Should this be a massive red flag, or just a small yellow one?
September 16, 2013 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: If your significant other gets massively angry but doesn't ever direct it at you, how much of a worry should it be?

My friend wrote the following; please direct all answers as though to him:
I've been dating my girlfriend for just under a year now. Everything's going swimmingly: I moved in with her a few weeks back, we're now flat-hunting together for a bigger place (in London) and generally we're having a great time.

We've lost a few weekends over the last month to my work - I'm freelance in the entertainment industry, which means I often have to drop plans at relatively short notice and go haring off across the country to remote and improbable spots. My girlfriend is pretty understanding about this - it hurts, but she knows it comes with the job.

This Friday just gone, I received news that a very close family friend - who had been a surrogate father to me when my own father died during my childhood - had had a severe stroke. There was talk about him not lasting through the weekend, so I might have to drop everything and drive home - several hours away from London.

My girlfriend and I had plans on Friday night for dinner with friends, but when I talked to her she completely understood and said "you need to be wherever you need to be." At that stage I'd thought I could drive up on Saturday rather than driving through the night. We went out for pre-dinner coffee and to catch up on our respective days, and it was there that I received a call telling my that my surrogate father had been moved to his own home and was not expected to last beyond Saturday morning.

I realised then that I had to set off immediately if I was going to get back to say goodbye (I didn't get to say goodbye to my father when he died, and it's been something I've struggled with for years).

My girlfriend understood but was extremely upset, partly because we were losing the weekend again, partly because she couldn't come with me due to commitments of her own that she couldn't get out of (also, she doesn't really know any of the people that I would have been standing around the deathbed with, and it didn't feel right to her to intrude on that situation).

Standing outside in the pouring rain, she got more and more angry, shouting at the night in general, punching a concrete wall a few times, and smacking herself in the head to "make herself get a fucking grip on things."

Eventually we returned home - she never tried to stop me from leaving - and I packed a few things in my car to take with me. She said it looked like I was "taking all my things" and leaving her (most of my stuff is in storage right now as we don't have room for it in her flat) and when I promised I was coming back she said "whatever." At this point I didn't have time for a row, so I just calmly put stuff in the car, gave her a kiss, and told her I loved her. She told me that she loved me too, and to drive safe.

I made it to my surrogate father's bedside in time to say goodbye to him; he died on Saturday morning.

Since then I've been back in my hometown. I've cleared my work calendar for a few days and I've been helping arrange the funeral and take care of legal matters. I am missing my girlfriend terribly though and want to go home to her soon, hopefully tonight.

But the angry outburst has worried me. I've known for as long as I've known my girlfriend that she has a bad temper; it's legendary in the company that we both worked for when we met. Most of the time she's easygoing but when she gets into a rage she can really fly off the handle; I've had to step in to confrontations between her and various officials before now in order to stop things descending into a shouting match, and I witnessed her once, in something close to road rage, start screaming obscenities at a shopper who was "reserving" a parking space for her husband over Christmas. That last incident shook me up but as I wasn't the focus of her anger at the time I told her that I loved her despite the outburst and that I didn't hold it against her. We've never had a huge, shouting row, but when we have disagreed over something she's been very careful not to verbally lash out at me in anger - and has said as much after the arguments were over.

But what happened on Friday really bothered me. It's clearly bothered her too - she's told me how ashamed she is of how she acted, and how she knows that what I needed was support, not a meltdown (her words) - but all I've done is told her that it's okay, that I don't need her to be perfect.

I'm not wholly certain, though, whether this should have been a big red flag for me. I've been in relationships with short-tempered partners before, and I always spotted them because the anger came in my direction; that made it easy to know when to walk away. This time, though, it feels different. I love this woman, I want to live with her and make a future together; maybe even marry her. But that anger still frightens me.

What would MetaFilter people recommend I do here? Is this a sit-down-and-talk-to-her situation or a run-away-fast situation? Or am I just overreacting because my emotions are all over the place?
posted by yasp to Human Relations (77 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
No partner needs to be perfect, but nobody gets a free pass to act badly because "that's how they are", either. Your girlfriend has a bad temper- is she working on controlling herself in all situations, and not just situations where there are negative consequences for her? I wouldn't be cool with an out-of-control angry partner, even if I was never the focus of their anger. Do you hope to have children someday? Children are easy to yell at, especially if they're yours and you're all alone with them. How would that make you feel, if she took out her anger on them? This would be a serious problem for me. I would want my partner to be taking active steps (therapy, religious/social group, etc) on improving their behavior, and if they chose not to, I might end the relationship.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:52 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Standing outside in the pouring rain, she got more and more angry, shouting at the night in general, punching a concrete wall a few times, and smacking herself in the head to "make herself get a fucking grip on things."

Noooooooooope. Nope nope nope. Your girlfriend has got something going on--something that has absolutely nothing to do with you--that she needs to work on. This is scary. You watched someone you love hurt herself repeatedly. Of course you're upset.

If I were you, when you're back in town, I'd sit down with her, tell her that her anger frightened you, that you're worried about her, and that you would like her to go to therapy to work this out before going any further with your relationship.

I know that's ultimatum-y, but you wouldn't be asking this question about if you should run away unless you were pretty serious about how big of a deal it was for you. So that's the tack I would take.

Good luck. Know your boundaries.

For what it's worth, I dated a guy in college who was never, ever violent towards me or anyone else, but towards the end of our relationship would fly into rages at himself and punch himself whenever he was feeling particularly depressed. It was awful in and of itself and it was awful because there wasn't anything I could do about it. I would really think long and hard about walking away from this if she refuses to get help.
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 AM on September 16, 2013 [35 favorites]


But what happened on Friday really bothered me. It's clearly bothered her too - she's told me how ashamed she is of how she acted, and how she knows that what I needed was support, not a meltdown (her words)

This sounds encouraging. It sounds like she understands her issues with anger/rage, and understands that it could be negatively affecting your relationship with her. I would sit down together and talk it out, sooner rather than later, and see if you can come up with strategies as a couple for dealing with this in the future.
posted by xingcat at 7:53 AM on September 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


First off, my condolences for your surrogate father.

I think that whether you rate this as a red flag or a yellow flag, it's good that you're recognizing it as SOME sort of flag. Either way it needs a response and some action. Personally it would be more in red-flag territory, not necessarily because I was afraid of that anger eventually being directed at me (although that would certainly be a concern), but because I find it incredibly stressful to be in the presence of someone who chooses not to control their anger. And punching walls and punching yourself in the head is definitely not controlling that anger.

I think that your girlfriend needs to do more than apologize here, or promise to try to do better in the future. She needs to be in therapy, and needs to be taking this seriously. Good luck to you both.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:56 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, certainly it's important to evaluate whether this is a "red flag" in the sense that it might develop into something worse. But if you think that being around this anger for the rest of your life is going to be unpleasant and scary, even if it's never turned toward you, than you should take that into account.
posted by ostro at 7:59 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Familiarity breeds contempt. I have an extended family member like this. The anger (while currently not directed at "you") will eventually be turned towards those closest and most intimate. Anger is like fire, it can only consume and destroy, and respects no boundaries.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:00 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Massive red flag? Yes absolutely. Monitor this very carefully. Definitely talk to her about it and try to figure out what's driving it. You do not want to have to deal with this for the rest of your life. Either she must have the potential to change or you should move on.
posted by Dansaman at 8:00 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gosh this makes me feel sad for her because it sounds like she's trying really hard not to put her (not insignificant) issues on you, especially at this tough time for you. But she needs to find a better way to do that.

She sounds like she's really struggling with anger, and not particularly happy in herself. She's also conscious that it could be pushing you away, something demonstrated by her apology, and also her evident fear that you will leave her. It's probably all feeding itself - vicious circle etc. I get that, only I get sad rather than angry.

Whether or not I would see this as a red flag depends on whether she is willing to seek help for this. Counselling and anger management therapy for starters. If she will follow up her admittance that there is a problem with actions to remedy the situation and prevent it happening again, and if you're willing to be there for her while she works through this, then it could be the basis for establishing an even deeper trust and support within your relationship.

And as a postscript, I'm so sorry for your loss. You are very much allowed to defer having any tough conversations until you feel stronger.
posted by greenish at 8:02 AM on September 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


Uncontrollable anger is a massive red flag. There's not just how this affects you but what happens if you two have children? Children need to feel unconditionally safe with their parents, not afraid of their uncontrollable anger coming at them. She absolutely needs to get this under control before you move forward.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 8:09 AM on September 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why can't your girlfriend simply seek therapy and other self work to tackle her own anger issues without this becoming A Thing??

If she won't actively seek help, then I guess you should break up. We all have a responsibility to work at self-improvement, and tackling her anger issues seems like an import problem for your GF to resolve.

Ignore anyone piling on in this thread telling you to DTMFA, if that happens.

Your GF likely has a history of trauma or such. Experiences like that tend to re-configure the brain, creating fast triggers to anger, among other things.

Your GF CAN overcome this issue. Lots of people go through this, deal with their shit, grow up, and change for the better.

It would be AWESOME if you supported your GF down this path.

I was recommended some books a while back that explained these sorts of issues - I don't remember the author now, but I'll Memail if I can track down the name.

Your library, amazon, etc., etc., will have heaps of books on the subject. Even reading the book reviews on amazon can be very very helpful.

Good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 8:16 AM on September 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Anger issues, ok. Emotional impulsivity, eh, not great. She's not denying them, which is relieving. She needs start an active strategy to manage these feelings - therapy, anger management etc. We all get frustrated when we don't get our way but she needs to get a grip on herself and grow up.

The part no one's mentioned yet is that she took it very personally that you were leaving when your surrogate father was dying, and answered your reassurance with a flippant "whatever." If someone you love is ill, she should go into DROP EVERYTHING mode and give YOU everything she can. But she was very self-centred at this crucial point. That shows a self-centredness that I would have difficulty with.

You sound like a good guy, and she sounds like she has MAJOR abandonment / attachment issues. I can only see her grip on herself loosening as she feels more comfortable with you, and as you allow her to act childishly, it will get worse. So next time she bursts out, kindly tell her to get a grip on herself. Demand that she acts like an adult - not verbally, but by showing what you will and won't tolerate. You don't need her to be perfect, but you ought to expect more from her. That is, she should be getting better, not worse. I would stop reassuring her childishness so much. "Yeah that was embarrassing for me that you flew off the handle like that and I had to intervene." How she handles you holding her to adult standards will show you how committed she is to change, and to you.

You sound like a good guy and you love her lots. Just make sure she pulls her end of the relationship in supporting you. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:24 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


That kind of uncontrolled rage is a huge red flag, regardless of the cause of the rage.

Another huge red flag is that her reaction to your close friend's illness is rage at the inconvenience to her plans rather than thinking of how it affects you. A little bit of (internal) crankiness would be normal - rage, not normal. Yet another red flag is that she didn't even bother to hide that surge of rage to offer you support. The lack of empathy and self-absorption involved there is troubling. It's good that she recognizes that she was way out of line, but that doesn't make it OK.

Therapy for her ASAP, if this isn't a one-time meltdown caused by extreme stress or something (and maybe even if it is). And definitely watch carefully for this kind of thing happening again, because for most people, it isn't a one-time thing. Do you want a partner who supports you in times of crisis or who makes it worse by making it all about themselves?

I'm sorry for your loss. You don't have to deal with this situation with your girlfriend right away, if it's too much to deal with now, but think about it.
posted by randomnity at 8:25 AM on September 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Is this a sit-down-and-talk-to-her situation or a run-away-fast situation? Or am I just overreacting because my emotions are all over the place?

Part of your questions seems like you are polling the inernet, so I will answer that part first. I grew up with anger sometimes directed at me, so even though I'm an adult now, I have very little tolerance if I see a hint of anger; this even includes verbal anger and if I see it in an acquintance, let alone partner, I usually can't continue with that person. From your description before you left, it would not have been a red flag for me (it sounds like she was trying to control it, she didn't say anything threatening to you, etc.) However, the other times (i.e.parking lot) would have been a flag for me because to me, if they can't control that anger, it may then involve you in potential (whatever it is she gets into/argument/altercation/etc.).

But the question shouldn't be is it a red flag to me or random people on the internet who are not in a relationship with this person, but is a flag for you? Are you comfortable with this? I'd back and start there rather than using our conclusions for that part as whether it is or is not a yellow flag/red flag/no flag.

What would MetaFilter people recommend I do here?

It sounds like you love this person very much. It sounds like she apologized and is legitimately ashamed. If you decide that this is a flag for you, then . . .

So if I were in your shoes with both those criteria already met, I would say that you appreciate the apology and understand her shame. But for you to feel comfortable, you need more than an apology; for your comfort, you need to know that steps are being taken so that this will not happen in the future and that she starts to take those steps. Perhaps it is an anger management class,or perhaps it is therapy.Together you can decide what would make both of you feel comfortable. If it is therapy, I would ask if you can attend a session at one point to address what you feel comfortable with/not comfortable with (i.e. punching a wall, hitting herself, whatever) or to find out if there are things that you can say to help calm her down.

I also strongly think it is better to address this now than when you have kids if you would like to go that direction with this relationship.

Again,speaking as a former child who grew up with this. Adults can decide whether they want to be exposed to anger or not, kids really cannot.
posted by Wolfster at 8:32 AM on September 16, 2013


You can frame this however you choose, but in my book an adult who throws temper tantrums is an adult who creates drama and is not someone that I want in my life.
posted by windykites at 8:37 AM on September 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Your GF needs some sort of therapy. She can be angry about the situation, but the way she handled it is not okay. It frightened you and she KNOWS it's a response that's out of proportion to the situation.

I'm surprised that she isn't seeing help on her own. It shows a lack of insight on her part that she isn't.

I'd approach it this way, "GF, you seemed to be really down and ashamed about your reaction on Friday night. I'll admit, your meltdown freaked me out a little. What do you think about exploring your anger and how you react to it in thereapy?"

See what she says, then decide how you want to proceed.

Were it me, if I was with someone who had an emotional outburst such as you describe, I wouldn't sign a lease with her or entangle my finances until I was sure that the person recognized that the behavior wasn't okay and they were doing something to understand and to control their anger.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


She has abandonment issues. There are lots of resources for dealing with that online.
posted by empath at 8:40 AM on September 16, 2013


Punching a concrete wall and hitting herself in the head? Run.

Also, you might want to consider what would happen if she punched walls and hit herself, then called the police and said you did it.

Aside from that, she was exactly the opposite of supportive when your surrogate father was on his deathbed. Why would you even stay with a person like this? What happens next time there's an emergency? Will she create a crisis by injuring herself or starting an argument that will keep you from dealing with the situation effectively? She's ashamed and knows she shouldn't have done it -- that doesn't mean she's capable of keeping herself from doing it.

she's been very careful not to verbally lash out at me in anger - and has said as much after the arguments were over

She might become less careful when she feels you are more committed due to a flat, marriage, etc. Keep in mind you might have fewer choices for who you could stay with if you wanted to leave after she has lashed out at all your friends, colleagues, and relatives in anger.

If you want to have children, read about "shaken baby syndrome" (which sounds innocuous, but can lead to blindness, death, and jail time), and think about if that's a good idea.
posted by yohko at 8:41 AM on September 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


She said it looked like I was "taking all my things" and leaving her (most of my stuff is in storage right now as we don't have room for it in her flat) and when I promised I was coming back she said "whatever."

It sounds like you and the person who posted this question have some things in common. This might be a good time to have a chat with a close friend and tell them what you have told us and see if their reaction is similar to what people have told you here. I think that uncontrollable angry outbursts (especially ones that are occasionally targeted at other humans) are unacceptable. The difference between someone being afraid of your anger and someone being afraid of other violence from you is not as far apart as the getting-angry people might like.

Put another way I grew up with a very angry parent who felt that because he only yelled and smashed furniture that he was "holding it together" by not hitting us (and I did not get hit, ever). I grew up being afraid that one day my parent would get angry and hurt/kill me. That's no way to live. Not having been hit doesn't really make that okay. To many people--and especially to people who have been the actual target of violence--ramping up in this fashion is often seen as a precursor to violence. This is a true thing whether or not your partner would be someone who would ever hurt anyone, they are still responsible for giving the appearance of someone who would hurt someone.

So to me? Very serious red flag. I would not be in a relationship with someone like this who was not actively working on this and showing results. I would not have children with this person. I think people can sometimes give female anger a pass because they don't personally feel in danger from it, but I think this can sometimes be a mistake.
posted by jessamyn at 8:46 AM on September 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


she's told me how ashamed she is of how she acted, and how she knows that what I needed was support, not a meltdown (her words) - but all I've done is told her that it's okay, that I don't need her to be perfect.

I would do less of this if I were you. Yeah, you don't need her to be perfect - but she's right to say that her behaviour was the opposite of what you needed, and it's not going to help anything for you to brush that under the carpet. You mention doing the same thing with the Christmas yelling incident ("I told her that I loved her despite the outburst and that I didn't hold it against her"). It sounds like it might be helpful for you to be able to separate out your views on the behaviour (that it's not okay) from your views on her (that you still love her and don't plan to leave), especially if you're planning a long-term future with her.

Maybe her anger will never be targeted at you and it'll never get worse than it is now. Still, it sounds pretty bad at the moment: you've had to step in to defuse confrontations, you've been shaken up by her anger, you've had to deal with a 'meltdown' you didn't need when you were already facing a crisis yourself, and this is all in less than a year of your relationship. How much of it would you have to deal with over a long-term future with her?

Tell her that you don't want to live like this and it sounds like she doesn't either, and suggest anger management counselling. If she's serious about wanting to get on top of this behaviour, she'll have no problem with getting professional advice on doing that - and she'll be a happier person for it too.
posted by Catseye at 8:46 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


In my experience, there comes a day when you become the target of that kind of anger. It's not a question of "if" but rather of "when."
posted by Namlit at 8:54 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


It sounds to me like your girlfriend is subject to overwhelming emotions but is trying very hard to keep a grip on them and is regretful when she doesn't. It also sounds like anxiety is what is triggering those overwhelming emotions in the first place. To me, that's all understandable, though obviously not ideal, and more of a yellow flag than a red one.

The part that worries me is not so much that she got disproportionately upset and freaked out, but that she got violent with herself. Having to share a small space where someone might throw things or punch walls or hurt herself or otherwise react violently can be very frightening and dangerous for an adult, let alone a child. To me, any physical violence is a red flag. Not for an ideological reason necessarily, but because it would be extremely hard for me to trust a violent person in the way you have to trust your partner.

If you can still trust her, then I think the relationship may have enough miles left in it for you to see her through a course of action like therapy or anger management classes, and to reassess the situation when she has more tools for handling (and hopefully lessening) her panic/fear/anger. If you can't trust her anymore, though, then the relationship is kaput.
posted by rue72 at 8:58 AM on September 16, 2013


Is this a sit-down-and-talk-to-her situation or a run-away-fast situation?

As the child of one parent with anger and violence issues and another who stayed far too long, my first response leans toward the run-away-fast side.

But I don't suppose a sit down and talk could hurt, as long as you come out of it with a plan of action.

Either way, it is NOT OK for you to go on being frightened.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:00 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


she's told me how ashamed she is of how she acted, and how she knows that what I needed was support, not a meltdown (her words)

There is a difference between guilt and shame.

Guilt is about action and shame is about who a person is. This may seem like subtle semantics, but please get to the bottom of whether your girlfriend is able to make this distinction. If she is able to process this as guilt and move forward in dealing with the ACTION, ahem, preventing it from happening again...then I'd be more hopeful. If she holds onto this as a shame thing, then progress is unlikely. Because "who we are" is immutable. "What we do" is where growth happens.

Yes. Everyone feels shame (except people incapable of human connection). Shame in small doses can be very healthy. But shame can also be toxic.

Regardless of that, I'd be running so fast out the door. This is a "dump out" moment of grief. Your girlfriend chose instead to dump IN, making your attendance at a deathbed equivalent to your freelancing duties. So that's a big flag.

A second flag is self harm. Self harm is not "adaptive" in most adult situations.

The third big huge red flag for me is that she had a reputation for this type of behavior at work AND you have had to talk her down from raging at people in a position to make her life harder.

Taken altogether, it does not look promising. She has had opportunities to work on this. She has not taken them.
posted by bilabial at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm someone who would normally advise you to DTMFA, but something about this situation doesn't sit right. Is she on some kind of medication or hormonal birth control? Because this seems very strange - she sounds to me like someone who is a mentally healthy, mature person, yet is sometimes overcome with impulses that she knows are very wrong, yet she's unable to stop them. I don't think you should walk away from her. I think you should work with her to find out what's causing this.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:12 AM on September 16, 2013


she's told me how ashamed she is of how she acted, and how she knows that what I needed was support, not a meltdown (her words) - but all I've done is told her that it's okay, that I don't need her to be perfect.

But you don't think it's okay. I'm with Catseye in that I think you need to actually tell her that these behaviors aren't okay with you and that you'd really like her to work hard on managing her actions better, possibly through therapy or an anger management course.

If it were me, I'd be upfront and see if there are any efforts made toward improving and then go from there.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:12 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Punching a concrete wall? Smacking herself in the head? Uncontrollable shouting? This is all a HUGE red flag..... so big that all I can say is, do NOT sign a lease with her! Add in her behavior while you were packing to race to a dying man's bedside, and my advice is that you should immediately move right back out of there.

Do not stay with this person until after she has gotten profesional help with her temper --- please note, that's not 'when she BEGINS therapy', that's 'AFTER therapy makes a signifigant difference in her behavior.
posted by easily confused at 9:38 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm with yohko on this one. And jessamyn.

In your position I would be feeling very unsafe indeed.

I guess you could pay attention to the people who are saying you need to sit down with your GF and tell her to get therapy, but I personally would be saying that in the presence of a third person who can act as a witness and chaperone while your bags are next to the door ready for you to pick up and leave.

The fact that she did a thing like this at all is not good, but the fact that she did this when you were going to the deathbed of a close family member? Really gives me the willies.

It sounds like she didn't want you to give your dying relative your full attention, and she wanted to make sure you would be thinking about her as much as possible. That's the kind of thing that goes well well beyond an "anger issue" in my mind. You had a good intuition for people with bad tempers and anger issues, but you aren't getting the same vibe from this? Maybe that's because this is not the same thing as your common or garden bad temper.

No joke, I'm getting a crawling sensation on the skin on the back of my neck reading this. I honestly can't think of a better answer than run the fuck away before your life gets even worse.

I understand that you may be particularly reluctant to add another loss to your life at a time like this. Unfortunately, the death of a loved one has a way of smoking out the less-than-loving behaviour of one or two others in your life.
posted by tel3path at 9:39 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


A wise therapist once pointed out the difference between anger management and inappropriate anger, and I think that's important, too.

Here, her actions were inappropriate (and scary), actions which conceivably could be controlled by management of her anger. But "anger management" often has the subtle (or not so subtle) implication that the angry reaction was appropriate/justified. There are clearer cases of this (e.g., my personal experience with an abusive ex who got enraged when I didn't, no lie, follow his advice on exactly how to blow my nose), but the idea is that there is often deeper work to be done than managing what is perhaps tacitly accepted as a reasonable reaction to a situation, minus the explicitly rage-y behavior.

This was helpful to me in understanding the depth of the problems this abusive person had.
posted by Pax at 9:46 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've never had a huge, shouting row, but when we have disagreed over something she's been very careful not to verbally lash out at me in anger - and has said as much after the arguments were over.

This is a thinly veiled threat.

Her behavior getting worse right after you make a commitment is a SERIOUS red flag and so is the fact that she wants to scream at you every time you have a disagreement.

Unless she is proactively working on this AND you start seeing a change in her behavior ASAP...break it off. Just saying she's working on it or even just seeing someone isn't good enough. She's violent and scary and trying means jack shit in this scenario.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:49 AM on September 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


Meaning, in this case, what do you think a "normal," even unseen reaction would be? You can't police her emotions, obviously, but if my SO (or friend's!) father was dying, I think I'd find it hard to see past the empathy to register much irritation at the "inconvenience."

The packing drama also sounds, well, overly dramatic. I would take a good look at other behaviors (abandonment issues, painting things in black and white, etc), not that I'm diagnosing...
posted by Pax at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2013


Also, I'd like to discourage you from getting her help, urging her to get help, or letting her know you expect an improvement.

If she's not motivated enough by her abysmally poor behavior, don't encourage her. Just go.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry, both for the loss of your surrogate father and that you're dealing with instability in your relationship.

Obviously this incident has caused you to throw up a flag, so does the color matter? It's an issue. I'm going to agree with the people who have said that you need to tell her that it's not okay that she acted like this. It's not. It doesn't matter, in some ways, that the anger and violence weren't directed at you and that they may never be; they were there, and inappropriate on many levels. Saying "it's okay" was an understandable reaction at the time, but at some point a conversation is in order. Sit her down, tell her you need to talk about what happened. Her response to this will be important; if she says "No we don't," there isn't anything more to say, in my opinion. Feeling shame and acknowledging that she acted horribly (and wanting to fix it) don't always go hand in hand. If she's willing to talk about it, listen to what she says. Does she take responsibility for her behavior, or is it something that "just happens?" Is it always someone else's fault, or does she own her actions? If she owns them, is she willing to work on it? If so, how? I'd ask a lot of questions, and listen hard to the answers.

My tolerance for that behavior is zero, just so you know what my bias might be. But I have had conversations with the husband about behaviors that would be deal-breakers for other people, and have always put it in this perspective: I am not giving an ultimatum. I am asking for information that will inform my decision of what to do from here. Your girlfriend can do whatever she wants; but you have a right to know what that behavior is going to be so that you can make choices for yourself. I can't tell you she'll never change and DTMFA. I also can't tell you that this was an isolated incident that you can recover from; only she can tell you these things, and only you can determine the truth of her response. I personally would not be with someone with uncontrolled anger, and she seems to have a history of this. What you have to decide is if you're willing to be with someone who responds to triggers the way she does if she's not willing to try to fix it.

But to answer your original question: Yes, I believe this is a warning. Heed it.
posted by jennaratrix at 10:00 AM on September 16, 2013


I think this is a DTMFA situation if she doesn't follow through on getting help. She should be exploring all causes and all solutions to her anger issue, such as getting a full medical exam, starting therapy, going to anger management classes, etc.
posted by emilynoa at 11:59 AM on September 16, 2013


Anecdata and may or may not be relevant, but I the only times I have seen people do the self hitting thing, they were on the autism spectrum somewhere.

I have seen people have severe spikes in anger as a kinda PTSD symptom.

In both cases, professional help was needed.
posted by Jacen at 12:31 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally,* I choose to not be in relationships with violent people of any type. This includes people who are violent towards themselves, pets, others, or inanimate objects. Such violent outbursts indicate, to me, a lack of ability to handle stress in a safe way. I have yet to meet a person who has violent outbursts but is totally reasonable and capable the rest of the time, nor a case where the anger was truly isolated from those around them.

*as in, my personal boundary that is in no way meant to be universal.
posted by Shouraku at 12:37 PM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


your friend's gf needs immediate help. i shudder to think what would happen if your friend had kids with her. i would guess she came from a physically abusive home. it also could just be a matter of time before she starts hitting your friend. personally, no way would i continue a relationship with someone like this.
posted by wildflower at 12:45 PM on September 16, 2013


Does she have this kind of anger without an audience? Has your friend come over after she was raging about something and thew books around a punched walls? Or does this only happen when there is someone to watch, or even to stop her?

At work - longstanding rep? Or new thing?

Using my life experience stats, I would guess she will be as angry as she can be as often as she can be because that's her idea of fun.

Also, the attempt to placate her with a coffe meet up instead of leaving right away when he knew someone close to him was in crises suggests that he's already being controlled.

Hope it's a medical issue on her side, but she's the one who has to look into that.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:47 PM on September 16, 2013


The flags are red and large. I used to date someone in this vein. Getting out was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

It is sad that she is unwell. Many abusive people are. She will only ever get better if she gets help for herself, without an audience.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:58 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Part of the issue I see is that you told her it was okay, and that you didn't need her to be perfect.

Not yelling at a partner, or anyone for that matter, because you are feeling rage, and being able to self soothe feelings of abandonment, etc., particularly when they are going through a time of grief, should be standard expectations, not examples of perfection. Not being able to do this, is not okay.

Her 'being careful not lash out at you in anger', is like going to an auto dealer and them telling you that the car they are trying to the sell you has a steering wheel. That should also pretty much come standard with the package of an adult relationship.

Like everyone says, GI Joe style, knowing is only half the battle. She knows that yelling, etc. is not okay. But you know, it sounds like she knew that before she behaved the way she did, and somehow that wasn't enough to stop her. What isn't clear is what she intends to do about, because it's got to stop. I think of this as a sit-down-and-talk-to-her conversation about what you're seeing, what you're worried about, and what you can and can't tolerate situation. You can love her, and even live with her, if she is willing to 100% do the work and make 'ending the rage fests' a priority. If she can't, then you can love her, but probably not be with her.

But then I also have a zero, negative zero tolerance level for uncontrolled hulk like expressions of anger, unless it comes with an 1) acknowledgement and 2) clearly stated actions on the other persons' part about how that's not going to happen again and 3) it pretty much doesn't happen again.

And not just anger towards me. If the only way the other person refrains from raging on someone else is if that someone else puts up boundaries, that's no good either. Because it means that the person might go to town with people who s/he feels are less powerful than her (her coworkers, the person in the parking lot). If the only thing making you act better are external boundaries, rather than internal awareness and effort, you haven't fully taken responsibility yet. And we can't be together. No matter how much I love you.

Only you can decide if you want to be with someone 'whose anger still frightens you'. I think I'd take a shot at explaining to her that her anger frightens you, and you can't live with it. And see if she thinks you're worth working on herself to be deserving of an adult relationship.
posted by anitanita at 1:58 PM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Leave now. Come back in a year, maybe, if they have gone into therapy for that entire time or gotten other meaningful treatment and transformed themselves in the process.

To expand on this a bit, she's keeping a lid on her anger. This is not a viable solution to the problem, as circumstances will almost certainly push her beyond her ability to keep that lid clamped down, and when that happens, she won't be able to guarantee the limits of the expression of her anger.

Rather than squashing it down, she needs to learn to understand the causes and find ways of expressing and dealing with the pressure or discomfort of her feelings before this pressure builds up. That's a long process of learning new skills, and understanding oneself.
posted by zippy at 2:05 PM on September 16, 2013


I agree that what the girlfriend is doing is not healthy as a coping technique, but I think you might well consider another angle as you bring this relationship to an end. The thing that set her off this time was you bailing on her at the last minute, again. Sounds like this is a very frequent occurrence. And though your reasons are legitimate--work, family emergency--being in a relationship where it is clear that you are always, ALWAYS plan B is just fucking cruel. Who wouldn't have abandonment issues in this relationship? Is it really fair to be in a serious relationship with someone if you're constantly leaving them in the lurch?

My read on your girlfriend's meltdown is that she is at the end of her rope with you about this and something as incontestable as needing to bail on her, AGAIN, to be at someone's dying bed meant that there was absolutely no space for her to address this issue with you.

I agree that this is a shitty and unproductive way for her to deal with frustration, but then, is there really any way for her to deal with it with you otherwise? I presume she loves you, but also knows that any attempt to address the issue will lay bare that you will always opt to ditch her when circumstances dictate. That's a shitty position to be in.

I think it would be good to split up, but I don't really think she's the only one who needs to examine their relationship behavior here.
posted by Sublimity at 3:50 PM on September 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Agreeing with Sublimity above. Abandonment issues or whatnot, it does sound like the frequent and unpredictable absenteeism contributed from your end of the relationship is really triggering for her --to the point where she can't deny it to herself anymore. She can rationalize and be as understanding about it as she can possibly be, but at the end of the day she cannot deny that when you unexpectedly have to disappear on her, it hurts. That's why she's verbalizing that she knows she needs to get a f*cking grip, except that she just can't. Faulty neurological wiring's just crappy that way...

It sounds like she knows she needs something to change, that only she is responsible for making that change, and yet out of loyalty to her partner she continues to subject herself to this repeated abandonment, which is resulting in more and more powerful self-targeting rages. It quite possibly sounds like she needs to leave this relationship (which she may very well already be considering, out of a desire to reduce the self-hatred that continues to be generated with each one of these episodes) for one that can better accommodate her needs, and not repeatedly re-traumatize her to the point that she's become a hollow shell of shame in the name of love.

It doesn't mean you're a bad guy here; it just it what it is. She likely needs to confront where this river of rage is coming from in an environment focused on reducing shame as much as possible. She needs to accept that her behavior is rational on some level, because at some impressionable point in her life, her anger was an appropriate response. If she can understand under what context her behavior would not have been shameful but highly appropriate, then hopefully she will start to see herself from a place of self-compassion rather than self-loathing, and thus develop stronger self-soothing skills. Because whether she marries you or goes on to live her own life, she needs help with this, before it reduces her to a shadow of her full emotional potential. I'd be willing to bet she can accomplish this with a good-fitting therapist or a good support group --connect and support her in this direction, either way. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 5:00 PM on September 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


This sounds very scary to me. I'm guessing it would take many years of therapy for her to get her rage and other issues under control.

My impression is that she is holding back to just the level she needs to to keep him around, and as others have noted, may escalate things if they become more committed. Also, I agree that she is controlling him now, by warning that she might blow.

I would recommend going far, far away.
posted by ravioli at 6:07 PM on September 16, 2013


I'd be less inclined to run, personally. I think a thoughtful discussion, as others have mentioned, is the best next step, so long as you're comfortable with that.

I think it needs to be a discussion, though. Straight-up telling her, "Yo, you've got problems and fix them quick or I'm outta here now n loud," is not the way to do that.
posted by Chutzler at 10:31 PM on September 16, 2013


WOW!

I can not Nth the wise and compassionate words of human ecologist enough!!

That's exactly what I meant. I just didn't say it nearly as well.
posted by jbenben at 10:32 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"also, she doesn't really know any of the people that I would have been standing around the deathbed with, and it didn't feel right to her to intrude on that situation"

Did you encourage her to come with you, or were you more comfortable with her staying behind?
posted by macinchik at 10:38 PM on September 16, 2013


And I agree, Sublimity speaks the underlying truth.

I'm going to share a quick little story from this past weekend that REALLY applies to you. It's about one of my best friends (like a brother, really) and his wife-to-be. They met two years ago.

She's off at grad school right now in another state, and this is the first person he's ever lived with. It's two years apart, a big separation, and he's helping to pay for her grad school, which is HUGE on any level.

He's amazing! And super attractive!! But he's also a Special Snowflake in some ways that are not immediately obvious, and this kept him from settling down earlier.

So. Now he's very successfully in a solid relationship with someone genuine. Yay!

We were chit chatting this past weekend about his relationship, and he told me that his GF is super cool if she gets a head's up about whatever, but he used to be bad at communicating with her. As a result, she used to flip out, but he learned - and things are smooth these days

Knowing him as I do, I'm really impressed he pushed himself to change in order to strengthen the relationship. If you knew her and him, you'd be impressed, too, that he figured out how to be successful in the relationship. He could have been stubborn and stupid, but he wised up, because he saw that a relationship this intimate is a two-way street.

OP, I agree with the rare few in this thread who perceive that your GF understands deeply she has issues to tackle, and that she is willing to do so, for her own sake and for yours.

I also agree with Sublimity that ALWAYS being second is taxing her emotional reserves and may not be a great fit moving forward.

That said...

I have RARELY/NEVER read an AskMe like this, where there seems to be so much love from both sides.

I'm really hoping you two work it out. This situation is a growth opportunity for both of you, and I super hope you guys make it through and stay together.

Best.
posted by jbenben at 11:08 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughts, guys. Here's my friend's response:
Thanks for all the replies so far.

To address a general point: I don't feel like I'm in DTMFA territory here. I was, as Jessamyn put it, polling the internet to see what others' reactions were, as I don't yet fully understand my own reaction to matters.

My girlfriend and I are very good at communicating what we need clearly - we've been that way since the start, and we make a point of touching base on everything in our relationship at least once a month - a home-cooked dinner and talk about how we feel things are going, what could we do better and so on. Both of us have said that we never feel that we need to hide our needs from the other. A simple "I need you to do X" is all it takes. If the other can't deliver X, we discuss that and compromise.

To address some specific comments (I realise that this next bit could be construed as OP-thinks-he's-done-nothing-wrong; that's not the case, because I agree with some of what's been said, but I need to address the following):
sublimity I agree that what the girlfriend is doing is not healthy as a coping technique, but I think you might well consider another angle as you bring this relationship to an end. The thing that set her off this time was you bailing on her at the last minute, again. Sounds like this is a very frequent occurrence. And though your reasons are legitimate--work, family emergency--being in a relationship where it is clear that you are always, ALWAYS plan B is just fucking cruel. Who wouldn't have abandonment issues in this relationship? Is it really fair to be in a serious relationship with someone if you're constantly leaving them in the lurch?
To clarify something here (and I realise I'm feeling a bit defensive about it, but it's worth saying anyway because I glossed over it in my original question): We've both been up-front about our expectations from the start w.r.t availability due to work, absences and so on. My girlfriend also works in a job that means that she has to be away from home at times, though in her case the travel is less frequent and for longer periods; for me it's short term and relatively regular - once or twice a month. Much of the time I'm working in and around London and it's not so bad. My girlfriend's stance has always been that as long as she has some notice of what's going on, it's fine.

The increase in my short-notice travels over the last month has been due to the fact that I'm taking any and all work I can get right now in order for us to be able to take a sabbatical together from summer next year. This, again, was something we negotiated up front between us. We want to travel and make art together, and that requires us to have some significant cash in the bank.
sublimity My read on your girlfriend's meltdown is that she is at the end of her rope with you about this and something as incontestable as needing to bail on her, AGAIN, to be at someone's dying bed meant that there was absolutely no space for her to address this issue with you.

I agree that this is a shitty and unproductive way for her to deal with frustration, but then, is there really any way for her to deal with it with you otherwise? I presume she loves you, but also knows that any attempt to address the issue will lay bare that you will always opt to ditch her when circumstances dictate. That's a shitty position to be in.

I think it would be good to split up, but I don't really think she's the only one who needs to examine their relationship behavior here.
Again, to clarify: A few months into our relationship, when I was living outside of London and working particularly intensely in order to be able to pay off my debts, it was clear that my work was taking its toll on us and we had exactly this conversation. I explained that whilst I liked her and cared deeply about her, I knew that I needed to pursue a certain path in order to make things work for me and I didn't feel that it was fair to ask her to keep waiting for me. I said that it was better if we split up, as hard as that would be, because I didn't feel like I could give her what she needed in order to be happy.

We met a couple of days after that in order to exchange things-that-we'd-left-at-each-others'-homes, and we talked over the problems that we were having. It was then that we realised that we didn't just care a lot about each other, we loved each other, and that this was a relationship worth working at. I took stock of what I needed to do, cut back on my work, and through travel and judicious use of Skype, we made it work for us.
human ecologist It quite possibly sounds like she needs to leave this relationship (which she may very well already be considering, out of a desire to reduce the self-hatred that continues to be generated with each one of these episodes) for one that can better accommodate her needs, and not repeatedly re-traumatize her to the point that she's become a hollow shell of shame in the name of love.
I really hope that's not the case, but it's something I'm going to bring up when we do talk about this (I'm in my hometown until after the funeral, and we're communicating over Skype, email and phone. There's a lot of love being shared, but we're also very clear that we need to talk further about this - we just want to be able to do it face-to-face in our own flat rather than at distance like this).
jbenben ...We were chit chatting this past weekend about his relationship, and he told me that his GF is super cool if she gets a head's up about whatever, but he used to be bad at communicating with her. As a result, she used to flip out, but he learned - and things are smooth these days

Knowing him as I do, I'm really impressed he pushed himself to change in order to strengthen the relationship. If you knew her and him, you'd be impressed, too, that he figured out how to be successful in the relationship. He could have been stubborn and stupid, but he wised up, because he saw that a relationship this intimate is a two-way street.
That's something I'm working on - I'm under no illusions that I don't need to make changes about things too; although we'd negotiated the increased workload up-front it seems like I might need to pull back a bit on it in order to make things work better for us. That's absolutely fine with me; I just didn't want to find out this way. I want to be successful in this relationship, and I'm more than happy to examine my own behaviour - as I said before, we talk about things regularly and I always try to be aware of how my actions impact others.
jbenben OP, I agree with the rare few in this thread who perceive that your GF understands deeply she has issues to tackle, and that she is willing to do so, for her own sake and for yours.

I also agree with Sublimity that ALWAYS being second is taxing her emotional reserves and may not be a great fit moving forward.
She is not "always second", but I can see how it would appear so, both to her and to outsiders. Again, this is something we need to discuss.
jbenbenI have RARELY/NEVER read an AskMe like this, where there seems to be so much love from both sides.

I'm really hoping you two work it out. This situation is a growth opportunity for both of you, and I super hope you guys make it through and stay together.
I really appreciate that. Thank you. I hope we work it out, too.
posted by yasp at 1:10 AM on September 17, 2013


Blaming this on your behavior or her trauma would make sense if she didn't blow up at work, at officials, at a random woman in a parking lot...are those OP's fault too?

Look, I'm the fucking poster child for abandonment issues and trauma responses. It doesn't make violent, manipulative behavior okay. It isn't the responsibility of my partner(s) to fix, either.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:40 AM on September 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I want to be successful in this relationship, and I'm more than happy to examine my own behaviour - as I said before, we talk about things regularly and I always try to be aware of how my actions impact others.

There's no such thing as being successful in a relationship where both people don't take at least some responsibility for their own actions and it's a bit of a fallacy to think that this could happen. I agree with other folks that some introspection is in order but she needs to fix these outbursts, period (which might mean self-control or it could possibly mean therapy and/or self-care) and both of you need to not just decide "Oh well that's just who she is" Making agreements that you are okay with certain things--such as your increased workload while you are saving money for a trip together--means you both also need to find ways to act like grown-ups when something unpredictable happens. She's a legend in her company for her bad temper, I'd tread carefully thinking this is a thing you can just talk your way through.
posted by jessamyn at 6:59 AM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am not sure how much more accommodating a person can get, than postponing driving to a loved one's death bed in order to meet your partner for coffee, and then postponing it further in order to placate them as they have a violent tantrum.

I am the poster child for being angry when people bail on me at the last minute, but if I went off on someone like this at a time like that, I would fully expect to get dumped, regardless of whether I had grounds for being angry. Having grounds for being angry, and expressing it like this, are two different things. Oh, and I've had people flake on me a dozen times, been ready to let them have it with both barrels, and then the 13th time the obnoxious fuckers really do have an emergency, which is the most enraging and provoking thing they could possibly do. It still wouldn't make it okay for me to make a tough situation tougher on them.

Come to think of it, if I had a lot of tantrums at work I would fully expect to get fired. Say, does she yell at her bosses? or just her subordinates? serious question, not snark.

And if I just couldn't stop myself from going off on strangers in the street, I would be afraid to go out much because when you put aggression out there in the world at random, you can't control what will come back to you. It was another woman she yelled at in the parking lot - would she have yelled at, say, a male twice her size? Who are the various "officials" you've had to talk her down from fighting with?

So far it seems like she rages her way through life and isn't losing anything by it. In light of that I guess it's not surprising that you don't mention any measures she might be taking to address her problem.

If you'd said that her temper is a problem she's really worried about and has been doing this that or the other to try to improve for a long time now, I might have answered differently. Despite how I might be coming across here, I have a hell of a lot of sympathy for people who have trouble controlling their emotions and impulses. I have not a lot of sympathy for people who just accept their "legendary" bad temper like it was a cleft chin or a birthmark.

People who struggle against their own ill nature are my long-lost brothers and sisters. I just don't see anything in what you've written to indicate that your GF is the one doing the struggling here.
posted by tel3path at 2:32 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree that this is a shitty and unproductive way for her to deal with frustration, but then, is there really any way for her to deal with it with you otherwise?

Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes yes. There are many ways to deal with this otherwise. The vast, sweeping majority of people deal with these issues in other ways, all the time. Nothing about the OP's friend's behavior would force the average person to punch concrete and bang their own head.

Hey, OP's friend, does this ever remind you of your relationship?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:44 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Ok. I have had this thread open for a while, wondering if I should comment.

I am a girlfriend with a temper, but not *your* girlfriend with a temper.

I get angry, and I know it's not okay. I inherited it for sure, but that doesn't make it ok either. So I am working on better ways to manage my emotions, communicate problems before I am mad, and avoid triggers (hunger is my main one, but yes, one form of hormonal birth control did me in too- others have been fine). My SO knows that I am working on this, knows that I won't magically get better, and supports me by helping with communication, and handing me food when I've forgotten to eat. But in the end it is my problem, and I have to learn to control it. (I do think I am learning, but I suppose you'd have to ask other people about that, as I haven't kept any statistics..)

In my case, I didn't learn that I needed to fix my anger issues until I lost a previous relationship over it. Your girlfriend sounds a lot like me when I first started to learn control; she is still lashing out but has enough forethought to lash out at things she can't hurt (save herself). She knows she did wrong, she is aware of the problem (as she says later on that she knows you needed support, and not her anger, at that time), and the fact that she's willing to talk frankly about it is a good sign for her wanting to fix it. It is still, however, her problem, and she still needs to fix it.

I'd actually say this is a red flag, with bunches of little green stars on it. To make those stars bigger, she needs to show you that she's not just aware of the problem, she's actually working on fixing it. You'll need to see real progress (that she gets angry less often, or for shorter periods, or less violently). Good ways for her to show you she's working on it, as that progress is going to take time, include: going to regular therapy, having a frank talk with you about what triggers (not things you do, but environmental stuff like food, temperature, pain levels, etc) she can work on controlling to make her anger less likely, and making sure to communicate about things she feels *before* she blows up (e.g. if she is feeling abandoned, she needs to tell you that before her emotions are so het up that she explodes).

And a thing you can do as a couple is have a plan for what to do when she does get angry, because even if she is working on it, she won't get better overnight. I actually think what you did in this incident is probably a good start for a rubric. Here's a possible set of steps; aside from step 0 I think you did these:

After she gets angry:
0) Realize it is not your fault. This is the biggie; you can't control her temper, only she can do that. Of course you're not a perfect angel, but even if you did do something wrong, you in know way caused her to blow up in response. If you start tiptoeing around trying to prevent her from blowing up, you won't succeed, and you'll be miserable. Bad for both of you and for the relationship.

1) Tell her you cannot discuss the issue while she is this violent. This time, you did it because you had no choice and had to leave, but I'd suggest applying it in general. You're not going to get anywhere in a discussion at this point anyhow. She's got to calm down first.

2) DON'T tell her to calm down, in the moment. She's trying to calm down already (although yeah, her method of hitting herself so she "gets a grip" is probably not actually working).

3) Tell her you will discuss the issue later. And then later, do.

4) Apply pre-agreed upon intervention. If she were me, I'd say make sure she eats. But she isn't, so figure out what she needs ahead of time and do it.

5) Give her space to calm down. This could mean going in a different room, or it could mean changing the topic of conversation. I like that you still told her you love her, and that she was able to say the same back; it's good to give reassurance, but it's also good to give some relieving space. In this case maybe you left because you had no choice, and she let you for the same reason, but for the future you might want to give space in general.

After she has calmed down, so in this case now:
0) Realize it is not your fault. It isn't, so yeah, realize that. You did not make her angry; she is responsible for her own emotions.

1) Have a frank discussion with her. Use "I" statements; that is, tell her how you are feeling and how her actions made you feel. It sounds like you've been doing this some, and will do it more when you return. Good. Communication is key, of course.

2) Talk about how you can respond when she is that angry. Don't try to figure this out when she is already upset; do it instead when she's calm. But do discuss it; magically hoping it'll go away or that you can be so perfect she'll never get angry-- those are both sticking your head in the sand. Specifically if you're going to try a variant on the rubric I mentioned above, explain to her what you plan on doing, and then keep to your plan. You should decide as a couple what to do for the intervention in step (4)-- does she want a snack, or a hug, or an "I love you", or what? And for step (5) -- how can you give her space to calm down in a way that works for both of you?

3) Tell her what you need from her going forward more generally. (e.g., do you want her to get therapy, or to go to an anger management class, or ? ).

4) Have regular chats about how things are going. Is her anger level still scaring you? Is she feeling cared for and supported? Personally I'm a total avoidant wimp about bringing up things that are bothering me; used to be I just didn't and waited until I was so angry I was shouting and throwing things. So I had to learn to woman up and speak out about things bugging me in the relationship before they had me seething. You should be sure to speak up yourself, and figure out a way for her to do so too.

5) Especially if she goes to therapy, I'd recommend you stop in for a session with her too. It can be a good way to help construct a rubric that works for you for how to deal with this going forwards.


Ok, long screed, short version: communicate. get a plan. consider getting a therapist to help with those things.

And really, best of luck to you. I've been in your girlfriend's shoes, in some ways still am, and I really really hope she doesn't have to lose a relationship to gain some self control. (In fact, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if she already *has* lost relationships to this, even if friendships or working relationships or whatnot). And for you, keep your head straight, get support from elsewhere too (family, friends, work, whatever), and good luck to you both for growing those little green stars. Maybe someday all you'll have is a big green flag.

Oh, one more comment that is actually in line with the hive mind here: don't have kids until you do have that green flag. That's how I got my own anger issues, and I really don't recommend passing them on.
posted by nat at 7:16 PM on September 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Response by poster: A further response from my friend:
Wow, thanks again for all the comments!
tel3path Come to think of it, if I had a lot of tantrums at work I would fully expect to get fired. Say, does she yell at her bosses? or just her subordinates? serious question, not snark.
She's snapped at both her peers and her boss. A couple of years ago (before we were together, and when she was going through a particularly difficult time) the head of IT in the company, who is not known for his sweet temper, refused to interact with her and said she scared him. Those were incidents from when she was at her lowest, though (see below).
tel3path And if I just couldn't stop myself from going off on strangers in the street, I would be afraid to go out much because when you put aggression out there in the world at random, you can't control what will come back to you. It was another woman she yelled at in the parking lot - would she have yelled at, say, a male twice her size? Who are the various "officials" you've had to talk her down from fighting with?
"People wielding inflexible authority" would, I think, be the best way to put it. For example: after a blackout at our local rail station - so we couldn't buy tickets or use our Oyster cards - we arrived at Victoria Station in London and a guard wouldn't let us through the barriers, saying that the power outage had been resolved before our train had left our station (which wasn't true). I stepped in just before she gave the guard both expletive-laden barrels and he let us through. She thanked me for that and said that she had seen the "red mist" descending before I spoke up.

One incident that I wasn't present for but about which she told me: A woman at a ticket office in a London theatre refused to let her collect the tickets that had been bought for her as a birthday present by a family member. She excoriated the woman for being a small-minded bitch with a power complex, yelled "fuck you!" and stormed out of the theatre, shaking with rage.

She would have yelled at someone twice her size, yes. When she sees red, everyone becomes an equally likely target. The car park incident was particularly frightening for me, because my girlfriend kept driving forwards - slowly - as though to take the space that the woman was blocking. Eventually, when the woman refused to move, she yelled "fuck you" and then accelerated towards her, swerving away from her and back into the lanes between the parking spaces. It freaked me out, and I should have said so, but didn't - mostly because I was so taken aback by what had happened.
tel3path So far it seems like she rages her way through life and isn't losing anything by it. In light of that I guess it's not surprising that you don't mention any measures she might be taking to address her problem.
I wouldn't say that she rages her way through life. She's a very kind, caring and sweet woman and would do anything to help anyone. Her anger problems began a few years ago when she divorced her abusive ex. Up until early this year she was seeing a therapist about that and many other issues, and her temper had improved (especially at work; one of her performance goals for 2012/13 was to improve her temperament, and she was praised for doing so).
tel3path If you'd said that her temper is a problem she's really worried about and has been doing this that or the other to try to improve for a long time now, I might have answered differently. Despite how I might be coming across here, I have a hell of a lot of sympathy for people who have trouble controlling their emotions and impulses. I have not a lot of sympathy for people who just accept their "legendary" bad temper like it was a cleft chin or a birthmark.
She hates her temper, but I don't know if it's something she's still trying to improve or if she thinks she's gone as far as she can with it for now. It comes out this strongly only occasionally (besides the one at the weekend I can count maybe three occasions in the last three or four months).

One other thing that's worth mentioning is how laid back she is for most of the rest of the time. In situations where I'm getting stressed about something going wrong she's the first to reassure me and point out that the worst thing that can happen is usually really not all that bad, and that we've got plenty of options.

I know that my having to go to my home town hurts her, because it's several hundred miles away from our home in London, and getting back is nearly always an epic pain in the arse.
Sticherbeast Hey, OP's friend, does this ever remind you of your relationship?
No, not in the slightest.
nat
And really, best of luck to you. I've been in your girlfriend's shoes, in some ways still am, and I really really hope she doesn't have to lose a relationship to gain some self control. (In fact, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if she already *has* lost relationships to this, even if friendships or working relationships or whatnot). And for you, keep your head straight, get support from elsewhere too (family, friends, work, whatever), and good luck to you both for growing those little green stars. Maybe someday all you'll have is a big green flag.
Thank you for the excellent advice, and for the best wishes. I really hope we can work it all out.
posted by yasp at 9:41 AM on September 18, 2013


Okay, OP. I have to say that what you've written doesn't make me feel better.

There are two things that stand out to me about this: she was seeing a therapist to improve her temper "until early this year" and that one of her performance goals at work was to improve her temper, and she achieved that and was praised for it.

Was it after receiving praise for meeting her performance goal that that she stopped going to therapy? Not that that's unreasonable on the face of it, if she went to therapy to achieve a goal, achieved it, and then on the surface there is no more reason to go to therapy...or is there? The train incident, the tickets incident, and the incident of her menacing behaviour with the car... were any of them after she stopped going to therapy? You've been dating for "just under a year", and it's September now, and she stopped going to therapy "early this year" so that's what it looks like.

And now you've recently made a commitment by moving in with her, and it's after this that she gets violent in your presence. Hate to say it, but that is kind of a classic pattern.

I mean, you describe incidents like the car incident where she was acting in a very threatening way and she scared you. You've been together one year, and the year before that, a coworker refused to interact with her - a man refused to do part of his job on grounds that he was afraid of a woman, which for a guy in today's corporate and social culture, is really sticking his neck out. And here she is, still acting in scary ways, and you don't know what, if anything, she's doing about it or even whether it troubles her at all. All you know is she hasn't gone back to therapy.

I'm sorry, OP, but I am still quite worried for you. It feels like you're trying to communicate that this isn't what it sounds like, but the more you say the more it sounds like that to me. I say this, of course, from the standpoint of someone who has had enough of being afraid of people close to her and isn't going to do it any more. You apparently still have it in you.

Oh, and. I remember how pressured it used to make me feel because people would come at me with "either you leave or you are participating in your own abuse and you are as bad as an abuser and [etc. etc.]" Sometimes people would say it outright but I always felt the implication even if it wasn't there. I had my reasons for not just walking out on a complex human being who was a mixture of good and evil as we all are. So I don't want you to think that I'm sitting here raving "leave or else! Or else... I'll disapprove of you or some nebulous thing! Please continue to have the nagging doubt that you're a bad person for ever experiencing this in the first place!" Well... that's what I don't mean and haven't said.

I guess my bottom line is that I'm more concerned for your safety and happiness than I am for hers. And honestly? I think this is a situation where you should be, too.
posted by tel3path at 3:08 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


She hates her temper, but I don't know if it's something she's still trying to improve or if she thinks she's gone as far as she can with it for now. It comes out this strongly only occasionally (besides the one at the weekend I can count maybe three occasions in the last three or four months).

Three occasions of that kind of behaviour in three/four months is not 'only occasionally'. That is a lot. I worry that you've lost some perspective on this because you know her and you love her and it's maybe not so bad as it was before and at least she's not yelling at you (yet), etc etc, but from the outside, it's seriously unacceptable behaviour and it's happening often.

If she truly hates her temper, she needs to be taking active steps to deal with it, not just engaging in passive self-hatred that gets you telling her it's okay and it's not a problem. (Not to say that she's doing this deliberately, but deliberate or not the effect's the same.) She needs to not be blaming it, or allow you to be blaming it, on her abusive relationship. She needs to accept responsibility for her temper and for dealing with her temper. If she won't, then this won't change except for the worse, no matter how much you love her or how great the relationship is otherwise.
posted by Catseye at 3:55 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't say that she rages her way through life. She's a very kind, caring and sweet woman and would do anything to help anyone.

You are saying this about a person who put someone in fear for their life, wanting to believe she was going to run them over with her car and murder them (the less kind interpretation here would be that she did plan to run over that person when she gunned the car towards them, but changed her mind), because she wanted their parking space.

How do you think the woman she charged towards with her car felt later? Would she say your girlfriend was kind, caring, and sweet? OK, that person is a stranger to her, but what about her coworkers? Her friends? Family? Does anyone but you think of her this way?

OTOH, I guess she is the sort of person who would do anything to help you have a parking space, but maybe you should think about whether that's a GOOD thing.

Kind, caring, sweet people don't have huge anger problems come up every month or two (or more -- you may not have heard of all the incidents that occur when you aren't there).

Good luck, it would certainly be a better thing for her to get help for her problems, and if you can encourage her to do that who knows what horrors you would be preventing. This would be way outside of my own comfort zone to deal with, but if you can talk with her and persuade her to seek help it may do a whole world of good for herself and others, and truly a good and helpful thing even if your relationship did not last.
posted by yohko at 6:20 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


She would have yelled at someone twice her size, yes. When she sees red, everyone becomes an equally likely target. The car park incident was particularly frightening for me, because my girlfriend kept driving forwards - slowly - as though to take the space that the woman was blocking. Eventually, when the woman refused to move, she yelled "fuck you" and then accelerated towards her, swerving away from her and back into the lanes between the parking spaces. It freaked me out, and I should have said so, but didn't - mostly because I was so taken aback by what had happened.

I'd have asked her to take me home and would have dumped her immediately.
posted by empath at 8:00 PM on September 18, 2013


Response by poster: From my friend:
The more I read of this thread, the more worried I get. I'm supposed to be returning home to London today, post-funeral and everything, and I'm feeling increasingly nervous about everything.

I know my girlfriend is really looking forward to seeing me, and I want to see her too but… not quite as much as I would have done a week ago.
@tel3path: I'm sorry, OP, but I am still quite worried for you. It feels like you're trying to communicate that this isn't what it sounds like, but the more you say the more it sounds like that to me. I say this, of course, from the standpoint of someone who has had enough of being afraid of people close to her and isn't going to do it any more. You apparently still have it in you.
I've never been afraid of people close to me, so I don't really know what that feels like (I've had relationships with people who directed anger at me, but I was always able to walk away from those and wasn't actually in fear of them).
@tel3path: Oh, and. I remember how pressured it used to make me feel because people would come at me with "either you leave or you are participating in your own abuse and you are as bad as an abuser and [etc. etc.]" Sometimes people would say it outright but I always felt the implication even if it wasn't there. I had my reasons for not just walking out on a complex human being who was a mixture of good and evil as we all are. So I don't want you to think that I'm sitting here raving "leave or else! Or else... I'll disapprove of you or some nebulous thing! Please continue to have the nagging doubt that you're a bad person for ever experiencing this in the first place!" Well... that's what I don't mean and haven't said.
Understood and much appreciated. I do rather feel like I've encouraged her to feel that I'm cool with her more angry outbursts because of the carpark incident, and I feel like I'm being a bit of a hypocrite to be thinking about walking away now as a result of it. After all, 9 months later is a bit late to be reacting to something like that, isn't it?
@yohko: How do you think the woman she charged towards with her car felt later? Would she say your girlfriend was kind, caring, and sweet? OK, that person is a stranger to her, but what about her coworkers? Her friends? Family? Does anyone but you think of her this way?
I haven't yet met her family - she's Aussie by birth and we're planning to visit her family over this Christmas / New Year. All of her friends that I know think she's sweet and lovely. She has a lot of friends at work, and she's known for being someone that you want to have on your side in a fight; I don't know of anyone who thinks of her otherwise, but then I'm quite possibly guilty of confirmation bias there.
@yohko: Good luck, it would certainly be a better thing for her to get help for her problems, and if you can encourage her to do that who knows what horrors you would be preventing. This would be way outside of my own comfort zone to deal with, but if you can talk with her and persuade her to seek help it may do a whole world of good for herself and others, and truly a good and helpful thing even if your relationship did not last.
I honestly don't know whether it's in my comfort zone. This whole thing is giving me anxiety headaches now, and a part of me wishes I'd just shrugged it all off and brushed it under the carpet and not forced myself to think about it.

I love my girlfriend, and I've made a commitment to live with her. We're in the process of trying to find a flat together - in fact we're at the meeting-the-landlords stage on one property. If I were to walk away now it would cause hell for both of us, and I don't know how to do it.

I also know that I'm the kind of person who will accept earnest reassurances from a significant other and will then struggle to make sure those reassurances are followed up on.

The more I read some of the responses here, the more I feel like a part of me wants to cut and run, and the more the rest of me wants to fight that part of me. I've gone from being confident-but-slightly-unsure-of-something to being an anxiety-laden mess, and it's making it hard to think.
posted by yasp at 4:02 AM on September 19, 2013


We're in the process of trying to find a flat together - in fact we're at the meeting-the-landlords stage on one property. If I were to walk away now it would cause hell for both of us,

That means you haven't signed a rental agreement yet. How much "hell" will it cause you if you walk away now instead of after you've signed a lease?

At the very least, you should walk away from the rental situation now. If you make no other decisions about the rest of the relationship, do not sign any binding legal agreements with her.

I do rather feel like I've encouraged her to feel that I'm cool with her more angry outbursts

Right, but she's an adult who should know better. You can expect her to throw at you whatever it takes to make you give in, but the fact is, she doesn't get to say "but you didn't tell me you didn't like my threatening to run over a pedestrian in the car park! So how was I supposed to know?" Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

because of the carpark incident

Number one, you're not responding to a single incident, you're responding to a pattern. Number two, in theory that single incident should have been a dealbreaker, but there's such a thing as the Arthur's Biscuit principle - you simply weren't able to believe it had happened. That's a really common response to a surreal situation. I use the word "surreal" in the literal sense of "bringing unrelated things together". That incident brought together a loved one and a violent person in one body - two things that should have nothing to do with each other, but sadly often do. Because you were in the car with her, there was no safe route of escape for you if you objected and she reacted aggressively to your objection. So you let it go then, and, to be consistent, you also let it go after that. Cognitive dissonance smoothed over the traces, but now... here you are.

Additionally, you are a guy. Women have the advantage here, in that, at least we have it drilled into us from the day we are born that man is wolf to woman. You, a guy, have not grown up with the advantages I have, whereas I am a bit more practised in seeing danger about to manifest in human form. And my superpower even works when that human form is female.

and I feel like I'm being a bit of a hypocrite to be thinking about walking away now as a result of it. After all, 9 months later is a bit late to be reacting to something like that, isn't it?

The thing about scammers (not saying your GF is a scammer but bear with me) is that they try to use your consistency and integrity against you. I would not be at all surprised if she were to focus on that, but here's the thing: don't get so distracted by details that you lose sight of the context.

You are already overfocusing on your own failings. Whereas the context is that your GF has a problem with abusive anger and threats of violence are always just below the surface.

That's the bottom line here.

And you sound intimidated.

posted by tel3path at 4:56 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


She has a lot of friends at work, and she's known for being someone that you want to have on your side in a fight

Well, if her temper is "legendary", she's not likely to be known as someone you want on the opposing side in a fight.

I don't know of anyone who thinks of her otherwise

Except the IT guy who was afraid to work for her, and all those among whom her temper is legendary, and the guy at the ticket barrier in the train station and everybody who saw her berate him, and the woman in the box office at the theatre and everybody who saw her berate her, and the woman in the car park that she threatened to run over.

Except for all those people, and you, and some other people you probably don't know about, everyone thinks she's a "sweet and lovely" person. So she has a reputation as a "sweet and lovely" person whose "temper is legendary".

Does that actually make sense?
posted by tel3path at 5:02 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Think of her temper issue as being like alcoholism. We don't judge people for having alcoholism. People don't choose to become alcoholics. Being an alcoholic does not, in and of itself, make you a bad person.

Nonetheless, we do need people to get their problems under control, especially when their problems becomes behavior which affects us. You can't just say, "well, I'm an alcoholic, I'll work on that," and then not follow through with concrete ways to actually improve your behavior. This might sound really stern and superego-y, but we're talking about your SO, here, and not just some casual acquaintance.

...

Whatever you do, DO NOT sign a lease with your SO until you feel safe sharing a roof with her! You wouldn't rent a flooded apartment, on the landlord's mere assurance that eventually the apartment will no longer be flooded.

If anything, now is the time for ultimatums, albeit diplomatically stated. Tell her that you cannot live with her until you feel safe from these outbursts. Pay close attention to how she reacts to this.

Maybe she'll be upset at first, but then she'll sigh and say she'll try to make it work. That would basically be a good reaction. She's balancing everyone's needs. When there's something you need from her, she can provide it. This would be a green light.

On the other hand, maybe she'll just have another outburst, or maybe she'll try to guilt you into moving in with her regardless, with lots of promises for future improvements. This would basically be a bad reaction. Your needs are unimportant, but hers are inviolable. Don't let yourself be manipulated, especially by guilt or emotional blackmail. Stand your ground. You are an important person. You have basic needs.

You were concerned enough about her behavior to get your friend to post this question. This is obviously important to you. Don't trade this moment away.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:30 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Your updates are extremely concerning. I originally (mis)read your question as it being a one-time thing, but the pattern is even more troubling than the isolated event (a red flag on its own).

This:

Eventually, when the woman refused to move, she yelled "fuck you" and then accelerated towards her, swerving away from her and back into the lanes between the parking spaces. It freaked me out, and I should have said so, but didn't - mostly because I was so taken aback by what had happened.


would be an instant dealbreaker for me. For dating, for friendship, for being in the same car with. That kind of behaviour will get someone killed - what would have happened if the woman your GF was trying to frighten was in fact frightened enough to jump out of the way, into the space your GF then swerved into?

Even if she never turns her anger onto you (is that a bet you'd take? I wouldn't), do you want to be the witness to your GF having a fit of "uncontrollable" rage and badly injuring or killing someone? She's not just being an asshole, she's being a dangerous asshole. This is not a nice person, no matter how she acts when everything's going her way.
posted by randomnity at 9:04 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Best answer: She has a lot of friends at work, and she's known for being someone that you want to have on your side in a fight

Erm... you are saying this like it's a good thing. Generally, saying "x is someone that you want to have on your side in a fight" is a very politic and work appropriate way of saying something along the lines of "be very careful to always stay on x's good side because you are so completely screwed if you get on x's bad side". The reason people are phrasing that way is specifically because it can be spun to make it sound like they are saying something complementary about your girlfriend, because they want to avoid what happens if your girlfriend were to get the idea that they were saying something uncomplimentary.

If her "friends at work" are saying this about her, they are only friends with her because they have seen what happens to her enemies.

We're in the process of trying to find a flat together - in fact we're at the meeting-the-landlords stage on one property. If I were to walk away now it would cause hell for both of us, and I don't know how to do it.

You feel it's difficult to walk away at this stage, difficult to even back off and suggest not getting a flat together. It will only become more difficult to get out of this relationship if you live together, both financially and interpersonally. It will also make things much more difficult for her emotionally if you wait until the two of you have a flat together, she will emotionally lash out to protect herself from what she feels as a threat, and as you have seen that may well be a violent reaction on her part. It might also include things like harming you financially, destroying equipment or clothing you need for work, trying to sabotage your ability to work in some way (for instance, consider what someone could do if they had access to passwords, or to a laptop logged into your work accounts or bank accounts).

The more I read some of the responses here, the more I feel like a part of me wants to cut and run, and the more the rest of me wants to fight that part of me.

Of course I can't know why you feel this way, but I wonder if the rest of you feels that it's not very brave, to cut and run, and that might be part of why the rest of you wants to fight the part of you that is feeling that cautionary sense? Or perhaps it's how daunting the leaving seems.

I was going to look up a nice quote about retreat and it's advisability, perhaps from Sun Tzu or a famous general, but the first one I found was this:
Woman begins by resisting a man's advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
Oscar Wilde

Which seems all too apt for your current situation.

In the short term, it's going to be more difficult to leave. It's going to seem easier, less conflict-ridden, less of the unknown, to stay -- especially when your girlfriend realizes you are serious, and tries to persuade you in any way she can to stay with her. She might seem to act especially wonderful toward you (possibly including especially interesting sexual things, keep your wits about you), and will be very careful about controlling her anger around you, and this is where you need to remind yourself of the pattern of behavior you have seen.

Many people in situations like yours stay. Many people end up trying to leave the same person repeatedly, hoping for change as the situation gets worse and worse. It's understandable that you would be of two minds about it.

Part of the happiness of life consists not in fighting battles, but in avoiding them. A masterly retreat is in itself a victory.
Norman Vincent Peale





Seeing your question and responses here, and how others have replied, I'm reflecting on how, for most heterosexual men, considering how to respond to violence probably isn't really a part of their dating and relationship world. It's so easy to think of violence in relationships as being something that happens to women and comes from men -- but it happens in lesbian relationships, it happens in gay relationships, it happens in relationships outside of the gender binary, and it happens to men in straight relationships.

Two male friends of mine have told me of their experiences violence in a relationship with a woman, enough to call the police repeatedly. Both of them had at one point envisioned a wonderful future and lifetime commitment. The women they were in relationships with seemed quite sweet and wonderful, or they would not have continued those relationships for long, and they would not have each decided to move in together with the woman they were dating.

You don't want to be living in a place with a person you can't count on not to become violent. Don't put yourself in danger to try and help her -- and in the end, change has to come from within. The person has to want to change, and it takes a long time, and a person might have to stay out of intimate relationships for a while and work on themselves. And they might still not change. Don't endanger yourself to try and change your girlfriend, it won't be a good thing for either of you.

Even though you haven't had physical violence turned on you, I think you might find some solace in this calling this number and being able to speak with someone directly:
the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327
You can call them just to talk things over with someone. You could start off by saying you are concerned about your girlfriend's anger.

One last thing: if you have been reading this on your own computer, you should erase your browser history and do anything else needed so that she won't have a direct line to your thoughts here -- if you don't know how to do this, keep your laptop where she can't access it until you figure it out. Since you mentioned IT -- If has much IT knowledge, it would be prudent to either keep your computer where she can't touch it, or to use a computer at a friend's or library for this sort of thing. After you break up, change the passwords for bank, email, facebook, etc.
posted by yohko at 5:48 PM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


"All of her friends that I have met think she's very caring and sweet" --- well yeah, the friends YOU KNOW think that: anybody who has ever disagreed with her got the full red-mist, expletive-laden, nuclear-meltdown treatment, and has either been tossed aside like trash or has had the sense to run for their lives.

I'm sorry, but with every one of your updates, you've just confirmed and emphasized how abusive this woman is. The slightest HINT of someone, ANYONE, telling her 'no' about anything seems to mean it's okay for her to lash out --- and that's one heck of a thing for her (and you!) to believe.

This person is ABUSIVE. It wouldn't matter if it was a male or a female acting like this, this is abusive behavior. I understand that she says she began this behavior after leaving her own abuser, but that does NOT give her or anyone else permission to pass that abusive behavior on to other people.

Do NOT sign a lease with her; you say you're currently living with her --- move out. Do not, in any way, legally bind yourself to this person.
posted by easily confused at 9:37 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Another update. Thank you for your perseverance, folks:
I phoned the men's advice line and they largely agreed that I needed to have this conversation with my girlfriend, and that her behaviour could be seen as abusive.

So, we had a talk about all this yesterday. I brought it up at a lousy time, right before we were supposed to be seeing a flat, but once the conversation had started it was hard to stop.

She promised me that incidents like the one last weekend are "once in a blue moon". And the Christmas incident - which I told her, had she been anyone else, would have been a deal breaker - she said the last time she did a anything like that was 20 years ago.

She talked to me about how much we loved each other and how great we are together. She pointed out that we talk through issues like this and that we should tackle them together. I asked her if she could promise me I would never see that side of her again, and she said that she could.

Last night that all seemed to make sense. This morning, less so. Now it seems weird and scary again, and I can't stop thinking about it. I still feel the urge to cut and run.

But I honestly don't know whether it's fair to walk away when everything is good other than me having a weird feeling about something that my girlfriend has promised me won't be a problem.
posted by yasp at 4:02 AM on September 22, 2013


"Together" what? Isn't it that she has an anger management issue? This is one of those rare cases, as per your description, where the interactive part of the problem seems less important.

Nono, this is all backwards: Promises do not buy a good life. What should happen is that she takes care of herself and gets this issue sorted out, for her own sake as much as for anyone else's, not that she promises you that it won't happen again. Wrong answer, mate.
posted by Namlit at 6:55 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I honestly don't know whether it's fair to walk away when everything is good other than me having a weird feeling

Yes, of COURSE it's fair. It's always fair! It is fair to end a relationship at any time for any reason. It may not be especially convenient, and it may not be what you had originally hoped for, but gosh it is ALWAYS fair.

What's not fair is feeling trapped in a relationship you're not 100% comfortable with.
posted by phunniemee at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


She promised me that incidents like the one last weekend are "once in a blue moon".

That appears to go against your objective understanding of these events which you described as happening more like once per month. And "the Christmas incident" happened once 20 years ago and once last year, unless I am reading this wrong. Giving her the benefit of the doubt that she can change is not what people are arguing with you about here. Giving her the benefit of the doubt with her doing nothing except assuring you that it won't happen again is the sucker's game. She should get counseling or some other anger management assistance and that should be a prerequisite for you guys getting a flat together.
posted by jessamyn at 7:03 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


You are getting some "classic", textbook lines.

- Why did you bring up that you brought up this issue at a "lousy" time? Did she try to make you feel lousy for bringing up something important? When were you "supposed" to talk about this, after you've already moved in? Did she try to turn a discussion about her rage issues and how it makes you feel into a discussion about how you're talking about it all wrong, as if you two were talking about some shared debt in which you had equal part? This sounds like garden variety manipulation, gaslighting, victim-blaming, etc. etc. etc.
- Empty promises are empty. "It'll never happen again, baby, I swear it." Yeah, yeah, whatever. Either she actually does something to make things better, or she does nothing. It sounds like she wants to do nothing.
- You two are together, but this does not make her rages your problem to fix. You are not to blame for any of this. There is nothing to "talk through" at this point. She has to work on her rage issue. She has to show her homework.
- If your gut says that your relationship is weird and scary, then something obviously is weird and scary. Do not ignore this feeling. It will only get worse if you take on extra commitments.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:07 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Response by poster: I have insomnia, so posting more replies from my friend.
You are getting some "classic", textbook lines.

Why did you bring up that you brought up this issue at a "lousy" time? Did she try to make you feel lousy for bringing up something important? When were you "supposed" to talk about this, after you've already moved in?-
I said I brought it up at a lousy time because I did. I'd been trying to find a "good" time to talk about it all day and finally plucked up the courage to bring it up on a bus (I found the courage because a friend of hers whom she'd leant on for support last Friday and had ended up arguing with sent her a reconciliatory email, which put us onto the relevant topic).

She did feel rather liked I'd dropped a bombshell on her in bringing it up, which I can appreciate is pretty hard. I know there's no "good" time to have such conversations, but I did feel guilty about it, all the same - not because of anything she said though.
Did she try to turn a discussion about her rage issues and how it makes you feel into a discussion about how you're talking about it all wrong, as if you two were talking about some shared debt in which you had equal part? This sounds like garden variety manipulation, gaslighting, victim-blaming, etc. etc. etc.
Not really. She talked about how it was a part of her that she knew and hated; that sometimes she got overwhelmed with emotion and didn't know what to do with it. She did acknowledge that there was a problem and that it was hers to fix, though she didn't say how she intended to fix it (and at that point I felt like if hurt her enough and didn't push her on how she'd do that).
Empty promises are empty. "It'll never happen again, baby, I swear it." Yeah, yeah, whatever. Either she actually does something to make things better, or she does nothing. It sounds like she wants to do nothing.
I think if anything she doesn't see it as as big a deal as I do. That is to say she acknowledges that it's a big deal for me but doesn't quite see that it happens as often as I say (so the shouting at train company people isn't in the same category as the carpark-at-Christmas and so on). She did say she was ashamed of her behaviour.

I also don't necessarily think her promises are empty, but I don't know whether she knows exactly how to go about making good on them.
You two are together, but this does not make her rages your
problem to fix. You are not to blame for any of this. There is nothing to "talk through" at this point. She has to work on her rage issue. She has to show her homework.
I think her point was that it was unfair of me to put all of my anxieties and stresses about moving onto her in the form of talking-about-the-rage. She was right in that I was stressed about moving too, and that did creep into the conversation.
If your gut says that your relationship is weird and scary, then something obviously is weird and scary. Do not ignore this feeling. It will only get worse if you take on extra commitments.
I agree, but I have to wonder if this is just cold feet about taking on a new flat - a big deal for me and a lot of money per month - manifesting as something else. Whilst I know that her temper is fierce, is it really that fierce or am I just finding an excuse not to move in?

One thing that did happen tonight that was a bit... weird:

We'd been talking again about all this; I'd said that her sudden rages felt as though someone else has briefly taken over her body. She said that she wanted someone who could love her dark side as well as her light side; that she was the light-she 99.99% of the time and was it really worth giving up all the wonderful things in our relationship for 0.01% of the time that I didn't like?

In the middle of this conversation she got a text to say that our rental offer on a flat had been accepted. We were both genuinely happy about it, and the previous conversation was left where it stood.

Tonight she's travelling for work, so I'm home alone. She said that she was worried that I'd think about things and decide I didn't want to be with her, saying that tonight will be one of the "hardest nights of her life." She asked me if she could trust in my commitment to moving in with her, and said "the trouble with falling in love with your best friend is that if you lose that relationship you lose your best friend, too."

Honestly, by this point I didn't know whether to think that she was being genuine and just rather over-the-top or rather manipulative. I know I tend towards naïveté much of the time; is some cynicism warranted here?
posted by yasp at 7:58 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems like there is no question to be answered here any longer. Or is there?
posted by Namlit at 11:21 PM on September 22, 2013


Mod note: OP/friend, this has expanded far beyond the purpose and function of Ask Me. The original question has been asked and answered; if you want to leave a final "how-it-turned-out" comment at some point, that's fine, but this needs to stop being an ongoing, back and forth chatty discussion.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:56 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


OP's friend, nobody here can give you an answer to questions like "am I just finding an excuse not to move in?". It seems like what you want is a venue to really think through the complexities of these questions, what you can/should expect from her in this relationship, what your own limits are going to be in terms of staying with her, etc. Relationship counselling can provide that for you in a way that AskMe can't. You don't need to be married or in significant crisis to speak to a relationship counsellor, and it doesn't mean that you're about to break up; it means that you're taking the relationship seriously enough to want to address these issues properly.

(I suspect that your girlfriend will be highly resistant to the idea of speaking to a relationship counsellor, and will accuse you of wanting to leave her and/or not loving her for who she is. If she won't go with you, go on your own.)

I did want to add this, though:

Whilst I know that her temper is fierce, is it really that fierce

Yes. Yes, it is. You know those signs you see on public transit sometimes, the "you don't go to work to be abused and neither do our staff" kind of thing? That's your girlfriend they're talking about. The woman in the car park she yelled "fuck you" at and then accelerated towards? If I'd been that woman, I would have noted down her numberplate and then called the police - and the police do not take a positive view of "but I'm really nice most of the time!". Ever heard someone explain that they stayed in an abusive relationship because between the abuse, things were lovely? That's the thought path you're walking down if you accept this "it really worth giving up all the wonderful things in our relationship for 0.01% of the time that I didn't like?" stuff.

You need to take this seriously, very seriously. That doesn't have to mean "leave", but it does mean being prepared to take steps like speaking to a professional relationship counsellor, even if discussing this is not your girlfriend's favoured course of action.
posted by Catseye at 4:08 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


OP's friend, feel free to arrange with yasp to MeMail me.

Your SO really does have a very serious rage problem. What you describe is not normal or healthy.

It concerns me that you appear to be "giving away" your needs related to her rage problem. That is to say, you need to have this addressed. But, you aren't letting it concretely what you actually get from her, your plans to move in with one another, etc. She gets everything she wants - you two get to seek out flats together, and she doesn't have to enroll into therapy or anything involving effort like that. Instead, she's feeding you very old, familiar lines about how she wishes she could find somebody to "love her dark side". You two do actually have to work together. What you're describing is just her making you feel better about you not getting what you want and need.

You have a bargaining chip here. You don't have to move in with her until you are comfortable. You don't have to stay with her if you are unhappy. Use this bargaining chip! It's as if your flat had been flooded due to the landlord's negligence, and you had the option of withholding rent as a result, but the landlord asked you to please not withhold rent, because usually the flat is not flooded, and while he didn't know how to fix it, he would eventually like to figure out how to do so, and his only very most sincere wish in life was to find someone who could both love the flat and love when the flat is flooded.

Either way, as Catseye says, a relationship counselor would be much more appropriate here. If you do go down that road, take note of how she reacts to such a suggestion.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:42 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd like to direct a comment to yasp him/herself:
Against pretty much all the advice posted here, your friend is apparently about to sign a lease with an abusive partner, legally tieing himself to her for at least the next year. He admits to having gut feelings not to do so, but is easily swayed and talked out of those feelings by empty promises from his partner. PLEASE keep in contact with your friend, no matter how much his partner may try to isolate him from his friends and family: it's going to be rough, but please be there, ready to catch him when needed.

To yasp's friend:
Good luck, you're going to need it.
posted by easily confused at 5:32 PM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


The overall tone of your posts reminds me of a relationship I was in, in which my ex used his anger, not in a deliberate way, to intimidate me (though I never felt physically unsafe). Here's what stood out to me:

-the way you find excuses for her behavior and second guess your feelings. The way she minimizes her behavior, and perhaps your reaction (the term for this is 'invalidation'). My ex would downplay his behavior, too, or redirect my attention to something else that was 'the real issue.'

-what also struck me was how you had to build up "courage" to talk about this with her. I know that feeling well. In the beginning I was able to address his anger as it happened. Over time it wore me down so I'd put it off or ignore it, minimizing the problem in my mind. I became increasingly careful about what I said in case it might set him off. I rarely felt I could speak freely. And yet, being in the midst of this it was very easy for me to question myself ('Maybe I'm making too much of it'). I also thought there were enough good times to outweigh the bad. So let me be clear:

When you find yourself readjusting your life to reduce the impact of someone's anger that is a big red flag.

And if you put off addressing a problem of this magnitude now it will be much harder if not impossible to fix it later. Also people mirror this kind of behavior. My ex had just come out of a relationship with a woman with a temper where he was the one who was more easily cowed. So if you have kids this will likely get passed down in some form or another.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 7:49 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


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