body and my possessions. YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

Not an automatic deal breaker, but close, and might be based on the context.
posted by MillMan at 9:17 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

What I would do is probably sit there being terrified and not knowing what to do.

So he acknowledges he was out of control? Even "a little bit" out of control while driving is too much and a deal breaker. It's inexcusable. Whoever this guy is in your life, he's not helping you learn how to trust yourself and therefore you could probably do without him.
posted by bleep at 9:17 PM on July 30, 2013

Previously, no.

Based on past experience, yes.
posted by jaguar at 9:19 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

(However, arguing in the car is also a deal breaker for me, so the next logical step to me would be refusing to argue in an enclosed vehicle.)
posted by jaguar at 9:20 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Based on past experiences, I would extract myself from the relationship.

(It depends on where you are in your relationship. Obviously if you've been dating/married/whatever to the person for a decade and this is the only aberrant thing in this regard, you talk it out, figure out what's going on, etc. If you've known the person for a year? Put on the boots.)
posted by introp at 9:21 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not a good thing, but not a deal breaker. It has to be assessed in context with context being what was going on that day, that week, his entire personality, etc. Full disclosure, I have punched my steering wheel while at speed. It was more out of frustration at other drivers than anything to do with my partner at the time. I think it is safer and better to get the aggression out by punching a steering wheel than it is to seethe and be so angry you cannot focus. I would rather know my partner was angry than not. I think that is safer. YMMV.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:28 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

For me, yes. The guy that hits the steering wheel will eventually hit you, and you'll feel horrible and scared and anxious.
posted by discopolo at 9:32 PM on July 30, 2013

I think it really depends whether this is part of a larger pattern of behavior or not. Doing this once and only once? Not necessarily something to worry about, but tell him it scared you and you're not interested in excuses like "he wasn't that out of control," he needs to hear and understand that it scared you.

But, if it's part of a pattern, then act based on that pattern as a whole. Does he regularly punch things as a way of expressing anger? Then that's not a good sign.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:34 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

The guy that hits the steering wheel will eventually hit you

I don't believe this is true. I will admit that I have struck inanimate objects out of frustration, and I have never and will never hit a partner, or any other person, outside of a fight in which my safety was at stake. There's a line, and some people will cross it, and some would never even consider it.

That does not, of course, imply that I think the OP should keep this guy around. I just don't think it's fair to say he WILL abuse her based on the scant evidence we've been presented with.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:36 PM on July 30, 2013 [83 favorites]

Reader, I divorced him.
posted by mochapickle at 9:37 PM on July 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

There is so much context missing from this answer as to render the question unanswerable. Has the puncher punched other things before? Was the subject a particularly emotional one? Was the puncher having a super bad day/week? Was the punch really a punch or was it a dramatic push? Who wanted to have this argument now? Was the road empty or was it rush hour? In short, more information is needed.
posted by Brent Parker at 9:37 PM on July 30, 2013 [19 favorites]

I have been known to punch things. I am not proud of this. I have done it a few times in realy bad arguments. Maybe 4 or 5 times in my life. I have bruised my hand because I punched something so hard. Sometimes emotions get too much. That by no means equals me being an abuser or that I would ever hit a person. I am a 23 yr old female that weighs barely 103lbs.

Do you believe this person has anger issues that surpass a brief moment of punching the steering wheel? Were they holding their fist at you? Have they displayed this type of anger toward you before?

If any of those can be answered as "yes", then you may feel unsafe enough to leave or he may have anger problems that surpass a stable relationship.

Arguing in a speeding vehicle is scary, but it also happens sometimes. I agree with others. Calmly tell him you don't want to argue in the car and stop talking. One of you has to break the argument until you stop driving and that person can be you. I have argued in the car with my husband while going 80mph and just one time of doing that and I will never do it again. I will tell him to wait until we stop driving and one of us will stop the argument.

If it was just an argument that got out of hand, explain to him that it was very scary for you to see his anger displayed like that and that you didn't feel safe while arguing in a vehicle. Discuss the fact that even if you are angry at each other you don't want to argue while driving and it can wait until you get home.

One instance of this would not be a deal breaker. A pattern of uncontrollable anger would be a deal breaker, but I don't have the information on whether or not this is a pattern. Was it scary? Yes. Has it happend to me? Yes. Was it a pattern in our relationship or did it happen again? No.
If it's a deal breaker for you that's totally fine.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:46 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If he punched it while saying something like "you make me so angry" after a long tirade on his part, I'd say that is more alarming than if you were having a long back and forth and he was basically giving up. I think there is a difference but I'm a dude. Admittedly I have not punched a steering wheel and would be worried about the air bag, but have roughed up inanimate objects when I felt "gas lit".
posted by lordaych at 9:47 PM on July 30, 2013

In other words the first scenario is more of an abuse pattern of him metaphorically punching you, but sometimes it's a more juvenile, usually harmless expression of reluctant submission in an argument. Men can be trained to stop that if they are self aware enough at the time (after cooling off) to talk about why that frightens you and they can't do it any more, but some have to learn by losing something big. There's no way to be certain entirely but if you stick around, watch for other red flags.
posted by lordaych at 9:52 PM on July 30, 2013

Well, I would be so scared that I would never recover from it within the context of that relationship and I would eventually leave him. I am a survivor of domestic violence and suffered from PTSD so it's not even a consciously chosen deal breaker as much as it is something I know I could not handle.

Were I you, I would try taking some time not talking to my partner about it, and just journal out my feelings. Writing in this way has been immensely helpful for me as an exercise in really getting all my feelings and thoughts about a situation out and it nearly always ends with me feeling like I have more clarity.
posted by sockermom at 10:11 PM on July 30, 2013

At 65 miles an hour?

That's fucking dangerous. Very seriously dangerous.

OP, you are not wrong. I don't know the rest of the context to judge the relationship, but this is Big Deal territory.

I'm glad you made it home safe.
posted by jbenben at 10:14 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you two can't have a dialogue about this like adults, there's your deal breaker.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [17 favorites]

I have known plenty of guys who punch holes in things when they're angry. My brother's done it plenty of times. I remember my dad throwing a glass through a screen door. I do not think this implies that they will abuse the women they're in relationships with. I don't care though, if I was a woman, I wouldn't date any of these men.

If it was literally a punching bag then ok, maybe it's a release of anger. But when someone ends up with bloody knuckles and needing a new door, then Jesus Christ, learn to control yourself. There is a little bit if gray area in here but in general, punching things in anger would be a huge negative for me.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I dunno, to me the more worrisome issue is that it "seriously scared" you and it seems like he is arguing that it shouldn't have, that you were wrong to be afraid. Maybe you were, maybe you weren't -- he certainly has every right to try to clarify a misperception you have of his motives or behavior. But all that should come after he has expressed some genuine remorse for having frightened you so much. Was that the case? Was there a "honey, I'm so sorry I made you feel so frightened. I honestly wasn't that out of control, but if it really scares you, I'll work on trying not to do that again." Or was it "Babe, you're overreacting. I wasn't that out of control. Just drop it already." Because the latter type of response would be a dealbreaker for me, and maybe should be for anybody who already has trouble trusting her own feelings. In fact, one way you know you're with the right person is that you don't have so much trouble trusting your feelings -- because your partner validates them, even when he/she disagrees with you.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 10:22 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've punched the steering wheel in anger...I was in my twenties and did it more than once. In retrospect I can see how it was scary for the idiot arguing with me but I felt in control of my driving...right or wrong. Now...the question is has this violent steering wheel rage spilled out all over my non vehicle life, the answer is...NO. Just because I hit a steering wheel doesn't mean I want to hit my mate, friend, sister, whomever, it means jesus christ im driving and you are making me feel like I'm gonna blow up and since I'm driving on an interstate hey I'll just hit the steering wheel. I'm just being honest. If the anger/violence shows up other places I would be concerned if it doesn't it's a judgement call. Everyone has a dark side...
posted by gypseefire at 10:36 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: ...what would you do?

I'm not sure this matters. Every person is different, and so obviously every coupling of two individuals will create a different dynamic. I don't have anxiety problems or trouble trusting my feelings, so what I would feel or do isn't going to be relevant to your circumstance. Somebody upthread mentions that arguing inside a car is a dealbreaker for them. That's totally valid, for them. For me it sounds silly. People differ.

Generally, when somebody asks this question ("In my circumstance, would you have felt upset?") they are seeking permission for their emotions. If that's the case, then consider it granted: you have our permission to consider something like this a dealbreaker. It's not unreasonable. It's quite outside how I would feel personally, but that doesn't make it unreasonable. Everybody gets to feel how they feel.

I like Seinfeld. One of the running gags was Jerry's constant dumping of girlfriends for silly reasons. Partly because the show is iconic, it's a good illustration of the principle. Sometimes we do have silly reasons for breaking up, and even then, it's okay. Relationships are prerogative.
posted by cribcage at 10:40 PM on July 30, 2013

Punching the steering wheel while driving is not safe. I guess it could be compared to punching a wall if the car was parked and turned off, but while the car was in operation, taking one of the hands that should be used to operate the car and instead forcefully smashing that hand into one of the devices that is currently being used to control the car is not a safe operation technique.

If the driver of a car in which I was a passenger did that - well, I wouldn't jump out of the car, because that would be even less safe, and if he wouldn't calm down, pull over, and let me out, and I didn't have anyone else to give me a ride home or cab fare I'd bite the bullet and ride home with him, but I'd have to think long and hard about getting in the car with him again. I would consider it evidence that he did not value my survival.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:45 PM on July 30, 2013

It sort of depends whether the wheel was being steadied with one hand while struck glancing blows with the other (not that alarming), or whether the wheel let loose and then pounded on (holy fuck), in terms of how reckless, thoughtless or unsafe it was. If he was positively controlling the wheel with one hand while thumping it with the other, he's basically just doing the automotive equivalent of pounding the dinner table. Which is not nice, and might give you reason to end it, but is also not putting you at risk in the same way.

Basically, I agree with both gypseefire and oceanjesse's comments above mine.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:49 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

When my partner did this at 35 mph I asked him to pull over, got out, and walked home. We stayed together for another two years and nothing similar ever happened.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:49 PM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: The guy that hits the steering wheel will eventually hit you

I'm with showbiz_liz on this, some people have a very hard line of objects=ok to hit, people never ok to hit. In some families kids are literally taught from the first frustrated toddler punch that people are not for hitting, pillows are for hitting. Still scary to see in an adult though. (And if they break your stuff, or anything of any value whatsoever, run.)

But the guy who hits the steering wheel in anger in 65 mph heavy traffic WILL eventually hit another car, or one of those concrete barriers, or a semi truck.

The guy who eventually hits you might even hurt you badly the first time he hits you, you might even have to go to the hospital, and it certainly won't be a good situation, and he might be controlling and you've have to come up with a plan to leave and get your life back.

The guy who hits the steering wheel? Some things are OK to hit, but stuff that lets you control where the 2000 pound chunk of steel your partner sits in is headed while you are cruising along at 65? Well, if he gets a little out of control there he could easily kill you, himself, a person or two in another car, and people in a few cars behind you who can't stop in time.

If he can't understand the steering wheel is NOT FOR HITTING, he's not safe to be around.
posted by yohko at 11:23 PM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

It slightly depends.

Who started the argument in the car? I don't want to argue while anyone is driving. I'm not going to start any arguments.

What kind of 'punch' was it? Like, general level of force relative to banging on a table to make noise, or 'punch hole in wall' force? The first is not a problem, isn't going to hurt anyone, and isn't going to break the steering wheel. The second is a problem, particularly in this context.

Repeatedly starting arguments in the car - actually, repeated arguments with anger on their part, in any location - would be a problem for me, though. I don't like anger. There are better ways to handle communication.
posted by Ashlyth at 11:34 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think that just because someone punches a thing that they will punch you, but I do think it demonstrates a tremendous lack of judgment and I would definitely want some time out from the relationship.

If I was scared enough, and there was really nothing in the relationship that was greater than that fear, it would be a dealbreaker and I'd just leave them.

Partner says he wasn't "that out of control."

Yeah, people do tend to say that.
posted by heyjude at 12:13 AM on July 31, 2013

Anytime someone behaves like an asshole while driving, I get good and worried for my safety.
That steering wheel punch was way out of line. There's no time for emotional bullshit when maneuvering a multi-thousand pound hunk of steel at high speed around other innocent drivers. You have your partner pull over, and chill out before driving again. On an interstate, repeat as needed if there is no place like a gas station to get out for a short walk.
My partner had an ex - girlfriend who kicked at the steering column in rage from the passengers side while on a 6 lane highway. He pulled over and booted her out of the car, locked the doors, pulled a bit ahead on the shoulder until her rage wore out with her walk.
A boyfriend of mine also had a nasty habit of driving like a jerk when he got frustrated with other drivers, dodging in and out of traffic. I made it exceptionally clear that he could kill himself on his own time - no one gets to play stupid emotional games with my side of the car, so he needed to knock that off right now.
They will always say they "weren't that out of control".
Doesn't matter - you make it clear that the behavior is completely unacceptable when driving with you. Whatever the issue is, it isn't worth either of your lives, nor those of other drivers.
And if they don't listen during their fit, you demand to get the hell out of that car. Actionable consequences get results.

(As you may have guessed, this is a sore point with me. No one's anger management methods take precedence over my safety.)
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:14 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, hitting inanimate objects doesn't necessarily worry me. Even making a mistake just the once and hitting the steering wheel while driving -- though very dangerous -- might not be the end of it. However, excusing yourself for doing it and saying it wasn't a big deal is a problem for me.
posted by jeather at 7:41 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that we're missing a ton of context--whether he regularly hits things out of anger, how long the two of you have been together, the intensity of the argument, the presence of heavy traffic or other stress-inducing stimuli.

People tend to behave more like assholes while driving than in any other context, in my experience. Just the other day, I sat in the passenger's seat while a very mild-mannered friend road raged and shouted curses at someone. As a general rule, for this reason, it's a very bad idea to fight in the car.

Were I in your position, I'd try talking to him again about the situation. Reiterate why it was concerning to you, and discuss strategies for taking time-outs of arguments and discussions if they get too heated--in the car, or anywhere else.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:43 AM on July 31, 2013

Yes. Doubly so because of the minimising brush-off about it. There isn't a good way to have a relationship with somebody you can't safely travel with. People punch walls etc; this wasn't a wall and isn't comparable. Your personal safety isn't trivial, but it sounds like it is to your partner.
posted by kmennie at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, it would be for me.
posted by ead at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2013

Yes. Aggression towards objects other than me has in the past escalated into aggression towards my body and my possessions. YMMV.

Same. The boyfriend who punched and broke an ATM screen later would grab me by the wrists to get my attention during arguments (boundary crosser for me) and also, my father was Angry Irrationally Breaking/Hitting Things Guy (not people or pets but it doesn't matter, still scary) when I was growing up and I want in no way to replicate that for myself or any future kids.
posted by sweetkid at 7:59 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: OP, I was in a very similar situation about a year and a half ago with my ex bf. We were driving on a freeway, got into an argument, and he hit the steering wheel very aggressively and then proceeded to speed down the road and continue the argument. I immediately told him that he scared me and that the blatant disregard for our safety was frightening and an awful thing to experience (I still think about it to this day and shudder), in addition to the outburst of anger. He insisted he "was in control the whole time", that I was "overreacting" because I'm sensitive, and that I needed to let it go.

Now that I am a year and a half away from that relationship, I fully understand that it was the act itself doubled with his absolute disregard for our safety and my feelings that made it such a scary experience. That someone could snap like that, endanger both of us (and other people on the road), and then feel NO remorse afterwards (no apology, no second thinking) that made it the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I think it is indicative of other issues (anger, impulse control)... and most importantly: how much he cares for your well-being.

The fact that you are asking this question here likely indicates that you don't feel he has shown enough remorse, you want an outside perspective on if this is ok behaviour or not. It's not ok behaviour. People are of course allowed to make mistakes, but mature, caring, mentally-healthy men will be able to say: "Geez, gosh, I'm sorry. I really freaked out back there. I'm sorry I got so upset. Are you ok? I promise I'll never do that again." And then will actively work on keeping their cool in the future because a) they know that's not the way people should behave, and b) they will never want to scare you like that again. In short, they're actually sorry.

Please don't brush this aside as a symptom of your anxiety issues. He did a dangerous thing, and he should be able to apologize, feel remorse, and contemplate the gravity of it. You should look for that - if he doesn't seem to exhibit those things, if he continues to brush it off and disregard your feelings, please repeat to yourself "that was a legitimately scary thing to experience and a good partner will always want me to feel safe, and will work towards that even if they've made a mistake." What he does from here on out will be very telling.

TL;DR: I've been there, that is legit scary, how/if he apologizes and what he does to work on this from here on it is very important. Believe people when they show you who they are. Don't look back and regret having ignored glaring red flags.
posted by hollypolly at 8:04 AM on July 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

Absolutely a deal-breaker. First of all nothing I discuss with an SO should EVER escallate to that level of anger. Nothing.

Secondly, it's dangerous. Either from causing the wheel to move or from startling you, it shows that this person is unpredictable and incapable of controlling himself when angry.


When someone first shows you who they are, believe him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've been thinking about this question since it was posted. As I've mentioned before, my husband has quite a history of temper, and has hit physical objects probably a dozen times in our nearly 18 year relationship, including doing things like putting a hole in a door. I don't know if he's ever punched the steering wheel while driving, but it sounds consistent with some of his other actions. Obviously this was not a dealbreaker for me.

However, when I told him it was scaring me, he stopped. Both each individual incident and, over time, the behavior. He never, not even early in our relationship when we were both quite volatile, implied that my judgment was at fault for being frightened by his actions; he always took my fear seriously. And he has never, ever, ever, EVER hit me, or an animal, or a child, or to my knowledge another human being, at least not as an adult. If he had not given my responses to his actions such weight, that might well have broken my deal.

So, yeah, I disagree with statements like "the man who hits the steering wheel will eventually hit you." But a man who makes it your fault that he's scaring you? That's a situation that can go downhill fast.
posted by KathrynT at 8:21 AM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would never, ever get into a car with him again, ever. I had one bad experience with a road-ragey driver and I literally thought I would die.

Maybe Partner will never hit you, but maybe he'll get you killed during an argument while he's driving. Depending on all the other factors, I'd probably end this relationship immediately, but I can't really handle tempers or violent outbursts because of Reasons, so ymmv.
posted by mibo at 8:35 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

"For me, yes. The guy that hits the steering wheel will eventually hit you, and you'll feel horrible and scared and anxious."


So I did this when my wife and I were just engaged, before we were married. After things had calmed down she told me how very scared it made her and I felt terrible and apologized profusely. She worded it in terms of 'When you did that I felt like you would hurt me next." I never want her to feel that way and I (don't think) I've ever done that again because (we try) to save heated discussions for places that aren't the car. And I also have never, ever even come close to raising a hand to my wife.

If, after things calmed down, (I think that is important) you have explained to him that you felt very scared when he did this and he dismisses your feelings and says you're overreacting, well ...
posted by Tevin at 8:37 AM on July 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

If a partner scares me in any way during an argument, I'm leaving him, full stop.

I've never had a relationship where a partner had the ability to frighten me turn out to be a great relationship. Not that they were abusive, just not safe/kind/fulfilling either.
posted by Shouraku at 9:19 AM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just voting on the side of this being a huge gray area depending on the length of your relationship, prior behavior, apology for the event, whether or not you both tend to escalate arguments, etc. It's decidedly not a black and white issue where you should flat out leave somebody who got pissed once. At the same time, if there's a pattern of hitting inanimate objects repeatedly or with increasing severity or screaming at or threatening you, or isn't incredibly apologetic given your feelings, be concerned.
posted by cnc at 9:35 AM on July 31, 2013

It really depends on the context.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2013

Adding to the pile saying that aggression toward an object is a slippery slope to aggression towards you.

Those who say that some people have a 'line' they don't cross and will hit objects and not people, I don't think it's appropriate either way. No one can know for sure whether you have that line or not. Personally I'd avoid like hell anyone who is aggressive towards objects/ property. Even if they tell me they don't cross that line. How do I know for sure that's true? Even if it's true now, is there some circumstance that might finally push them beyond that boundary? I'm not taking that chance.

That's just me, though. I have a very low tolerance of poor anger control.

Also, I'm on my phone and not going to look it up, but I'm sure I read about a study that shows 'punching a pillow' to be an ineffective technique for dissipating anger, with the correct approach being to refocus your thoughts and energy to something neutral or productive. So I'm not really too accepting of the excuse that it's okay because it diverts your anger. I don't think it actually does.

This is based on previous personal experience for me too BTW, just like everyone else who's saying the same thing.
posted by Argyle_Sock_Puppet at 10:47 AM on July 31, 2013

Context matters to some extent, but for what it's worth, I've never been physically abused and don't necessarily believe that someone who hits objects will inevitably hit you, but I would still consider this a dealbreaker. I find it intimidating and stress-inducing to be around someone who punches things out of anger, so even if that car had been parked in the middle of a field at the time, I would not be practicing good self-care if I accepted that behavior.

You absolutely can and deserve to trust your own feelings here, because it doesn't really matter if what he did was objectively dangerous (though personally I think it was). No matter the circumstances, you are perfectly within your rights to decide that you are not okay with being around people who express anger physically.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:48 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I definitely wouldn't be a passenger in a car with this guy driving again, which would likely put a damper on being in a relationship. Might sound a bit extreme, but it could take only one bad crash to kill you, and I value my life a lot.
posted by ktkt at 10:58 AM on July 31, 2013

I've been thinking about this a lot.

I don't ever want to have arguments that get like this again, let alone in a moving vehicle. Nothing is worth getting that upset, especially if you are in a fast-moving car.

I have to ask (and you don't have to answer here): did either of you recognize this - that this argument was not appropriate for your context (and personally an argument this intense is not appropriate for any context for me, but that is me - some people can have very heated arguments with their partners; I cannot). What happened if and when one of you vocalized this to the other person?

I'm not trying to place blame. I ask because I have a feeling that you either (a) Asked to discuss this later and were ignored or (b) Were too afraid to try to stop the argument because you knew he would react poorly (even if this is the first time he's hit or thrown an object in an argument - you just had a feeling it wouldn't go well).

No matter what your answer, this incident is a really big red flag to me.

It gets even more concerning when I hear that he is dismissing your concerns. "I didn't get that out of control" - does he know he frightened you?

I think you can and should say to him something like, "That incident was a really big problem for me. You scared me. That kind of thing is unacceptable for me. I can't live in an environment where that might happen," and be very aware of how he responds and reacts and deals with this.

Good luck, OP. I'm sorry. This kind of thing is really frightening and confusing, I know.
posted by sockermom at 11:30 AM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Based on what you've marked a best answer, I'm getting that the being in the car thing was the worst part for you? Like, if you were stationary, at home, and he had punched a wall, would you be asking this question or no? That you were terrified because you were in a moving vehicle seems perfectly reasonable and not something that you or he should even be questioning. Or shaming you for.

So - I don't think I would go straight to dealbreaker, but I would absolutely demand a "no arguments in the car" rule and I would probably take some time to calm down and process before getting in a car with him again. Like, maybe some months.

Personally I really love KathrynT's and Tevin's answers above
- I have stated here before that I have a boyfriend with an anger problem that occasionally erupts; the important thing was that he listened to me (I have high anxiety and I am afraid of a LOT of things, and he can live with that or leave, but he does NOT get to decide what scares me) and that behavior has not happened again. I want to marry this man, but... I mean, I'm not an idiot. As others have said, this is not about your anxiety, it's about his reaction.
posted by polly_dactyl at 11:43 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a woman and I have hit the steering wheel while stuck in traffic. I wouldn't hit a person. The word "punch" is scary to me. Did he actually punch the steer wheel or just bang his hand into it to make a point? Both are scary, but the punch seems scarier. I can't imagine punching a steering wheel while driving (as opposed to sitting in traffic).

How old is your boyfriend? I remember having horrible fights in cars with my boyfriend when I was in my early 20s. I would never do that again.

This one incident wouldn't break a relationship for me, but it would be a warning sign.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:54 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

what's scary about that?

(context matters a lot here. I could see it being scary or just being an argument. There's nothing inherently scary about punching a steering wheel, though. Unless s/he is a terrible driver or something)
posted by jpe at 12:51 PM on July 31, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. Not an isolated incident. Doesn't happen just in cars. Mid-day, plenty of traffic around.

My background affects my thinking so I feel responsible for people's anger and have trouble believing that I deserve anything different (i.e. that I cause people to be angry). His reaction to my concern is always initially somewhat reassuring but then it just happens again. I'm scared and dread breaking up but thinking back to this specific incident in the car scares me even more.

This thread gives me courage and a glimpse at a better reality. /hugs to all.
posted by macinchik at 1:00 PM on July 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

Not an isolated incident. Doesn't happen just in cars
Dealbreaker. Dealbreaker.

His reaction to my concern is always initially somewhat reassuring but then it just happens again.

OP, is your dread and fear of ending the relationship/being alone or of this specific person? Either way, do you have a support system of your own?
posted by sm1tten at 3:38 PM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you are unsatisfied with his response to your concern, that's reason enough to not be in a relationship with him, full stop.
posted by KathrynT at 3:54 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel responsible for people's anger and have trouble believing that I deserve anything different (i.e. that I cause people to be angry). His reaction to my concern is always initially somewhat reassuring but then it just happens again. I'm scared and dread breaking up but thinking back to this specific incident in the car scares me even more.

You are NOT responsible for his anger, or anyone's. People will allow themselves to react with rage and not take responsibility to change and that's their choice, not yours. You did not cause it and cannot cure it.

This action of his and your feelings are a huge red flag. In the book The Gift of Fear, author Gavin de Becker says that a person's level of fear about someone is a prime indicator of the potential for the person you fear to become violent. Listen to your gut. Listen to your gut.

I ended a relationship with a guy that had seething, constant anger that erupted often. He never would have punched a steering wheel while driving, though. But his yelling was enough to have me constantly on edge. He also pushed me up against a wall once. He broke a bottle during an argument with another girl, and put a pillow over his first girlfriend's face during an argument.

Your boyfriend shows these tendencies, PLUS recklessness to do them while driving. He has acted far out of the norm, in my opinion. This would be an immediate dealbreaker for me.

Like your boyfriend, mine would not stop his behavior no matter how many times I told him it scared or hurt me. He tried to take over my life. The last time he yelled at me, after many times, I left. Now I'm living with my mom, unemployed, and dealing with PTSD and battered-person syndrome. Despite having the full support and understanding of my unanimously united group of friends and family (including Metafilter), it is hard. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Please dump this guy, stat.
posted by Rainflower at 5:24 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Expanding on my earlier comment, for both the OP and future readers:

some people have a very hard line of objects=ok to hit, people never ok to hit

If someone is feeling that they wish to get out of a relationship with someone, I absolutely did not intend for this to be any sort of assertion of disagreement with that.

It's OK to have a boundary of hitting objects being a relationship dealbreaker, whether or not they feel the person will hit them eventually.

If someone feels afraid that a particular person might escalate to hitting them, I hope they would listen to that feeling. I don't think everyone who hits objects escalates to hitting people, but some people do. You are under absolutely no obligation to stick around and find out which category the person is in.

You can leave just because you feel afraid, and you don't need to justify that with logical reasons for why you are afraid. If you feel unsafe, scared, frightened -- even if you only feel that way sometimes -- you don't have to stay around someone you feel that way around, and you don't have to justify that to anyone.

OP, if you feel scared and dread breaking up because you are afraid of how your partner will react, google how to leave an abusive relationship or call a helpline for battered women -- because people in those situations are afraid of how their partner will react, and some of the advice meant for people in that situation will be useful to you.

Personally, I am very uncomfortable with people expressing anger by hitting things if they do it on a regular basis to deal with day to day frustrations, and will tend to avoid that person (not limited to romantic attachments), because I don't like being around people who act that way. If someone is feeling overwhelming emotion due to a recent death in the family or something of that level it's different. Other people's boundaries on this may be different.
posted by yohko at 7:01 PM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: If someone feels afraid that a particular person might escalate to hitting them, I hope they would listen to that feeling. I don't think everyone who hits objects escalates to hitting people, but some people do. You are under absolutely no obligation to stick around and find out which category the person is in.

You can leave just because you feel afraid, and you don't need to justify that with logical reasons for why you are afraid. If you feel unsafe, scared, frightened -- even if you only feel that way sometimes -- you don't have to stay around someone you feel that way around, and you don't have to justify that to anyone.

I would like to say, as someone who was raised in a high-conflict household and with tendencies to raise my voice and even occasionally thump the dinner table, I fully agree with yohko here.

On the one hand, those reactions are part of who I am and I can't and wouldn't want to stifle them completely. On the other hand, I recognize the need to modulate that part of my personality in my relationships with people who aren't comfortable with that kind of direct, combative confrontation--for whatever reason. Including feeling physically threatened, even if I know with certainty that I would never escalate that way.

If I ended up feeling that our personalities were so divergent in that area that I couldn't properly express myself without freaking out my partner, then it would be time to do the responsible and self-aware thing and end the relationship. You do not need to feel bad about it, and you don't need to be able to decide who's right and wrong about what.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:19 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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