Angry Dude
April 22, 2014 6:47 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with the anger of my easily peeved boyfriend?

He gets pissed off when he's having an allergy attack, sleep-deprived, working late, the cloud ate his document, etc. He tends to snap, yell, bang around the house, fume, and respond to me with sarcasm and annoyance. Sometimes it's because of things I do (interrupting him when he's talking), but often I feel like I'm stepping into his anger accidentally. He's got stress in his life most days (we're graduate students), so this happens a lot.

Sometimes I feel hurt, like when he seems to respond to everything I say with sarcasm. Sometimes I just feel embarrassed, like when he snaps at me in front of our friends. Maybe it bothers me so much because I don't express my emotions the way he does; I tend to be more anxious, mopey, and self-doubting when I'm upset by something. He's good at comforting me when I'm like that, but I obviously have no idea how to deal with it when he's upset.

My attempts to talk to him about it so far have been really unsuccessful--even counterproductive. If I say in the moment that he seems angry, ask if something's wrong (thinking I'm being sympathetic), or outright say "Hey, don't shout at me like that," he tends to deny it or get offended that I think something's wrong. He'll say, "I'm angry? News to me," or "Since when does this count as shouting?" When I've tried to use "I" statements to talk about how I'm feeling because of the way he's acting, he's said I'm exaggerating. When I've brought it up later when we're not on edge, he's said he doesn't know what I'm talking about. The only time I can remember him acknowledging that he was acting out of the ordinary was when he threw a book across the room.

It's obviously really frustrating and hurtful to him if I try to talk about his tense and angry behavior; I think he thinks I'm picking fights or criticizing him. Trying to comfort him is definitely not a good course of action, either. So I do my best to just act like nothing's happening, which is actually pretty hard and leaves me feeling like I'm walking on eggshells.

I'm really puzzled by how this guy who has always been so sweet and thinks it's important to talk about emotions can also be someone who repeatedly denies what I see as a major aspect of his emotions and behavior. I don't think this is a dealbreaker, but I'm clearly missing something that's going on here.

Any ideas for how I can see this differently or take a new approach?
posted by a sourceless light to Human Relations (125 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
He's good at comforting me when I'm like that, but I obviously have no idea how to deal with it when he's upset.

He's already dealing with his emotions, by taking them out on you. That's his coping mechanism. When he feels angry at anything, he lashes out at you. That's one of the reasons he won't admit that he's doing it; he would have to develop a new coping mechanism and he likes this one just fine.

Any ideas for how I can see this differently or take a new approach?

You can break up with him. I would.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:53 PM on April 22, 2014 [89 favorites]

Does he snap, fume, bang around and throw books at work and with friends, too? If not, then he knows perfectly well that this is inappropriate behavior for some circumstances; it's just that you don't get to count as one of those circumstances.

I'll leave it to more expert posters to spell out the details re: red flags for abuse, but if he doesn't acknowledge this behavior and doesn't make it possible for you to talk about it, then I'd personally regard that as a dealbreaker.
posted by Bardolph at 6:54 PM on April 22, 2014 [84 favorites]

I cannot see why this is not a dealbreaker. Maybe it's because I live with someone who is kind and considerate pretty much all of the time, but I would not be able to live like this. And humiliating you in front of other people? Gross. I'd suggest therapy, but I'm guessing he won't be receptive to that.

You asked for a new approach. I'd suggest packing your shit and leaving.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:54 PM on April 22, 2014 [30 favorites]

He's an angry, aggressive, gas-lighting man who treats you poorly. Who uses the vicissitudes of everyday life as an excuse to act like a shit.

You don't need this, you won't benefit from it, he's not going to change in the foreseeable future. Just leave. I wouldn't invite a person like this to a backyard barbecue, never mind schtup him. Your embarrassment -- speaking from experience on this -- is not going to go away, because the embarrassment is there because you are a nice person. Your boyfriend is not a nice person.
posted by kmennie at 6:56 PM on April 22, 2014 [43 favorites]

So far, I see anger, aggression, denial, blame, minimizing, criticizing and gaslighting. Those are all small pieces of a puzzle and the big picture is emotional abuse. You're already getting sucked in by making this your problem to fix.

I don't deal well with anger -- mine or others -- and after dating men like this over the years just reading this description makes me cringe at the memories.

The best way to look at this is: he's got anger problems that translate into emotionally abusing you. The best approach is: out the front door and never looking back.

Sorry you're dealing with this.
posted by mibo at 6:56 PM on April 22, 2014 [33 favorites]

He might be distinguishing "angry" from "frustrated" in a way that you don't? Still not responding to it in a helpful way, but that would explain why he doesn't recognize what you're identifying as anger. At a later point, maybe ask him to describe how he was feeling during the episode, if it wasn't angry, and how he thinks you should be responding in situations like that. If it's really anger and he's that far in denial I don't know if it's easily fixable, but I'm just thinking about this because the "shouting" thing is something where I've definitely seen different people from different upbringings have totally different ideas about what constituted shouting and how much voice-raising was appropriate.
posted by Sequence at 6:57 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Regardless of cause (since I don't believe it matters), let's do a thought experiment and assume this doesn't change, ever. He's always like this forever. Forever and ever, and he treats your future children this way. Does it seem like more of a deal-breaker from that angle?

I say this because people who are like this are generally always like this, unless they realize it's an issue and work on themselves...neither of which it sounds like he is willing and/or able to do.
posted by lovableiago at 6:59 PM on April 22, 2014 [23 favorites]

You could also read Why Does He Do That, but read it on the bus out of town.
posted by mibo at 6:59 PM on April 22, 2014 [19 favorites]

This is not something you can help him with. He has to work through it on his own, assuming that he recognizes it as a problem.
posted by Asparagus at 7:01 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you put up with him if he's like this for the rest of your relationship? Because that's the question. You can't count on someone changing who they are or how they act in order to keep a relationship going. If you don't love someone the way they are RIGHT NOW, then you are betting on something that may very well never come to pass.
posted by xingcat at 7:01 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

The only way this works is if he's willing and able to recognize that he has a problem and work toward improving his behavior. If he can't even acknowledge the nature of his own behavior, there's nothing you can do except remove yourself from this situation.

I'm sorry. I wish I had something more encouraging to say. Unless he decides to do something about this, nothing is going to change, and that's probably not a great situation for you to remain in.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:03 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is not appropriate or healthy behavior AT ALL. The fact that he doesn't even recognize it even when he's in the middle of an anger frenzy is troubling at best. It also means that you'll have little ability to get him to start addressing and being responsible for his emotional problems. Only he can change this through a tremendous amount of hard emotional work and probably with some intensive therapy. There are no magic words you can say to get him to see the light.

If he lacks this degree of self-awareness, he can be dangerous. It's shocking to me that the only time he noticed that something was amiss with his behavior is after he threw a book in rage. An emotionally mature person recognizes being out of control way before they're throwing objects. His gas lighting and denials mean that he's very unlikely to ever change.

This is not a healthy relationship regardless of how nice he is when he isn't using you to vent his anger. An allergy attack or not getting enough sleep shouldn't result in you having to walk on eggshells. This is a dealbreaker for sure.
posted by quince at 7:08 PM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think he thinks I'm...criticizing him.

You are. And probably constructively and usefully, too. That he cannot take that criticism with grace is Not Your Fault.

Also Not Your Problem.

The dude is a child. Personally, I'd DTMFA.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:09 PM on April 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

This isn't "easily peeved." This is verbally and emotionally abusive.
posted by scody at 7:11 PM on April 22, 2014 [35 favorites]

He can't manage his anger, he doesn't understand the distinction between annoyance and anger. He almost certainly manages his anger in some situations, so he can learn to control it with you. Stop tolerating unacceptable behavior.

- gets pissed off when he's having an allergy attack, sleep-deprived, working late, the cloud ate his document, etc. This is incredibly immature, and I'd ignore it.
- tends to snap, yell, bang around the house, fume, and respond to me with sarcasm and annoyance. ... things I do (interrupting him when he's talking), but often I feel like I'm stepping into his anger accidentally. Snapping at you and sarcasm are unacceptable - when he does this, don't argue or engage, because he isn't rational when he's angry, just say Stop that, and walk away or ignore him. You can talk about it later, or not, as long as he understands that you deserve to be treated with respect, and if he doesn't treat you with respect, you will not be near him.
's got stress in his life most days We all do. His response to stress is abusive. There are better responses, like patience and meditation.
- seems to respond to everything I say with sarcasm. This is a really bad sign, as it's a form of contempt.
- snaps at me in front of our friends. Really not okay, and I would not tolerate it.

I'm walking on eggshells. It's almost certain to get worse. Do not tolerate this behavior. He might be able to change, or not. If not, I would get out.
posted by theora55 at 7:14 PM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

Maybe it bothers me so much because I don't express my emotions the way he does;

Maybe it bothers you so much because it's some bullshit and you don't deserve it. That is a new approach you could take and a way you could see this differently, and I think you would be correct.
posted by clavicle at 7:15 PM on April 22, 2014 [34 favorites]

Wikipedia on gaslighting.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:15 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're approaching this as if it's a mild inconvenience to live with, but that's kind of a boiled-frog perspective. It's not okay, and it's not your job to accommodate this behavior.

DTMFA, unless he's willing to pursue help. My husband had a frustration management problem, which was a big old Nope, but instead of opting to live Somewhere Else Right Now he pursued treatment for his ADD and hasn't punched a wall in 10 years.

Bottom line: whatever the driving force, people who actually functionally like you are not shitty to you. If he is shitty to you, he is not okay and needs to go deal with that separately from you.

A domestic violence hotline can help you extricate yourself, if you need the help. This is DV and you need help.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:16 PM on April 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Okay, so you're a grad student too - are you behaving like this, then?

Is he going to therapy? Is he going to the gym/taking up yoga/doing whatever he can to avoid getting himself into this state?

If no, move on. You can't fix him - only he can do that.
posted by heyjude at 7:16 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm really puzzled by how this guy who has always been so sweet and thinks it's important to talk about emotions can also be someone who repeatedly denies what I see as a major aspect of his emotions and behavior.

This is not a sweet guy. This is an asshole who knows how to wear the mask of a sweet guy so he can function in society. Can he change? Yes. But you cannot change him. He can change himself, but only if he wants to. Maybe you saying, "Look, dude, either you get help or I fucking walk," is what makes him realize that he needs help, but he has to want to do it.
posted by Etrigan at 7:20 PM on April 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

When I've tried to use "I" statements to talk about how I'm feeling because of the way he's acting, he's said I'm exaggerating.

I stopped reading right there because that would be a dealbreaker for me. I think a different approach should be walk.
posted by rtha at 7:20 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Stop reading this post, get up, take your wallet, and leave.

Decent, well-adjusted adult human beings don't regularly take out their anger and frustration on others, period, full stop. Sure, we all get a little bit snippy once in a while, but we sure as hell apologize later and work wholeheartedly to prevent it happening twice. You deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, but your so-called boyfriend is a child and a jerk and an emotional abuser. Run.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:24 PM on April 22, 2014 [16 favorites]

Do you live together? Are you in the same grad program with him? If so, please make sure that you break-up with him in a way that prioritizes your safety and security. Even if he hasn't hit you, a break-up could be an extreme stressor and you should be prepared for a worst case scenario. He's already demonstrated that he cannot control himself. Don't assume that he won't hurt you physically.
posted by quince at 7:26 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm really puzzled by how this guy who has always been so sweet and thinks it's important to talk about emotions can also be someone who repeatedly denies what I see as a major aspect of his emotions and behavior.

This is interesting. Has he always been like this? Have you asked others whether they observe what you observe? You might want to get outside perspectives.
posted by shivohum at 7:31 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

He tends to snap, yell, bang around the house, fume, and respond to me with sarcasm and annoyance.
My husband can get angry/frustrated about stuff that I think is dumb (the way people behave in traffic, when a bank does something jerky) and also can get short-tempered when he hasn't eaten in a while. When this happens, he can do some or all of the things above (although less of the last item and more just general Stomping Around and Being Annoyed).

The difference from what you are experiencing is:

1) He is well aware when he is doing this, and what his triggers are. The eating thing is a particular driver of snappy behavior, so he notices when he is getting hungry and gets something to eat. If he misses this, and I see it, I can say, "Hey - are you hungry?" and he does not respond with anger or sarcasm (more like, "Yeah, where can we get some food around here?").

2) If it gets out of hand (i.e., he yells at me or our daughter rather than just raising his voice at the computer), he recognizes it himself and apologizes promptly (in less than 30 minutes).

3) He never, ever snaps at me in front of other people. We're a team, and we help each other look our best to others.

I can also have a lot of the same behaviors, but I also always take responsibility for my behaviors and apologize when I lose my temper. Everyone isn't always perfectly calm and pacific, and some people have more "grar" energy than others. But what makes it unhealthy is not taking responsibility for one's actions and denying that they are even occurring.
posted by jeoc at 7:33 PM on April 22, 2014 [42 favorites]

I wondered the same thing as you for many years - about three years, all told. The lightbulb finally went off for me for a variety of reasons, one of them being the physical violence that he started in on. I asked about it here, actually, in a veiled way, not bringing up the physical violence part of that argument (he pulled me by the hair into the bathroom and pushed my face into the mirror, yelling at me to kill myself, during that lovely little argument).

I want to be so gentle here because what you are going through is incredibly, massively hard and difficult. You are asking us a question that does not have the answer that you seek. The real answer to your question is that you should leave this man.

The question you're really asking - just like the question I was really asking above, and also here (that anonymous question was me, and the answers were incredibly helpful, even though it took me years to hear them. In particular, this answer was incredibly helpful and I still think about it a lot) - is not what you think it is. What you are actually asking is this: "How can I continue to let this man abuse me verbally?"

The answer is, well, you can keep making yourself and your needs smaller and smaller (like my favorite comment from that thread says). You can monitor his every movement, everything he says and does, in an attempt to stave off the abuse, the way I did. You can try, and try, and try, but when you walk on eggshells? You are going to crack some eggs. And there is no difference (other than the fact that it is a metaphor) between "feeling" like you are walking on eggshells and actually walking on eggshells and behaving in ways so that you won't get yelled at. That's the same thing. He will get angry again, he will take it out on you, and it will be random and unpredictable and the only thing you'll know is that it is going to happen at some point soon, but you won't be able to predict any more than that.

Because this is not about anything you are doing. It has absolutely nothing to do with you. This is about him.

I also tried the "What Shamu taught me about a healthy marriage" technique for a long while - that involves basically ignoring all of his outbursts. Just ignore. Walk away. Do not engage.

My abuser learned that he had to engage me after I started treating him like Shamu. The abuse got worse. He started getting physical and he started doing things in public that were just so shameful I can't even talk about them - and the ones I can talk about (like the time he threw a cup of hot coffee at me and called me awful things at a coffee shop in broad daylight and then chased me down the street yelling at me, while I ran and wondered "why isn't anyone stopping this?" without realizing that by leaving I could stop it once and for all) are still pretty horrific.

Oh, honey, I imagine that you think that my stories are really not at all close to what you are experiencing and that all you have is a guy with a bit of a temper on your hands. But he takes his temper out on you in ways that are inappropriate and embarrassing at best. And when you try to talk to him about it... he's forgotten. Isn't that handy? My abuser had a photographic memory - I swear, if he even glanced at a Wikipedia page he remembered it forever - and yet he was unable to remember - he was unable to remember - the mirror thing. Or the coffee thing. Or the smashing down the door thing. Or all of the other things he did that were violent and horrible and abusive and wrong.

I can't tell whether or not he did remember and he was lying, or if a part of him shut down when he was being that abusive. I no longer care.

You do not deserve to be treated this way. This has nothing to do with you. I think that your best course of action is to get a therapist, start talking this out with an objective third party. Do not, do not, get couples counseling. Just go on your own. (I am going to hazard a guess and say that if you start going to therapy and you tell your boyfriend that he will not like it and will encourage you to stop going... just a hunch!)

It's obviously really frustrating and hurtful to him if I try to talk about his tense and angry behavior; I think he thinks I'm picking fights or criticizing him.

Just as a counterpoint to this... what would happen if, during a calm, happy moment, when you were both well-rested and fed and just talking, if he said to you "Hey, this thing you do, it is hurtful to me, what can we do about that?"

Something tells me that you wouldn't tell him he was picking a fight. A stable person does not see that as an attack on their character - well, maybe for a few seconds, initially, but then you calm down and say "hey, ok, my partner - the person that I love and trust and care about - they're telling me something is up with them, and that it is related to me, so I'd better listen and work this out with them." He is not doing that. That is a prerequisite for a healthy relationship: being able to talk about the hard stuff. The stuff that your partner does that makes you feel bad. That is a necessary conversation topic.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. Memail me if you'd like to talk. I hope that my advice or opinion was not too harsh - your question really resonated with me and I just wish that when I was in your position I had left instead of staying for a few more years. I've got a lot more healing from that relationship to do because I stayed for much, much longer than I should have, and I hope that you don't have to endure the same things I did.
posted by sockermom at 7:33 PM on April 22, 2014 [166 favorites]

Oh yes as quince says... I was actually in a grad program with my abuser, so there were some interesting and difficult complications there. If you'd like we can talk about that aspect more privately. Memail me anytime.
posted by sockermom at 7:36 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I've brought it up later when we're not on edge, he's said he doesn't know what I'm talking about.

This is the worst type of gaslighting that abusers will do. And his level of abuse will escalate over time. It always does.

Please listen to the advice you're getting here. Walk away from this guy and don't look back.

That's how you will see it differently.
posted by kinetic at 7:40 PM on April 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

Yet again, I'll bring up John Gottman and the Four Horsemen (communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship): Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

Take a look at that quiz. Do you recognize anything from your relationship in here?

I don't mean to make short shrift in comparison to the thoughtful answers others have contributed here. But I know from my own experience that it can help to have some impartial -- and professional -- way to examine what could be going on. Because you've got some red flags, for sure.
posted by Madamina at 7:43 PM on April 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

My ex husband did this, and I lived with it for years until the anxiety of walking on eggshells and waiting for the next outburst became unbearable. I asked him to please not hit things, throw things, yell, etc, and was told that I had no right to tell him how to feel. I tried ignoring it, but it didn't make me feel better. I begged him to at least tone it down so that he wasn't modeling that behavior in front of our children. Nothing changed.

This wasn't the thing that eventually made me leave, but it was a thing, and I don't think even I realized how anxiety provoking it was to live like that until I moved out and it was just... gone. Literally overnight, 15 years of anxiety lifted and I felt so light I could almost float away.

I urge you to reconsider whether this could be a dealbreaker.
posted by lilnublet at 7:43 PM on April 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

Don't worry about what to call this- if you don't want to use the word abuse to describe this, you don't have to. But no matter what you call it, it isn't ok. It's selfish, disrespectful bullshit and you simply don't need to put up with it.

You don't treat HIM this way because to you, it would be incredibly difficult to behave that cruelly. It doesn't even occur to you that you might treat him that way. But he evidently doesn't find it hard at all to treat YOU this way. Why tolerate that?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:45 PM on April 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

This is an anonymous followup from a member who commented above, but felt this part of their story needed to be anon:
Okay, I commented briefly above saying to dump him, and I want to say more because I think it might be overwhelming to read all these responses that are just, like, "dump him" when maybe that's not what you want at this moment. I usually don't comment on questions about romantic relationships, because I think I lean too far to the side of breaking up. I commented on this one because I come from a background of having an unpredictably angry parent (which is why this is anon, it's too emotional for me to have on the permanent record), and this:

He'll say, "I'm angry? News to me," or "Since when does this count as shouting?"

is the exact kind of thing my parent would say, usually while slamming a drawer or cupboard, throwing something that didn't need to be thrown (like a pan into the sink), stomping around the house, and shouting angrily (My parent is also a person with many otherwise good qualities, like you describe). It was incredibly scary and upsetting every time and my default reaction was always to run and hide (which you couldn't do too fast, because running in the house was another thing that made my parent mad). Also, crying. All that still has an effect on me now as an adult (I'm 28).

I guess if this is just mildly annoying to you, whatever. But I will say that my parent is still unpredictably angry and hasn't changed, no matter what anyone tries, and my parent treats everyone in the family this way. So decide if you are okay with there being no way to fix this and no magic words to say, if you're okay with putting up with this for the rest of your life, and with having your kids treated like this during their childhoods. If this is a just for now relationship, I guess you might not care and you can always just leave wherever you are when he has an outburst. That's what I do now with my parent. But eventually it will get harder to leave-leave instead of just leaving for the evening, and if you have kids, keep in mind they won't be able to leave even for the day, unless you take them, and they might be less emotionally resilient than you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:47 PM on April 22, 2014 [27 favorites]

I am your boyfriend - I yell a lot at him and can be sarcastic and biting to my partner. To just about everyone else in the world, including my kids, I'm patient and calm. But with my partner, I have the freedom to vent and vex and then apologise afterwards. He is a much nicer person and is abrasive and rude to me only half as often, but I've never heard him lose his mind at anyone outside of me when it wasn't in a situation that needed that (yelling at police to stop harassing a kid type situation).

The big difference is that this is our fighting style. We get mad and yell and stomp, and there are clear boundaries where verbal yelling is fine but not insults, etc. And we apologise a lot and when I'm angry for no clear reason, he will let me yell at him until I figure out why and I deeply appreciate that and try to give him the same buffer zone and forgiveness. It's better for us to yell than be cold. And we have so much to argue about and we get worked up over big and little things because there is no-one on this earth I would rather argue with than him.

But that's over years and years of mutual trust and both of us being aware of the dynamics and boundaries here.

You're not getting that from this relationship. He also is denying this which is a huge red flag that he doesn't see you are an equal or worth listening to. He's going beyond venting and yelling to being deliberately cruel.

Leave him to find someone you can fight well with in your way rather than trying to twist yourself to fit his style. If he wanted to reach out to fit your style of arguing which seems to be a little venting and then discussing things when calm, he needs to make serious effort to do it, like setting a boundary that when he's angry he'll leave the room and cool off, and sticking to it. This is a fundamental personality challenge and I doubt he will because he's not responding to your very fair and reasonable discussion now.

His style isn't wrong, but it's wrong for you, and that's a big enough thing to leave him over. How you fight matters so so much to your future happiness.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:53 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. Please don't get into a debate with other commenters; direct comments to the OP. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:07 PM on April 22, 2014

It's obviously really frustrating and hurtful to him if I try to talk about his tense and angry behavior; I think he thinks I'm picking fights or criticizing him.

It's not obvious, really. His response is a defense mechanism that allows him to have his cake and eat it, too. That is, he wants the space to continue in his dysfunction while also being immune to criticism. My concern is that the only way to break through this is to give him an ultimatum. The reason being, some people either 1) do not want to change, because they like the freedom to be jerks to others; or 2) they believe that what they feel is fundamentally real and accurate and therefore immune to criticism. That is, he can't help his feelings or what triggered them, and he's learned to believe that he therefore is not responsible for how he responds to them, either. (I suspect that your boyfriend is the latter, based on some of the things you said about him.)

In a way, people can feel victimized by their own emotions and the things that trigger them, and thus don't feel responsible for the ways they act out to cope. In a way, to them it's like criticizing a crime victim for getting upset and lashing out. Internalize this victim-hood enough over time, and it becomes an ingrained habit. Obviously, this understanding of our emotions and our responsibility to either control them or respond to them appropriately isn't even close to being true, and he probably needs something that puts the responsibility for his actions, despite the lack of control he feels over his emotions, squarely in his own lap.

He isn't a victim, and you deserve much, much better, full stop, even before you try to figure out what the heck is going on. A good partner can help someone create the space to find help and develop more emotional stability, but you are in no way directly responsible for his happiness and emotional growth.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:11 PM on April 22, 2014 [19 favorites]

OP, let me be direct, then: His style of fighting is wrong. He belittles you in front of other people, he dismisses and minimizes your feelings, and he cannot or will not acknowledge that any of this is his problem to do something about.

Other people may have fights that involve shouting or sarcasm, and that may in fact be totally okay - assuming there is trust, respect, a willingness to apologize and acknowledge when one is wrong, and an absence of "No, you don't really feel like that."

You're sticking around in this relationship because (in part) you seem to think that this style of disagreement is acceptable. It may not be terribly rare, unfortunately, but it is not healthy and it is not okay. A partner is someone who respects you and trusts you even when they disagree with you. He doesn't seem to do either of the first two.
posted by rtha at 8:12 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

This guy's anger is his own.
This is not about you.
This is not about you.

This guy is scary, and I would run the other way from him.
I don't like him, I don't trust him.
From your description, I would feel afraid of him and would listen to my fear response.

Anyone who cannot productively talk through anger after self-managing their flooded states is not a safe person with whom to engage in any intimacy, sexual, friendship, otherwise.

I would find it intolerable and off-putting, at the least.
posted by simulacra at 8:21 PM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is easily fixed. Get a different boyfriend.

If you aren't inclined to do that, or if you want to try one last thing, what I would do is glare at him next time he starts acting like a petulant five year old, and tell him to CUT THAT CRAP OUT.
If he responded the way you indicated he usually does I would throw in a gratuitous "Don't pee on me and tell me it's raining" and then take myself out for a nice hot chocolate or margarita, depending on your preference.

People treat you the way you allow them to. I don't care how nice he is when he's not angry, I don't care how good looking he is or how lonely you think you will be without him, there is nothing worse than living with The Angry. You don't need that crap and you don't need to enable it either.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:36 PM on April 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Would you be okay with him doing this to your children?

This is a deal-breaker.
posted by k8t at 8:38 PM on April 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Please, please run away from this man. I lived this. My ex-boyfriend yelled and ranted and insulted me but it was only when he was tired or sick or $excuse and so I forgave each case as an independent case. I knew the pattern was there but I was scared of the pattern and he convinced me to ignore the pattern so I ddi.

One time he threw a computer across the room. And after that, he apologized and was sorry and said it would never happen again. And it didn't. For a long time, it didn't, and he did go back to the yelling but nothing scary like that.

I was very close to leaving that night, because it was terrifying - seeing him scream and smash something into the wall. I wish I had. I so wish I had. Because when it DID start again, it wasn't only objects he was smashing.

I'm sure you like him and I'm sure he has many good things about him and maybe you would never apply the word 'abuse' and maybe you think it could never apply, and maybe you think I'm over-reacting but reading this scared me. Please, please run away from this man.
posted by blue_and_bronze at 8:45 PM on April 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

This should be a deal-breaker.


Mature adults deal with their anger productively, and acknowledge the effects of their behavior on their partner.

With the one partner I had who did this, where I wrote off the behavior as cultural differences or whatever, it just escalated and he ended up really emotionally abusive and physically threatening.

It's deal-breaker behavior.
posted by jaguar at 8:48 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

To give a slightly different perspective...

My father was somewhat like this. Small annoyances (bad drivers, mistakes, small snafus, etc...) would set him off on a rant of swearing and fuming. It was totally unpleasant.

He changed. What did it?

He had engaged in a lot of therapy and learned how to better express frustration. I also would simply say, "I don't want to be around you when you're like this; I don't want to engage you when you exhibit this behavior; this is not nice to be around, please don't act like that around me," or some variation. I didn't try to analyze or discuss, I simply stated my desire not to be around that kind of behavior and set my boundaries.

It took a lot of time, but he is truly a much nicer person to be around and is so much better at handling his emotions better.

Dumping him is an option, but so is simply putting the responsibility back on him until he does something about it. Only you can decide how long you want to wait and only you can evaluate how sincere he is regarding a desire to change and his genuine attempts to change.

State your preferences and see if he's willing to meet them. Proceed from there.
posted by brookeb at 8:49 PM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

He gets pissed off when he's having an allergy attack, sleep-deprived, working late, the cloud ate his document, etc.

If this is how he reacts to everyday problems, how is he going to react when there is a real crisis in your lives - you get laid off, he gets laid off, your house gets broken into, he gets into a car accident?

How can I deal with the anger of my easily peeved boyfriend?

You may very well end up dealing with him beating the shit out of you.

Any ideas for how I can see this differently?

How would you feel if your best friend, your mother, your sister, your daughter was treated this way? What would you tell her? Would you tell her to stick around and put up with this? Or would you say "you deserve better"?

You wouldn't have posted here if you didn't respect the opinions of people here. Please look at the consensus of opinions and think about what that means. Yes, it's easy for us to armchair quarterback but it's valuable to listen to the opinions of people who are more objective. We can see things you can't when you are so close to the situation. I don't think anyone here would answer a question like this flippantly. So when we say this situation is not good for you and probably won't get better, please take these answers seriously.

Good luck and take care of yourself.
posted by Beti at 8:50 PM on April 22, 2014 [15 favorites]

Just want to chime in as another person who was your boyfriend. I finally went to therapy after yet another relationship ended largely because of my disinterest in learning to deal with/control my anger. Being broken up with (again) was an excellent motivator to work on myself. Applied to this situation, I see you dumping this jerk immediately as a win for both of you.
posted by justjess at 9:00 PM on April 22, 2014 [16 favorites]

I grew up with a parent like this, and it had some really horrible, insidious, and long-lasting effects.

My parent is not a bad person, has some excellent qualities, and I love them. But now that I am an adult, I would never, ever, choose to put my children through living with someone like that.

If your boyfriend won't admit that he has a serious anger management problem, and DO SOMETHING concrete to change himself, please leave him. For the sake of your own future happiness, and that of any children you might have.

Someone doesn't have to be a terrible, unlovable person for you to leave them. I wish I had learned this earlier.
posted by Salamander at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2014 [18 favorites]

The new approach is to leave. Some may disagree with me, but from what I've seen over the years, people's constitutions don't change much, and usually angry temperaments are pretty constitutional. He's most likely not going to change, and if you stick around you are going to be very miserable. The oft-heard advice "You can do better" and "There are many fish in the sea" apply to this situation.
posted by Dansaman at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have more experience with this than I really want to talk about (and others have covered similar) but:

Maybe it bothers me so much because I don't express my emotions the way he does

he's not really expressing emotions when he does this. I mean, he is, but my experience with people like this is that they express every emotion they have (fear, stress, hunger, allergies, sleepiness, even love sometimes) with anger because that's all they know. Anger gets the most reaction from other people and tends to engage them most directly, so that's what people like this go for first. I don't think he's consciously doing it, it's a behavior he learned. It doesn't seem like he knows other ways to express things and probably is aware and embarrassed about that, which is where the defensiveness and pretending to not know what you're talking about comes from.

If you're wrong in his mind (which you're not in reality), then that allows him to double down on his anger. His anger is there to feed on itself and prevent him from engaging with his emotions in any real way, which is scary because he doesn't know how to do that.

I agree with everyone else that this is a troubling scenario and you should walk if he doesn't seek therapy, because I think that's the only way out of this type of behavior.

However, if you really want to know how to engage with it, just ignore it. If he snaps at you, pretend it didn't happen. If he throws something, just follow the path of the thing and look at it and look at him and leave the room. Don't try to talk to him about it in the moment at all.

The anger may or may not diffuse at that point, I don't know your boyfriend but that has been a successful strategy I've seen in the past with this sort of thing. And I only mean "successful" in the sense that it didn't lead to hours of shouting and crying, not that it led to healthy relationships and quality communication. For that the only option is for him to see it as a problem AND actively work on it. Preferably with a therapist, but definitely not with you. This is not your problem to solve, it's very much his.
posted by sweetkid at 9:26 PM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

Echoing what Salamander said: just think about it - when he's frustrated or stressed, he considers it acceptable to inflict that on those around him, even his loved ones, for the pettiest of reasons. I wouldn't be surprised if he actually treats you worse that he treats strangers in these moods. He's setting up you and any children you might have together for a life of miserable acceptance of this crap and acceptance that he's never going to reciprocate you being an adult about frustrating days and situations and "doing unto others as you'd have them do to you".

Watch out for him using these behaviors to avoid saying "please" and "sorry". Watch out especially for the point when you're so attuned to his tantrums that you anticipate them and he's then able to manipulate you into getting whatever he wants by turning on the "you better start walking on eggshells" signs at the appropriate moment, which I'm sure will happen "accidentally" or "unintentionally".
posted by XMLicious at 9:51 PM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just to expand on one point above: when a parent treats a child to this sort of bullshit which another adult would in no way stand for, and uses the leverage they have as an adult facing off against a child to get away with it, the child learns that when people treat you like shit there's nothing you can do. That training becomes a millstone around your neck for your entire life.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 PM on April 22, 2014 [31 favorites]

As someone who stayed in a relationship like this for four years, I can't imagine what it's like to read all of this or if you're even still reading.

My advice to you is that if you can't leave, get support (like a therapist) and start detaching in small ways. You can't make him stop fuming, but you can say "if you're going to stay mad, I don't want to be around it, so I'm going out for awhile, see you later" and then take yourself to the movies.
posted by salvia at 10:41 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding sockermom, salamander and XMLicious. My dad was a fairly angry dude--he yelled a lot--but he wasn't insulting to our faces or hitting or anything like that. But all the damn yelling and losing his shit easily was still traumatizing. And "the child learns that when people treat you like shit there's nothing you can do" is soooooooooo true. I also have had friends in abusive relationships and this kind of shit is exactly how they start. And if you are around him at all, the odds are very high that he'll escalate this into pounding you in the face or something else physical on top of it. Oh, sure he doesn't hit me now, you say. Well, everyone who's ever been hit said that once upon a time--you have to be lured in, you have to be slow boiled in a pot before he can start that behavior up.

Seriously, your choices are to let him abuse you or leave, because "make him stop abusing me" doesn't work. Please, please don't try. Watching someone in an abusive relationship who won't leave because she "loves" him, but she can tell you for 4 hours straight all the times he called her a cunt this week because he was hungry or the sky was blue is just heartwrenching.

"I feel like I'm stepping into his anger accidentally."

I honestly think guys like this secretly enjoy what they're doing. It makes them feel powerful and strong to put the little woman at home down. You're a safe target--he can't scream like that at his professor or whoever pisses him off in public, but you're right there to give a beatdown to and you won't stop him. My friend's husband will pick on her for anything. ANYTHING is an excuse. You're not "stepping into his anger accidentally," he's throwing it at you like a fastball. It's not that you're doing anything bad every single time, it's that you exist as a target and he badly wants to hit something.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:44 PM on April 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

To reiterate something someone said, your closing words, "always been so sweet" hint at massive changes. Is this so?

If so, the only thing I can see other than getting gone is to relate something like, "You've always been so sweet, but for some time you've about been about the polar opposite of sweet. Get help and start down that road now or we're through."
posted by ambient2 at 10:44 PM on April 22, 2014

Someone upthread said you don't need to demonize your partner to find this behaviour unacceptable ----- I think that's true. People's mileage may vary on whether his behaviour is abusive or threatening or gaslighting, and honestly it doesn't matter. All that matters is whether the relationship overall feels healthy and enjoyable.

I had a long-term relationship with a guy whose father took a somewhat mocking, dismissive tone with his mother, particularly in public, which my partner seemd to kind of unthinkingly replicate with me. (Think sitcom-style oneupsmanship, ugh.)

He was a good guy. I was never afraid he would hit me, I knew he loved me, and he did try to moderate his style. But in the end when we broke up for (mostly) other reasons, I was astonished how great it felt to not be walking on eggshells, especially around our friends. I hadn't realised how tense and unhappy and *embarrassed* I'd been, until the weight was lifted.

If your partner's behaviour regularly makes you feel kind of crappy, that's not super-healthy and it'd be reasonable for you to consider leaving the relationship. That doesn't need to mean he's a horrible person or a potential abuser. If it's not a fit, it's not a fit.
posted by Susan PG at 11:20 PM on April 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

I'd like to offer a modest counterbalance to the prevailing refrain. Understanding that many are speaking from very painful personal experience, I think it's inaccurate to assume that someone is always going to behave in the same way, forever. I think it's also unfair to assume that bad behavior is always going to escalate, or specifically that unhealthy communication or denial thereof is always going to become physical violence. Humans are not static. If we were, there wouldn't be much point to our lives.

Yes, we absolutely have ingrained patterns of behavior -- often inherited -- that are difficult to change. Yes, the situation being described sounds unhealthy, by pretty much any reasonable standard. But behaviors and mindsets can be modified; maybe not completely erased, but certainly improved. If this wasn't true, I'd still be a bitter, cynical, terminal alcoholic, for example.

My ingrained/inherited mode for dealing with anger in a SO conflict is to basically shut down. I go quiet and stare anywhere but at the person I'm fighting with. My brain churns around, trying to determine the cause of my anger and trying to find "the best way" to express it. (I've been known to stomp, shout, and throw, too. But never, ever in front of witnesses. That would be unseemly!!!) It's unhealthy, and feels awful for all involved. I learned it from Parent #1, who had grown up in a household were extreme emotion was seen as inappropriate and dangerous. Parent #2 tends to respond to this by pushing for a response, upping the ante, or expressing stifling concern. After almost 40 years of extremely loving and mutually supportive marriage, they still act out this basic dynamic.

However, they don't always act it out in the same way as they did initially; increasingly, Parent #1 will indicate that they need space to sulk/spin out for a few minutes, while Parent #2 will take steps to avoid overreacting or getting panicky. They aren't perfect, but they aren't hopeless in that particular dysfunction, either. They are slowly changing the patterns, and diminishing the likelihood of always.

OP, is this person worth fighting for to you? And by "fighting for," I mean are you willing to fight your natural inclination to "make nice," and make it non-negotiable that he admit and address his unhealthy behavior? And by "non-negotiable," I mean maintaining an essentially zero-tolerance standard, moving forward? My quibbles with the assumed finality of the situation aside, previous posters are correct that his defensiveness and denial is a big problem. He may still be able to make progress in terms of his expressions of anger, but only if he is able to jump that important hurdle. That's pretty much how deeply you should involve yourself in what is essentially his issues, not yours, though. If he hasn't historically demonstrated the sort of self-awareness that real change requires, and he continues to appear unwilling to change... Then, yeah: Dump him.
posted by credible hulk at 11:39 PM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I talked with your question my husband about this just now and ended up yelling about his terrible taste in music, and I think there's something big missing from your question: is he like this for other emotions? I yell, but I also laugh and shout with joy and cry with sadness when I'm talking with my husband. If I was calm and kind except when I was angry, then turned sarcastic and rage-filled, that would be something very different, like dating the Hulk versus dating say Iron Man who consistantly has his volume cranked up.

If your boyfriend restricts his outbursts and intensity to only when he's angry, that's not just a different fighting style, that's scary and I would leave.

My husband says that it's irrelevant whether you're overreacting to his anger or being too sensitive. This is something that upsets you and makes your life miserable, and your boyfriend should be trying to reasonably adjust how he expresses his anger if he cared about you, just as you're already doing for him. His advice is to discuss this with him when you're both in a good mood and come up with some practical steps to take. Then if he doesn't follow through, you know he doesn't care as much about you and should leave him.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:48 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to be you. I thought my ex's anger was because he was in a hard place. I HATED being around it, but I loved him and had empathy... he had a failed marriage, he didn't enjoy his job, etc. etc. My way of dealing with it was that I would be SUPER supportive and nice, and be his soft place to fall... and I figured that then when things got better over time and his head was on straight he would look back and appreciate that I was there for him. Because no bad times last forever! On paper, he was the man I'd always wanted... and he could be so charming. I just needed to give him my best and it would pay off. His anger would end and our lives together would continue!!! Yay!!!

Yeah, I was wrong. And naive.

Over time, instead of dissipating his anger started getting comfortable and began being directed at me too. He started to say HORRIBLE things... and while asking him to stop I would still make excuses for him. As the shift progressed I realized I had been so understanding that I'd trained him to think it's okay to be angry around me. And then, his anger started fucking with my self esteem. I was a strong woman and always felt that abusive relationships happen to other people... so I was in TOTAL denial that I was in one myself until it was too late and he had completely sucked out my self esteem. The final straw for me was when he told me if I really loved him I would get rid of my dog because he didn't like dogs. He insulted me like a 13 year old boy with a potty mouth when I told him that if he loved me he wouldn't ask such a thing.

He was handsome and charming, blah blah blah, and I was brainwashed to think I was lucky to have him... But the bigger fact is, he was an angry, entitled, narcissistic asshole with issues that had nothing to do with me and he didn't deserve ME. I was better off alone. The relationship haunted my self esteem for seven years (five after I broke up with him... I moved hundreds of miles away and he still tried to manipulate me...) and I'm only just now starting to shake it. Sometimes I still get to hear him yell at the world in my dreams. I sincerely regret having met him... it's been hard... the experience changed me in ways I wish I could have avoided and never could've imagined. (And sickest of all? Last time I saw him, my first thought was "Jesus, he's cute. Was it really that bad? Maybe I should give him a chance." And then he opened his mouth and I came to my senses.)

I'm begging you... please run far from this guy.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:15 AM on April 23, 2014 [23 favorites]

If you showed him this thread, would he be humbled? Would he realise what his behaviour looks like when spelled out to the rest of the world like this? Would it make him want to change? Or do you think that showing him this would make him angry - that he'd likely lash out at you, or tell you you were overreacting or imagining it, or even become physically violent?

I'm not suggesting you do this, especially if you think there could be a risk of him being violent, but it might be a useful framework through which you could process the responses here if you're still uncertain as to whether you agree with the majority of the commenters that this is an abusive relationship or not.
posted by terretu at 3:32 AM on April 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

I grew up with parents who did some of what you're describing. Now that I live with someone who doesn't yell or get sarcastic, I'm surprised on a daily basis by what a relief it is. Not long ago I broke a glass by accident, flinched instinctively, and had to remind myself, "oh yeah, I don't get yelled at for stuff like that any more."

Life is so much better when you feel safe in your own house.
posted by shattersock at 4:29 AM on April 23, 2014 [32 favorites]

You should ponder the almost universal advice and experiences offered above. While you do that, in the short term, the answer to "How can I deal with the anger of my easily peeved boyfriend?" is to absent yourself. You do not need to participate by being either his audience or his target. Just get up and leave. Go to another room, or go for a walk, or whatever. Simply leave, without comment and without drama.

If he questions this, you can say "You can feel and behave however you like, but I can also choose not to be present for that, so that's what I've done."
posted by DarlingBri at 4:35 AM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is an incredibly clear cut "break up with him" situation. I implore you to read and really take in what people here have said, especially people who have shared their experiences with an abusive partner.

In regards to the "He's so sweet". Good behaviour doesn't make bad behaviour okay. You can't steal 5 cars and then avoid being jailed by helping an old lady cross the street. Good behaviour doesn't magical make it so that the bad behaviour never happened. My 7 year old recently got in trouble at school and was grounded for a week. The next day his teacher contacted us to say that he had a fantastic day at school, on task, paid attention, etc. We were very happy and we told our kid what his teacher said and how happy we were. His response was "So am I still grounded?!" and I said to him "Yes, you are. This doesn't undo the trouble you got in to at school yesterday. You can't undo the bad things you've done by being good, you still have to serve your punishment for that. We are, though, very very very happy that you had such a good day at school so this weekend when your punishment is over we'll let you stay up 30 minutes later." He grumped but he understood. He served the rest of his gounding like a trooper, continued to have an awesome week at school, and that kid got to stay up late all weekend.

Your boyfriend hasn't learned that basic lesson that my seven year old has learned. Hell, my kid also knows that we don't treat the people we love that way. My seven year old also knows that what he feels is always okay, but how he acts out those feelings isn't always okay. He knows he is allowed to be angry, but he also knows that he can't yell and scream and be rude and throw things because of that anger without some major consequences.

Your boyfriend is abusive and a child. This is not going to get better and it almost definitely going to get worse. The longer you stay in this relationship the harder it will be for you to escape. This is not your fault. This is not yours to fix.

You need to leave. Today. And for the love of god, make 1000% sure you do not get pregnant with this man.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:44 AM on April 23, 2014 [23 favorites]

Why do you think it's okay for your boyfriend to treat you this way. It IS a dealbreaker. He doesn't even acknowledge that he's done anything wrong.

For now, ignore him when he's having a tantrum, and make plans to leave. I am PRAYING that you don't live together, but if you do, stealth may be needed for you to leave.

You deserve someone who is ALWAYS nice to you, doesn't scream at you and who can discuss things without being nasty. Why do you think you don't deserve this?

If you doubt that it's this bad, call 800-799-7233, or check out this website for a reality check.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:12 AM on April 23, 2014

He isn't "peeved", he's angry, and he's taking that anger out on you.

Like everyone else says (and note: there is 100% consensus in these answers!), this dude is emotionally abusive, blaming you for his lousy behavior. Sure, he's a grad student and he's stressed, but news flash: life is full of stress, the only stress-free life is death. Once he's out of school, he'll be stressed by hunting for a job, keeping a job, cleaning the house, taking the car to the repair shop, if squirrels get in the attic.... stress is nothing new in his life and it will always be there, whether you're available to blame or not. There is nothing about that that you can change: his life will have stress, just like every other person on this planet.

What you can change is that being-available-to-blame bit: are you willing to accept being his personal punching bag for the rest of your life? Yes, I know you said he hasn't hit you, but I'm sorry to say I can almost guarantee that sooner or later he will begin physical violence against you, not just against the walls and furniture: abusers don't start punching their partners on their first date, they work up to it --- they progress through the yelling and screaming, the throwing stuff, the name calling and belittling and all the rest of it to physical abuse.

Please dump this jerk: dump him and move on, and do not ever let him back into your life. Call a friend to help you pack while he's out of the house, clear out anything you can't live without and abandon the rest, and go live elsewhere. Never accept ANY phone calls, texts, emails, snail mails or anything else from him ever again: not one single communication after the note you leave on the kitchen counter that says you're out of there for good.
posted by easily confused at 5:29 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think the near-unanimity of the comments speaks for itself, even if we do tend as a community to over-recommend DTMFA/therapy for all ills. But, really, I hope you can spend some time thinking about what everyone has said. I also grew up with this guy as a parent and dated a string of him when I moved out. This is a very, very, very, very common behavior pattern, and it isn't healthy, and it tends to escalate over time.

If you recoil at the thought of breaking up, which is a very understandable response, it might be worthwhile to see a counselor and talk about his behavior, how it makes you feel, and what you can/should do in response. It is never acceptable for an adult to ask someone else to manage the burden of their emotions for them (which he is certainly doing to you - you should not need to live on eggshells, ever), and it is good to have someone unequivocally in your corner. Also, if and when you do decide to leave (or to ask him to change), it is extremely helpful to have someone with expertise and resources to help you do it in a way that is as emotionally and physically safe as possible. If you are not sure who to call, I second the advice to call a domestic violence hotline. I'm sure that feels UTTERLY absurd, but they will not think you are ridiculous for calling, and they are a wealth of support and information.

I'm very sorry you're dealing with this. Living with someone who is emotionally abusive/has anger problems (if you're not okay with the "a word") is incredibly difficult, and it changes you. But this is not your fault, you are not doing anything wrong, and you shouldn't expect yourself to manage this for him. I do hope you are able to get clear of him, in the end. It breaks my heart to see what my other parent goes through, as they were never able to break free of the abusive one, and I hope for so much better for you.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 5:44 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's what I see in your question: You're very unhappy about this, and you've tried everything you can think of. You've talked to him about it, you've used "I" statements, you've told him you don't like it, you've tried to redirect him, you've tried to ignore it, and you're still very unhappy.

This is the kind of Ask question that I always feel amounts to: "I've tried everything I can think of. Have I tried everything you can think of?"

You have tried everything I can think of. There are wise minds here, compassionate people with lots of different experiences. I'm always surprised and impressed by how many things they can think of -- how good they are at improvising ideas for all the different ways there are to crack a nut. I'm sure the unanimity is kind of overwhelming, but I hope you can see in it what I see in it, which is a lot of people saying to you, in different ways with varying degrees of force, "You have tried everything we can think of."

So what you have to do, I think, is say -- "Okay. I've tried everything I can think of, and everything a lot of other intelligent people can think of, so I may have tried everything I'm going to come up with to try." This leaves you with four options, it seems to me. (1) Tolerate your unhappy situation and hope that something else to try will occur to you. (2) Tolerate your unhappy situation knowing that it will not change, and decide to permanently live with it, including considerations like whether you want children and what other life changes might bring. (3) Continue trying the same things you have already tried and hope that they will work better. (4) Do the one thing that you do always retain as an option, which is to exit the unhappy situation rather than trying to fix it.

You've tried everything I can think of. It's not your fault. Good thoughts to you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:09 AM on April 23, 2014 [53 favorites]

Metafilter never reaches this level of consensus on anything. Ever. This is noteworthy. you are receiving solid advice here.

Get out of this relationship. Like, today.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:14 AM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't disagree with the posters who say that people can change, but there's no reason for you to stick around while he does it (if he does it).

That kind of change is a years long process, not all that common, and involves a kind of work and persistence that your boyfriend is displaying zero interest in undertaking.

Don't hold out hope that he's going to change. If he does, good for him, but the best thing for you to do is to take care of yourself.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:24 AM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

Any time someone feels compelled to say they are "walking on eggshells" with respect to another person, that is a strong indicator their right to a peaceful existence is being violated. It means they're having to adjust their natural behaviour in response to the other's unexpected and fearsome eruptions. People with issues can be violators of others' right to peace, whether they intend to or not.

Ongoing anger can be compulsive, in a way -- if his baseline levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are constantly just below threshold levels, it won't take much to trigger a freakout; just the perception of some goal being frustrated by a barrier. And each freakout primes his system and sets him up for another, so he's sensitized to respond aggressively to even minor frustrations.

But, as others have said, he is able to expend the energy and effort to control his responses in school and other settings, because on some level he understands and accepts that it's not ok to express his frustrations in those contexts.

Unfortunately, because you are close - because he feels you're "safe" - he feels he can relax that control around you, and there are no limits that matter to him. As you and others have said, he thinks all this is fine & doesn't even recognize that his expression of anger is inappropriate (He'll say, "I'm angry? News to me," or "Since when does this count as shouting?" ). He can say do whatever (maybe in line with beliefs/habits he picked up at home, as has been noted).

Despite your assertion that it's not ok, he fails to recognize that this is not ok. He is not taking your limits seriously. It might be you don't, for whatever reason - for your kindness, your understanding - have the influence to shift his thinking about what appropriate limits are. As long as he's not taking you seriously, this is going to continue. In that case, the only way for you to protect your right to peace is to leave.

And, as has been noted, if he does take you seriously, that means another frustration, for him. It's not without risk to you. And, even if he does take you seriously, he's got to then take a long and hard commitment to change - he's got to fully take it on, and it won't lead to immediate or even short-term results. Even in the best-case scenario, it's more than likely you will be walking on eggshells for some years.

And how will you live in the meantime? Hiding, stuffing yourself down, wasting the amazing unlikelihood of your gifts on constant vigilance? How will you work? Will it be your best work? Others have mentioned kids - would you have them in this context? Would it be right to expose a child to this basic violation of self? Why is it ok for you?
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:25 AM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

By way of framing my response, I'd like to say that I disagree with the framing some of answers in this thread are taking. However, I agree with the general consensus that this relationship seems bad for you. It sounds like your feelings are not being given sufficient weight in your conversations with your boyfriend. It sounds like he is not respecting your needs or feelings when he is reacting to his own emotions. It sounds like you are not afforded basic dignity here.

And I completely agree that the onus is not wholly on you to make your life safe and comfortable. He has a duty to be sure you are safe and comfortable at all time with him, even if he is overcome with distress. He has a basic responsibility to listen to, take seriously, and respond collaboratively to issues you are having with how he responds to his own distress, frustration, or anger.

From your question, it seems he is not making a good faith effort to change how he processes frustration, anger or distress such that you are comfortable and therefore safe and able to react appropriately. That has to change if this is to be a good way for you to spend the rest of your life.

People have different reactions to stress, to fatigue, to the first rush of distress. Some of us react poorly to other people's kneejerk reaction to the first moments of distress. But people in relationships must find quiet times to discuss it--to figure out what each needs to process his or her distress and what each would like the other person to do and how both can be comfortable. Couples need to agree about what is not acceptable and both work to react differently, to our own moments of frustration and to the other's AND to how our reactions burden each other.

And, of course, reacting to stress by directing anger, rage or violence against your partner is not acceptable. It just isn't.

And that is the point. If your boyfriend can't discuss this at a calm time such that you are together able to identify the points of conflict and together able to find ways of being comfortable with the points of conflict and together find ways of reducing those points of conflict, at some point you are going to have to walk away. I think you have reached the walk away point because you have described yourself as "walking on eggshells" and described him as repeatedly denying what appears to you to be "a major aspect of his emotions and behavior".

You are unable to have the necessary conversation to make yourself comfortable, emotionally safe, and not confused about the problem. That's a dealbreaker.

I don't if you live together. If you do, breaking up with him might be rather more complicated. I wish I had advice for a safe plan to do that--if you live together. If you don't live together, it will be simpler (if no easier) to break up, and I think you should since there is a very basic conflict in the relationship that you cannot even talk about in quiet moments.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:49 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I want to recommend a book to you, OP, that I've been recommending a lot around MeFi and elsewhere, because after dealing with really complicated relationship dynamics around anger it was the very best, practical, helpful resource my husband and I have found: Love Without Hurt by Steven Stosny. Get two copies, one for you and one for him. The first half is mostly for you and he can start with the boot camp in the middle.

It will help you disentangle from the pain resulting from his outbursts, and help you manage your hurt feelings better. It can also give him fresh perspective on how those dynamics are affecting the two of you in ways he is probably having a really hard time admitting to seeing, and give him really good techniques for dealing with things more productively.

In suggesting this I am NOT encouraging you to stay or go, nor am I trying to imply that it's your responsibility to get him to get his anger under control. The first is your decision entirely and the second has to be up to him. What I am hoping to give you is something concrete and better fleshed out than the advice on this thread, to help you to come to terms with what has been happening. Also, I think that when people cope in counterproductive ways like he is, it's often because they just do not know other ways to deal. It's not your job to get him to learn that lesson, but as someone who loves him (or did) and so who can see where he falls down, you are in a unique position to bring this to his attention--and something as concrete as that book can help. He is clearly reluctant to see it but the compassionate tone of that book may let him let it in.

I wish I could give you a hug. Be strong and take care of yourself.
posted by Sublimity at 6:51 AM on April 23, 2014

You have pages of responses from people with a history of dealing with people like your boyfriend, so here’s a response from someone without that history.

A couple of months ago someone I was involved with someone who snapped at me for no reason. Being me, I called him on it right away. I wasn’t mad, because everyone has moments they wish they could take back, so I simply said that I knew he was under a lot of pressure, but he was taking his frustration out on me and that it wasn’t cool. I wasn’t looking for an apology, but I expected a generic mea culpa: "Oops." "My bad." "I’ll be mindful of that in the future." Something like that. Instead, he shot back with, “Well, this is me. Sometimes I snap at people.” I guess I'm really naive, but I was shocked. Really. Shocked.

This kind of treatment was so foreign to me it actually took a few weeks to process, but I told him we needed to talk. I was 100% prepared to give him an ultimatum: You either work that shit out or I’m shutting this down. I think he saw the writing on the wall, because before we had a chance to have that talk he told me he needed time off to deal with all the (legitimate) stressors in his life. We are now on a permanent break. It's too bad, but way, way better than having that sick feeling in my stomach, knowing someone that supposedly cared about me treated me so poorly.

My heart goes out to you, because I cannot imagine dealing with this on an ongoing basis. I get it. I even tried to explain it away for a few moments. I can't tell you if your boyfriend can or will change but I can tell you that you deserve better. Let me repeat that: You deserve better.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:06 AM on April 23, 2014 [16 favorites]

Like many others, I recognize my former marriage here. The slamming, shouting, stomping, then denying it happened from a "sweet" man. It was too much to bear and then it escalated, as it very often does. I left. It was worth it and my life is 1000x better.
I think you should leave. You deserve better.
posted by pointystick at 7:15 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Might I suggest that your boyfriend should try out some emotional growth work? Specifically, I am thinking of The Mankind Project and their New Warrior Training weekends. Yes, it is really dumbed-down Jungian psychology designed for dudes who don't know how to recognize or deal with their emotions (my judgement, there) but it helps a lot of men figure out how to deal with themselves, the world, their friends, family and lovers in a much more mature way. One difference between this workshop and a lot of other 'weekend retreats' out there is that there are follow up opportunities using small men's groups to keep the growth coming.

This guy is not going to get better over time unless HE does something about it. And, I would predict that YOU are going to grow to resent it more and more over time. Nip this in the bud before you have kids and real estate to deal with.
posted by BearClaw6 at 7:21 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Also - want to clarify that in no way am I suggesting any failing on your part. You are laying down the line in multiple ways, using strategies that would work with someone reasonable. He's not being reasonable. He's not only not listening, he's discounting you; and he's not even rationalizing, he's using simple denial. He sounds very far away from the kind of awareness required to make the changes that would improve both your lives.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:23 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

It is not your responsibility to deal with his uncontrolled anger. That's his issue to fix.
posted by Neekee at 7:33 AM on April 23, 2014

"Any ideas for how I can see this differently or take a new approach?"

He tends to snap, yell, bang around the house, fume, and respond to me with sarcasm and annoyance. Sometimes it's because of things I do (interrupting him when he's talking), but often I feel like I'm stepping into his anger accidentally. He's got stress in his life most days (we're graduate students), so this happens a lot.

Without getting into any possible fundamental reasons, of which there are many (and should be left to a professional)...

Like most people, I desire control over my environment.

Unlike most people, a perceived lack of control in a situation, with a person, or interacting with an object leads to a millisecond emotional wave of extreme powerlessness, into frustration, which leads to anger.

Having dealt with this series of emotions over many years, I know the consequences of my angry outbursts. Shame, guilt, and due to the necessity of my recalcitrance, a power shift in close relationships. In my mind, an apology is surrender, and the actions I need to take in making my apology "stick," further relinquishes power and the control that comes with having power.

I am a willful person. I desire an extreme control over my external world, because regardless of whether I admit it or not, deep down I know I have little control over myself, my thoughts, and my actions. If only the world, its people, and events would only do and happen as I know best, not only for my sake, but for theirs, everything would be fine... for everyone.

I am a loving person when it comes to shaping people's emotions. I consider myself warm and kind, and often demonstrate total compassion, generosity, and sweeping overtures of love. I feel love, and I enjoy creating feelings of love towards me. However, without realizing it, I must always be on "top," and in control of the procession of this love. Without intending to, I am using my loving assets as manipulative tactics, to further my subtle and endless drive for total control.

This defect especially comes to the surface when things, and you, fall short of my expectations. When my internal "plan" for how this world should proceed goes awry.

Faced with destruction of my selfish delusion, the abiding fear that burns in me, of no control, of no power, of the world and its people, of you... especially you, rises to the surface and I become frustrated and angry. Angry with myself, my lack of power, this world, its people, and you... especially you.

The one who knows me best, I fear the most. Can you see it in me? Do you know I'm a scared, little fraud?*

*I put the above man to bed (hopefully for good) in 2010, when I was 34. You asked for a different viewpoint. This was me and my viewpoint; the inner workings of my heart and head, both conscious and unconscious.

This man described above isn't a bad man, but he is a sick man. His anger is his symptom. You care for him, and if he was coughing up blood every now and then, you'd probably insist on him getting to a doctor whether he thought it was a big deal or not, or whether he was in denial or not.

Being that this sickness is spiritual and psychological, especially with anger as its symptom, know that it is contagious. It may not manifest itself in you or in others in the same way, but it can infect you all the same, perhaps after having mutated into depression, sadness, anxiety, and denial.

Leave or stay, to be honest, it doesn't really matter to me. I'm a faceless dude on the internet. But I don't like to see anyone suffer, him or you.

There's a shit ton of good advice in this thread, and DTMFA or not, there are plenty of new approaches and advice you can take.

The only thing I can hope to impress on you is that if push comes to shove, you may not be able to save him from him, but you can save you from him.

To Thine Own Self Be True.

Your first and one true love, should always and must always be for yourself.
posted by Debaser626 at 7:39 AM on April 23, 2014 [14 favorites]

Whatever you do, don't have children with this man. Adults can choose to walk away from a relationship, children cannot, at least until they become adults. And children cause chaos, because they're raw, newly formed little beings who are learning how to interact with their environment and people around them. Babies cause sleepless nights. Many sleepless nights in a row. If one sleepless night can throw your boyfriend into a tantrum, what do you think a whole week's worth of sleepless nights will do?

I believe it's a form of child abuse to knowingly saddle a child with an angry parent who doesn't treat them well. If you choose to stay with this man, don't have children. Don't fool yourself into thinking "children are resilient" or "the miracle of fatherhood will transform him" or "lots of kids put up with stuff like this, they'll love him anyway."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:52 AM on April 23, 2014 [22 favorites]

You are getting a lot of advice to dump this guy, and I agree.

I'm guessing you've spent a lot of time with this guy. You have good memories. It wasn't always this bad. And I'm sure this anger thing crept up slowly, so you didn't notice it at first. I'm sure you see his sweet side & really care about him as a person. So I imagine you may have a lot of resistance towards the idea of breaking up, since you are so invested.

That sweet side is what sucks you in by the way.

It also sounds like he's worn you down. You used to argue back but you've given in now.


1. ask your friends what they think about him, since they've seen him snap at you. tell your friends what is going on behind closed doors.

2. issue him an ultimatum. Either you get your anger under control, or we're done here.

3. Can you let us (askmetafilter) know how it's going? I think you have a lot of people here very concerned about you right now.

"Since when does this count as shouting?"

Since Always.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:54 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm still not over having been in a relationship like this, to the point that reading your question makes me want to curl up and cry. And it's been at least a year since I got out.

The guy wasn't an inhuman monster, he had his good points, we tried therapy and CBT and coping mechanisms and all that, and we're still friends...but there is no way I could have stayed in that relationship any longer than I had, and I wish I'd gotten out sooner.

You deserve better than this. There are so, so, so many men in the world who won't treat you like this.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:02 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Tension Building

Abuser starts to get angry
Abuse may begin
There is a breakdown of communication
Victim feels the need to keep the abuser calm
Tension becomes too much
Victim feels like they are 'walking on egg shells'


Any type of abuse occurs (physical/sexual/emotional)


Abuser may apologize for abuse
Abuser may promise it will never happen again
Abuser may blame the victim for causing the abuse
Abuser may deny abuse took place or say it was not as bad as the victim claims


Abuser acts like the abuse never happened
Physical abuse may not be taking place
Promises made during 'making-up' may be met
Victim may hope that the abuse is over
Abuser may give gifts to victim

posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

Well i think you should dump and run, but since you want to try a different approach then I would suggest that when you are both not angry or frustrated you ask him to talk and present your come to jesus manifesto regarding how he must stop this or you will leave. If thath makes him angry, leave. If he refuses to talk, leave. If he's sarcastic, leave. If he recognizes your feelings are valid and he is a manbabydouche then you can consider for a few minutes whether you should leave or stay, but you should probably still leave (a feel like you just did a net good by calling him out on this behavior). Also, if you can't think of a good time to have such a talk because he's always angry, then skip teh talk and leave.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:09 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreed: Until he wants to change, you can't help him. And it's hard to argue you should stay.
Is it worth another effort at calm discussion? I don't know. Surely you're not the only person who's seen this; surely he's not completely oblivious to it.
If he wants to change, he might do well to consider that irritability and anger can be symptoms of depression. They're not the first symptoms that come to mind, so D is easily misdiagnosed. But there are some effective medicines for D and its symptoms.
Whatever the cause, getting at it while still young can potentially avoid a lifetime of pain for all parties.
Good luck.
posted by LonnieK at 8:21 AM on April 23, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses. This relationship looked a lot different after I read them.

I told him about the way I had been feeling. His first reaction was to say, "I don't know if there's anything I can say. I didn't know this was a problem. Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells." He apologized, and I told him that from now on I was going to tell him whenever he did this (he said he wouldn't know when it was happening). But it seemed like he was acknowledging the problem only to the extent it took to make me forgive him.

Yeah, we live together. I feel safe. The lease is in my name. I get a few free therapy sessions every quarter at my university, so I'm going to do that today. Then I'll try to figure out what to do.
posted by a sourceless light at 8:34 AM on April 23, 2014 [13 favorites]

See what he did there? You told him your concerns, and he flipped it around on you to make him appear the victim. He does not give two shits about your feelings, only about how they reflect on him.

When the lease is up, move into a new apartment without him.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:40 AM on April 23, 2014 [74 favorites]

His first reaction was to say, "I don't know if there's anything I can say. I didn't know this was a problem. Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells." ... But it seemed like he was acknowledging the problem only to the extent it took to make me forgive him.

That is exactly what it was. After my bad first marriage, one of the rules in my current marriage is that we don't apologize for something and then justify it: the "I'm sorry, but" rule. We can't say, "I'm sorry that I yelled at you, but I was really mad about this other thing." Saying "I was really mad about this other thing. I'm sorry that I took it out on you," is infinitely better.

That's what he did: "I'm sorry that I yell at you, but it's going to make me feel bad all the time if I don't let myself yell whenever I want to."

I said above that it's possible for him to change, if he wants to. He doesn't want to yet.
posted by Etrigan at 8:41 AM on April 23, 2014 [33 favorites]

His first reaction was to say, "I don't know if there's anything I can say. I didn't know this was a problem. Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells."

When I read this, I rolled my eyes back so far that I got eyeball cramps. You told him that his anger and externalizing made you feel bad and his reaction was to say that YOU are making HIM walk on eggshells? UGH. Just NO.

So many abusers use the "See what you made me do!" line to control their partners. Abusers have a streak of self-pity a mile wide, and a streak of self-righteousness TWO miles wide. His reaction of self-pity and externalizing in response to you bringing up a problem in your relationship is ominous.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:46 AM on April 23, 2014 [58 favorites]

"I don't know if there's anything I can say. I didn't know this was a problem."

These two things are not...I mean, no. If you genuinely don't realize you do a thing that makes your partner feel bad, then when you are alerted to the problem, your first response ought to look more like "Oh god, I had no idea! I'm so sorry - I would never want to make you feel [bad thing]!" and then a plan for how to not make you feel a bad thing in the future ever again. Not "Now let's make this about me and my needs."

Also, sorry, but you noted in your question way up at the top that you had spoken to him about this before, and he's denied he shouts and says you're exaggerating. So he's full of shit when he says he didn't know this was a problem.

Or, worse: He really doesn't think it's a problem - for him. It's your problem, he thinks, and so he shouldn't have to be the one to work to make it not a problem.

It doesn't sound to me like your come-to-Jesus made him see the light at all. Go take advantage of your counseling sessions by all means....and make a plan to move out.
posted by rtha at 8:48 AM on April 23, 2014 [37 favorites]

Wow, this could not be more textbook, and I'm so sorry.

While things are calm for you, suggest that he move out, with all of his stuff, until you both "work on this."

You say you feel safe. You really shouldn't. When you go for therapy tell the therapist, "My boyfriend has anger issues, I tried x, y and z. A bunch of people on the internet said it looked like abuse, I don't want to believe that, but I'm willing to consider it. What is YOUR opinion?"

Then tell the therapist what you've told us. Listen thoughtfully to the answer. Talk to your friends, the shame of this keeps people hidden, "Carl has been taking out his anger on me in verbally abusive ways. It built up over time and now I'm wondering if I should leave him. It's a big step and I've not made any decisions. I'm not looking for you to tell me what to do. For now, I want you to know about it, and I'd like to know that you'll support me, if things get worse, not better."

Now, think about what you'd do if a friend of yours came to you with that information. Think aside and apart from what you know about your BF, and look at it dispassionately.

You know what you want to do. You have my permission to do it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:03 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Regardless of whether or not I think you should DTMFA, you should figure out what your boundaries are. Boundaries are different than an ultimatium. An ultimatium is "if you do/don't do X, then I will do Y" Boundaries are "I will not be around X. If X happens, I will do Y." Ultimatiums depend on someone else changing their behavior, whereas boundaries are all about you and your behavior.

So take some time when he's not around, and when you're not upset, and figure out exactly what is and is not okay behavior for you. Also figure out how you will change your behavior when your boundaries are crossed. For example, you say to yourself "I cannot tolerate being around someone who is so angry that they throw things. When that happens, I will go to Starbucks for an hour." Then when you're in the moment, you don't have to stop and think – just follow the plan.

You can either tell him "look these are my boundaries" or not. You don't have to tell anyone else in order for them to be effective. In my case, I did need to tell him because otherwise I would think "oh he'll wonder where I am, I can't just leave." And when I told him I felt like I was setting a reset button. Like all the stuff that I would have tolerated before, I was going to act differently now. Saying it out loud made it more true.
posted by lyssabee at 9:08 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Thank you for the update. I'm so glad you are still here and taking in this information. I know it may feel like a pile-on but I swear it isn't. We are piling under you to support you and let you know you are doing the right thing. Your actions are not unreasonable. You are not asking anything unreasonable of him.

"I didn't know this was a problem."

Even if that were true, that he can't see how he is treating you, you have told him. Repeatedly. In many different ways. And he wasn't willing to listen.

he said he wouldn't know when it was happening

Then he should be on the lookout for it. It's called a search image. If you have a picture in your head of what you are looking for, it's that much easier to find it.

"I don't know if there's anything I can say."

Well, that's probably true. There probably isn't anything he can say. Now is the time for him to do something to fix his problem.
posted by Beti at 9:12 AM on April 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

Thanks for the update. I am not here to demonize this guy because that doesn't help. But...

You should get him out as safely as you can. Soon. Really soon, because your update is alarming:

His first reaction was to say, "I don't know if there's anything I can say. I didn't know this was a problem. Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells."

This is classic abusive/gaslighting behavior.

You have said this was a problem before.

But according to him, he didn't know this was a problem.

He needs to walk on eggshells around you because you're so reactive and irrational, right? Who knows what will set you off?

I cannot tell you strongly enough, that this is the kind of mindfuck that many of us, myself included, lived with for years.

I told him that from now on I was going to tell him whenever he did this (he said he wouldn't know when it was happening).

Please consider this. He wouldn't know when he was yelling and slamming around the house and behaving in an irrational and frightening way? It's your job to tell him this? While he's a the moment of yelling and becoming increasingly frightening, you're supposed to step in and say, "You're doing it again?"

No, no, no. Please show this entire thread to the therapist. Please make safe plans to get him out of your home as quickly and safely as you can.

This guy is trouble.
posted by kinetic at 9:30 AM on April 23, 2014 [29 favorites]

I see others have already jumped all over this, but:

"I don't know if there's anything I can say. I didn't know this was a problem. Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells."

This is textbook. If I remember right, there's like an entire chapter (section of a chapter?) on this in the standard MetaFilter book recommendation in these threads (Lundy Bancroft). Basically, the theory goes, if someone assumes they have the right to dominate others, any attempt to stand up to them goes against the natural order of things. Someone gently verbally stands up for herself, but the abuser claims that now she is "shouting" because her words are so much louder than (in his view) they should be (ie, silent).

I understand that this conversation feels like progress. Maybe it is. But beware that progress can be illusory. And this "progress" came at a lot of effort to you (posting this question, preparing to go to therapy, now having to be the one to point out when he does these things) and not a lot of effort from him. He is the one who needs to change if* this relationship is going to work. So if the majority of effort doesn't come from him, it ultimately won't work.

* I say "if this relationship is going to work" because I would respectfully suggest that you also need to "change," in learning how to be who you want to be while not putting up with things like this. I'd put your effort in that direction, not into fixing things with him. You both have your own work to do (as do we all, in our own ways); don't let his obvious need for work distract you from your own.
posted by salvia at 9:35 AM on April 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

His response was not indicating progress because it is continued manipulation. This is classic abuser stuff he is doing, and all signs point to "This is going to get worse".

Please. Do NOT take him at his word.
He knew it was a problem because you told him repeatedly. And sorry, but it would be even MORE scary if he was telling the truth, that he really didn't know when it was happening. I think that is a crock of shit, I think he knows, but imagine if that were true. He was flying in to a rage and having no idea he is doing it. What if there was a child and he flew in to a rage "without knowing it". And seriously, if he really "didn't know" when he was doing it, what the fuck does he think is going to happen when you tell him the next time it happens? Do you think he is going to stop, calmly say "Oops, my bad" and then calm down?! God, I hate this guy so much for how he is treating you and manipulating you.

Worst (but predictably) he is now trying to make you feel bad for letting him know. Think about this. HE has been acting abusive towards you and he thinks YOU should feel bad about it.

Please. You do not have a future with this person. End it. This is not a healthy relationship. Have a friend be present when you end it, just in case he gets violent.

Be safe.
Protect yourself.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:45 AM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I agree that this is obvious enough that just breaking up makes the most sense.

But assuming you don't, then the next time he does something, don't just gently point out "see? this is that thing?" as if asking him to take your feelings into consideration. Take a stronger stance and tell him this isn't acceptable to you: "this is that thing I was describing. I'm not going to be around this. You can stop or I will leave." Then when he doesn't quickly stop and apologize, throw on your street clothes, grab your coat and book bag, and leave. Don't get sucked into a long conversation about it. If he says "you're exaggerating" or "well what am I supposed to do -- be happy when you leave water in the sink??? throw a wet sink party!?!?" just repeat "I'm not going to be around you when you're like this" and get up and leave.
posted by salvia at 9:50 AM on April 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

Oh, and stay gone for awhile. Don't just ruminate on what happened. Do something fun and distracting. Go to the movies. Show yourself that Not Putting Up With His Anger = Much More Fun.
posted by salvia at 9:52 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had another thought. It's not your job to tell your boyfriend when he's crossing a line, nor is it up for discussion. Simply leave. Have a place to vacate to.

When he starts yelling, or hitting things, or fussing like a three year old, grab your purse, and a pre-packed totebag of things you'll need, and get out. Go to a friend's, go to a motel, go to a Starbucks, whatever makes sense. Don't tell him you're leaving, don't warn him, don't pussy-foot around. Just grab, and go.

This shouldn't be negotiated, or discussed or pointed out. Because you're not responsible for him, you're responsible for yourself. You've explained once, what the problem is, that's all a person in graduate school should need. After that, it's all on him to behave well.

He may even test your boundaries, to see if you're serious about it. That's why you have to be consistant. EVERY TIME!

I think if it happens more than twice, YOU'LL be the one making the change. I sure hope so.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:05 AM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

That response is so, so familiar to me (and indeed, to many victims of domestic abuse). "I'm really sorry I hurt your feelings. I had no idea. You should have told me sooner. How could I have known I was hurting you if you didn't speak up? Next time I do this you should do X." The next time I would follow his directions and he would say "Oh well I didn't know you should have done Y instead." And the time after that it would be a third thing, and then if we didn't loop back he would tell me that I never let anything go, and how could I be so unforgiving, and love is about letting the little stuff slide. After all, he loved me, didn't I love him back? The manipulation was so insidious that it took years for me to recognize it for what it was. And it took full advantage of the cultural baggage about a woman's role in a relationship to smooth over hard times, about forgiveness, about compromise. But the problem was that everything always flowed in one direction. And it took me so long to see that.

When I finally started standing my ground (with the help of an excellent therapist) he would tell me how difficult I was being, how hard it was to live life in constant fear of my criticism. How lonely his childhood was. He used every critique, every concept we discussed in therapy back in my face. If I told him that my feelings had value too and needed to be addressed, then he would use those words to shut off future conversations because his feelings demanded that we didn't talk about things. If I tried to enforce boundaries then he had a get out of jail free card because I didn't' make my boundaries clear to him that lying was bad and that gaslighting wasn't okay in a relationship. His defenses didn't have to make sense or be consistent with previous things he had said (and in fact, it was another strike against me that I was pursing these contradictions instead of letting them be).

I'm sorry to tell you this, but the most likely outcome is that he's going to continue to push back and make your attempts to fix this relationship into your problem. The power imbalance is so great now that any tilt towards normalcy will feel to him like the ground is collapsing underneath him. In my experience, after the wounded bird routine will come tantrums, and bolder lies and manipulations because he has less to lose. If you back down on pursuing this, he will know what he needs to do to quiet you, and he will add those tools to his arsenal to be used against you in the future. Every future conversation will be even more difficult and more emotionally scarring.

Worse, if you don't back down on pursing this, when he is convinced that the two of you will never return to the happiness where he calls all of the shots and gets all of his needs catered to, things will likely get even worse for you. That will be the point where you are most vulnerable. Every weapon in his arsenal — the embarrassment, the anger, the denial, the gaslighting, will be used against you with no regard for collateral damage. You may find yourself emotionally compromised into severe depression, afraid for your life, the victim of an aggressive slander campaign that costs you any support you have from friends and family. He may even make a show of leaving you and flaunting a new relationship while you are left reeling and with no support from friends who will tell you that you're "better off".

Leaving an emotionally abusive relationship is extremely difficult because by the time you are aware of the extent of the damage you have already been so compromised that normal isn't normal anymore. His rationales and defensiveness and manipulation have already taken root in your brain and they will continue to conjure up doubts for a long time to come. Many women have already come forth and talked about how those seeds he planted will persist, and how the longer you stay, the more pervasive they become. We write about this and talk about our stories because we've all been where you are, and felt those same things. We all loved our boyfriends and husbands, and that love was the chain that kept us in bad relationships for way too long. You're not even aware of a quarter of the compromises that you make on a daily basis for his happiness. I'm still discovering the ones I made on a regular basis.

You do need his approval, his consent, or his agreement on the existence of these things for you to leave. It was the realization that despite his honeyed words and eyes brimming with tears, my abuser was never interested in understanding my truth that made me walk out the door for the last time and not look back.

You are getting a lot of advice right now and it must feel overwhelming and unfair. I also have a few anonymous questions in my ask metafilter history where I posted about my relationship and proceeded to defend myself against the barrage of DTMFA. They didn't understand our love, our history, our fondness for each other! How could they judge? And when things got worse, I stopped asking the questions because I already knew what the answers would be. And still it was years before I left.

Read this book. Please. I understand exactly the conflict brewing inside you, where you feel like you can't tolerate this anymore but you can't possible conceive of leaving. The authors do not implore you to leave, they don't judge you for the misgivings you have, the love you have for him, or any other emotions you may be feeling. It is a very thorough accounting of what you are going through, what you are feeling, and what he is feeling. It will help you assess if he is serious about fixing your relationship, how to fix your relationship, and what pitfalls to watch out for. If you cannot afford to buy this book, memail me and I will buy a copy for you. You can read it on a kindle or your smartphone with a kindle app, or on Amazon's cloud reader so that no one else need know you are reading it. This book was the definitive guidebook for me and many other women in your situation who were trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. Those doubts, fears, regrets, feelings of shame, guilt, love,...they are all addressed in the book with enormous compassion and no judgement whatsoever.

If you ever need to talk, feel free to contact me. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by hindmost at 10:14 AM on April 23, 2014 [45 favorites]

Thank you so much for the update! Agree with everyone that his response is classic abuse, gaslighting and minimizing ("and now I'm the one who feels like walking on eggshells"? Le fuck?)

Take the thread and show it to the therapist... you might get more helpful advice to help you decide.
posted by Tsukushi at 10:17 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, darling friend. I'm sorry. I just wrote you a very long me-mail about how to gauge his reactions when you try to talk, and about how you don't have to do anything now - just see how he reacts when you try to talk to him. Gauge his reactions and think about how you feel about them. Analyze them.

What he said to you is so classic, so textbook, that I started crying. I can't say much more - it's already been said above. Read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. Like hindmost, I'm happy to buy you a copy if you need me to buy you a copy. Read Should I Stay or Should I Go by Lundy Bancroft. These books should be very helpful. I'm happy to buy any of them for you.

Like hindmost said: "You're not even aware of a quarter of the compromises that you make on a daily basis for his happiness. I'm still discovering the ones I made on a regular basis." Yes. Exactly this.

I had no idea how bad it was until I was far enough away from it to really see it. I didn't even realize how bad it was when I was asking Metafilter how I could "learn to expect nothing and appreciate everything" because I "didn't want to be let down" when he changed his mind about something. Do you know what I was really asking in that question? "How can I prevent him from physically assaulting me again? How? I want it to stop, and I don't know how to make it stop." Except part of me knew that the only answer was "leave" and I wasn't ready to hear it yet. I had to pretty much force myself to leave. It was the worst and hardest thing I've ever gone through, leaving my abuser, but it was also the smartest and best thing I've ever done for myself.

The only way to make it stop is to leave, darling. The only way to make it stop is to leave.

The departmental stuff is difficult. My university has a center for domestic violence that is affiliated with the campus. If yours does as well, consult with them. Just go for a little meeting. Like Ruthless Bunny said above, you can say: "My boyfriend has anger issues, I tried x, y and z. A bunch of people on the internet said it looked like abuse, I don't want to believe that, but I'm willing to consider it. What is YOUR opinion?" Listen. And then say "What can I do to be safe on campus, because we are both students here." In my situation, I decided not to get a restraining order; I talked to my advisor and told her the bare bones of our situation so that if he did end up showing up to my dissertation defense or something that she would know to ask him to leave; and I started asking people to walk with me everywhere so that I would never run into him alone. Those things helped a lot.

Best of luck to you on your journey.
posted by sockermom at 10:22 AM on April 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

When the lease is up, move into a new apartment without him.

No, just move into a new apartment without him if and when you decide you're ready to leave. Don't wait for your lease to be up. And don't tell him your new address.
posted by sockermom at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

OP, I want to thank you for your update. It, and the responses it's gotten, has made me realize that what I was dealing with is probably not an isolated behavior, but rather a pattern that simply didn't have time to emerge, and that's a lesson I will take with me.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:25 AM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

But it seemed like he was acknowledging the problem only to the extent it took to make me forgive him.

Your instincts are telling you something extremely important here. I urge you not to dismiss or explain away this insight, but rather to keep it front and center. Consider deeply what that kind of behavior means for who he truly is (in terms of his core character) and how he regards you and your feelings, needs, and boundaries.

In other words: if he acknowledged the problem only to the extent that it took to make you forgive him, what does that say about how much he actually cares for your feelings? How much does he respect you as a separate, autonomous individual (and not just "his girlfriend")? How much empathy and compassion does he have for you as a human being he purports to love? And how much agency and responsibility does he believe he has in behaving appropriately toward you?

I ask these questions not to badger you, or even to suggest that you try to answer them now. But to start re-framing how you look at this situation -- especially in light of your update -- I think these are good topics for getting started, and for discussing with your therapist.
posted by scody at 10:32 AM on April 23, 2014 [15 favorites]

You're both grad students. That means you're smart people, and you're capable of looking at a situation from a lot of different angles. You know each other well. You live together. He hasn't actually hit you yet.

That is a recipe for the headspinningest mindfuck that ever was. Both you and he can spin this a million different ways because you're smart. If you look at it from a different angle, you can think, "oh it's not abuse, it's just..." and come up with an explanation that is plausible to you, because you're smart.

Him knowing you and living with you, and not having hit you yet? He has all the tools he needs to keep you feeling safe but not being safe, without any evidence like a bruise to show yourself to be sure that what you remember really happened.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

And you know, lest you get too caught up in the question of is this or isn't this abuse, it's fine to break up even if the reason is "this is a perfectly good, well-intentioned guy who unfortunately has a habit that annoys the everloving shit out of me" and/or "I feel upset and on edge more than I would like to in a relationship." You don't have to make it the ultimate referendum on whether you're "justified" in leaving him. If the relationship is making you consistently unhappy, go.
posted by MsMolly at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2014 [31 favorites]

"Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells."

Agree with all the comments about this being textbook. I grew up with an angry, abusive parent. Also had a few friends who were prone to this kind of behavior - they probably wanted to be friends with me because I had already been conditioned to put up with it. It dawned on me finally that if I ever dared to bring up how I felt about any of their unpredictable outbursts and constant boundary pushing and whatever.. the conversation always somehow wound up with it becoming my fault for making them feel bad, for not bending over backwards to find the right magic formula to express my feelings in a way that would not ask them for anything or trouble them in any way. Being a normal, healthy person who expressed honest needs/opinions/emotions around them was unacceptable - I had to always mentally exhaust myself getting twisted in knots to figure out the special, toned-down, appropriate way to act just for them, so I didn't threaten them. Of course they thought I was so special and wonderful for trying so hard to defer to them all the time, and they really wanted to hang onto the relationships for that. But the best I could do with these (former) friends was to just distance myself once I saw what was going on, and then walk away for good.

So for your guy.. It took him all of, what, a few seconds to process what you said and get right back to blaming you, didn't it? What he said was, it's not his fault, it's your fault and you made him feel bad. That you being a healthy, normal person around him is just too much for him to tolerate - he's going to have to walk on eggshells because he just can't handle treating another person with respect and behaving like an adult. Get away from this dude.
posted by citron at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2014 [24 favorites]

One of the things that made a lightbulb go on for me, in reading Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft (which was recommended above, and which is a marvelous book), is that an abuser focuses on his needs and your responsibilities, and never the other way around.

Which is exactly what your boyfriend did just now -- sloughed off his responsibilities and your needs in favor of focusing on his needs and your responsibilities.

Even if it's not abusive, it's so lopsided that it'll leave you unfulfilled and empty and exhausted, because it's a relationship dynamic in which both of you are constantly focused on fulfilling his needs and wants and neither of you are ever looking at your needs and wants.
posted by jaguar at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

MsMolly makes a really important point. Whether or not this guy's behaviour is abuse or not is sort of a side topic. A very important side topic, but not one that you absolutely need to engage in when making the choice to end the relationship. The point is that he is behaving poorly, he is consistently taking his anger out on you, and he isn't consistently treating you with caring or respect.

These are reasons to end it, straight up. If you don't want to engage in the "Is this abuse?" debate, fine. Look at the base level facts then. He's a jerk and he is even a jerk about being a jerk. Is he okay sometimes? Sure. But the fact remains he has a whole lot of jerk in him and he doesn't care that it is upsetting you. This guy does not deserve a second chance. Maybe you a rationalizing and justifying his rage by saying he is stressed over his graduate studies, and maybe that is true, but life is NEVER short on stresses. Never. He is always going to have something that is making him angry, and if he doesn't he will make one up so that he can still be angry and treat you this way. His way of handling stress is hurt the person he supposedly loves and cares about, and he sees nothing wrong with it. He actually thinks YOU are in the wrong for 1) being bothered by it and 2) for having the audacity to point it out to him.

And god help us all the day something truly stressful happens to him, like he gets fired from a job or his car was vandalized.

My relationship litmus test is always this:
Think about how your relationship is RIGHT NOW. Disregard all the things that you think will change or get better, disregard "special circumstances". Look at your relationship as it is today, because in all likelihood this is exactly the way your relationship is going to be (or worse). Think about how it makes you feel, think about what impact it is having on your life.

Now picture being in this exact relationship, unchanged, for the rest of your life. Think about whether you think your life would be better or worse for being in this relationship. Think about raising a family within this relationship, again with the belief that things aren't going to improve between now and then. Think about whether your relationship TODAY is one that you'd want to raise kids in.

Let's pretend I am clairvoyant and I can tell you with absolute certainty that your boyfriend is never going to stop behaving this way. It could get worse, but it for sure is not going to get better. Do you think you would stay in this relationship if you knew that his anger was never going to get better, that he would continue to react and behave this way?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:31 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm glad you're looking at things in a different light. When one is being gas lighted, it's easy to question or fault oneself rather than take a hard look at the actions of the other person.

I'm not feeling sorry for him now that he's having to walk on eggshells, except that he won't be doing that, because that would require him to think of and be aware of the effect his actions and moods has on you, and he isn't at that place and may never arrive there.

So, talk to your therapist, and explain things. You now have some anecdata of what a healthy relationship doesn't look like. Your half of this relationship, and there are no legal entanglements, other than that you share the same roof. I'm glad for you in that regard, and hope you take steps to go after the life you deserve to have.
posted by SillyShepherd at 12:48 PM on April 23, 2014

He responded "I'm sorry you were offended" indicating he thinks his behavior is fine. Leave.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:48 PM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

Okay, I have been this guy. My current partner, who I love dearly, has also been like this. And we have changed, but it took serious work on both of our parts, and we both wanted to change, and it wasn't easy.

We both realized the way we treated each other was a problem, we both made efforts to change it, and we both took it seriously when we upset or hurt each other. We set boundaries, we have tried to stop engaging with each other when the other is angry. No matter how much we love each other, there is behavior that neither one of us should have to put up with from the other, full stop.

So I do think it's possible for someone who is an Angry Dude to become a Not-So Angry Dude, but when I read things like "but often I feel like I'm stepping into his anger accidentally" and how he refuses to acknowledge that his behavior is any way unacceptable, it makes my skin crawl. This is someone who is completely blind to your feelings and is using you as a punching bag.

Part of the way that this cycle of bullshit continues is that he will have you constantly feeling that his anger is your fault, like you must constantly walk on eggshells and adjust your life around avoiding his explosions--which you never will. He will inevitably explode over some stupid shit, and you will blame yourself for not foreseeing it, and you will blame yourself for getting upset, and your whole relationship with revolve around his mood swings.

If you are really committed to trying to salvage this relationship, and I'm not entirely sure you should, you need to tell him this behavior is entirely unacceptable. No arguing about whether or not it's yelling or whether or not he's mad, it's not something you are going to put up with, and if it continues you will leave.
posted by inertia at 1:42 PM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

No arguing about whether or not it's yelling or whether or not he's mad, it's not something you are going to put up with, and if it continues you will leave.

Yes. If you do this, he will probably counter with something along the lines of "are you making a threat?" or "I can't believe you're giving me an ultimatum" -- both of which, of course, turn the situation around where you're doing something wrong, which is designed to make you accommodate him (because you'll want to prove you're not doing anything wrong!) and doubt the legitimacy of your own feelings and decisions.

So be prepared: if he starts manipulating you on this score, shut it down by sticking to your guns -- "It's not a threat, and it's not an ultimatum. It is a statement of fact of the direct consequences of your behavior."
posted by scody at 1:47 PM on April 23, 2014 [28 favorites]

Oh my god. What Scody said times a hundred. I was repeatedly painted as the hysterical, demanding, over-emotional shrew and he was the long suffering boyfriend who tolerated my unreasonable requests for equal treatment and respect. He loved me and we were so good together and why couldn't I ever let anything go? He'd already apologized, so why was I continuing to make such a big deal out of it? (Answer: Because after the apologies the same abuse, lying, and gaslighting kept happening. Apologies without a change in behavior are worthless.) If he made me feel bad it was an accident, or he was careless, or he couldn't really remember the details so I was unreasonable to keep harping on it because he couldn't defend himself. If I made him feel bad by bringing up his abuse then I was the bad guy. I still question my own responses now to hurtful incidents because I don't trust my own assessment of them. In an uncharacteristic moment of honestly he once admitted that his confusion, denial, and forgetfulness were lies designed to end the conversation, and he didn't take our talks or therapy seriously because he knew he was faking his responses, and therefore the advice didn't apply.

He preyed upon my love for him to get out of having to face any consequences for his behavior. Love meant unconditional forgiveness, at least when it flowed in one direction. The first time he actually had to face consequences for his own behavior — when he realized that to behave in an way consistent with how he envisioned himself meant that he had to give up something he wanted— he stomped his feet and raged and threw a tantrum like a toddler denied his ice cream.

Abusers are really good at making your reaction to their abuse seem worse than the abuse. Setting boundaries and allowing him to suffer the consequences of his own actions are not the same as emotional blackmail. Insisting that they are, however, is.
posted by hindmost at 2:47 PM on April 23, 2014 [29 favorites]

Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells.

Good. Don't let this make you feel all bad and apologetic and caretaker-ish because he should walk on eggshells. He should monitor and manage his responses with extreme care and mindfulness until he learns to manage his stress and anger like an adult.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 PM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I spent ten years with someone like your boyfriend twenty years ago and just reading your question has raised my anxiety level like you wouldn't believe. If you think you don't like this, imagine him treating your children like that.
posted by InkaLomax at 3:27 PM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

It is a statement of fact of the direct consequences of your behavior.

I really like the phrasing of this - like an If-Then statement.

If BF=anger, Then GF=leaving.

Less emotional; more clinical. As in there is no other outcome to him not controlling his emotions:(Uncontrolled) Anger=Alone. It makes his situation something that is a direct result of his behavior. More "this is what happens" and less "this is her reaction". This isn't about the OP's response (which in his head can be written off as her overreacting) and more about this the way the world works.
posted by Beti at 3:29 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

So this guy needs someone else to let him know when he is being an abusive asshole?

I'm going to be ridiculously nice here and just say he is not boyfriend material. It's HIS job to control his own temper and this is a very basic skill he lacks.

You are not doing him a favor by staying with him, either. In fact, your leaving him could teach him a very valuable lesson, although I frankly doubt it. He'll probably think it's all your fault for not surrendering to the role of Jiminy fucking Cricket or something.

I just can't convey to you what a self important, insensitive response I think this is.
posted by Tarumba at 3:44 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is being covered pretty well by others, but I do have one comment on this:

I'm really puzzled by how this guy who has always been so sweet and thinks it's important to talk about emotions can also be someone who repeatedly denies what I see as a major aspect of his emotions and behavior.

No one can be an asshole 100% of the time. That shit's exhausting. Everyone is nice every now and then, if only for the variety. So he's nice. Great. Everyone is nice some of the time. How are they at their worst?

Now I feel like I'm going to be the one walking on eggshells.

I face-palmed myself so hard I think I loosened a tooth. He's going to be walking on eggshells... why, exactly? To avoid your perfectly normal reaction to his being a dick? He's scared that if he blows up at you, you might call him on it? Poor guy. How will he survive?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:44 PM on April 23, 2014 [20 favorites]

But it seemed like he was acknowledging the problem only to the extent it took to make me forgive him.

Trust yourself. That's what you heard? That's how it is.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:12 PM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

My now-husband had anger issues. He took me seriously when I told him his yelling was a problem and that it was going to drive me away from him. Within ten days of that conversation, he had asked his friends for recommendations for a therapist, found one, and started weekly therapy sessions. Over the next 5 years, his outbursts dropped from every 3 days, to once a week, to once every 2 weeks, to once every 3 weeks, and so on.

The only reason I stayed was that his behaviour improved, consistently. Around year 5, I realized that it had been months and months since I'd felt like I needed to walk on eggshells. Maybe a year after that, I felt like I was safe from the eggshell-walking feeling! What a relief! (We have a normal relationship now, but even so...mentally, those years cost me. A lot. The stress of both his anger and my graduate degree -- in the end I couldn't deal with both simultaneously, and his anger took longer than my program's time limits, so I never did complete my degree and I still feel like shit about that.)

1. He acknowledged and owned the fact that his anger was making me unhappy, 2. He did something (therapy) about it immediately and stuck with it for the long term, 3. His behaviour CONSISTENTLY improved -- no "He was sweet for a while, but then he got worse again, and then he was sweet again and swore he'd improve, but then..." bullshit, 4. He has a brain injury, so he has actual physiological, bona fide reasons for poor impulse control and a not-great memory. But he never used that or any other reason to excuse his yelling, or to blame or gaslight me. Instead, he took responsibility for his anger and learned how to express it appropriately.

One person (you) canNOT make this relationship work, all by yourself. He can't do any heavy lifting when he insists that there's nothing to lift. Or when he claims that you pointing out, "Hey, your yelling is a problem," is going to make him feel like he has to walk on eggshells. (!)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:08 PM on April 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

My last ex had anger management problems like you've described, and we had many heart-to-hearts about it in which he would vacillate from promising to try harder to be nice to blaming me for bringing out the anger in him. You sort of get used to the cycle so that it doesn't seem that bad anymore. You don't realize how often you're holding your breath in anxiety just because he happens to be home. You start doing or saying less of the things that make you uniquely you, even though those things are perfectly acceptable and no one else has ever mentioned being offended before. You don't even realize you're changing yourself. *I* didn't even realize how much I was doing it until I was snapped at one time too many for absolutely nothing, and I finally left. The freedom after was exhilarating, though it took me some time to get used to being "allowed" to be a human being. My current partner of the last 1.5 years treats me wonderfully. If I had put up with the bullshit much longer, I might not have met him. Set yourself free. No one deserves to be someone else's dart board.
posted by Gee, June! at 5:26 PM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

The anger I could maybe live with, but the lack of self-awareness is a deal killer. Also, making you responsible for monitoring his bad behavior ("I don't know when it's happening") plus turning it into a situation where he's the one to worry about ("now I feel like I'm walking on eggshells") is very off-putting. If he was my boyfriend, AND I genuinely believed he was interested in my feelings, AND he wanted to know how to monitor his behavior and expressed real interest in changing his behavior, then I might go to couples' counseling with him. But honestly from your description it doesn't sound like he wants to know about or change his behavior -- even though you've told him in multiple ways that it makes you feel bad.
posted by feets at 11:17 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, there are so many good comments, but I just wanted to make sure you saw this one from hindmost. (I can't believe it doesn't have like 50 favorites already.)
posted by salvia at 1:10 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why are you subjecting yourself to someone who treats you this way?

You absolutely, one hundred percent deserve and can have a partner who does not take their anger out on you.

I hate to be so blunt, but you have two very toxic relationships right now - one with your boyfriend and one with yourself. I've been there. While I was in graduate school. It's hard to admit how utterly unhealthy such a thing is when you're wrapped up in it, but nothing about this situation is okay.

You are not safe. Walking on egg shells? Not safe. Being the target of angry outbursts? Not safe. Being yelled at? Not safe.

You want to know what safe feels like? It feels like trusting yourself to enforce boundaries that affirm that you know your worth. Safe feels like being calm, at peace and joyful in your home. Safe feels like knowing your partner listens to and respects you, completely. Safe feels like a warm blanket of cozy love. Safe feels like breathing easy, being relaxed. It doesn't feel anxious, nervous, on edge or afraid.

You need to acknowledge that what you're experiencing is neither okay nor safe. Even if you aren't prepared to label it "abuse", you need to get very clear on the fact -- the *fact* -- that you what you feel when he gets angry with you is *not* safe.

It is your responsibility to take care of yourself and create a safe environment for your mental, emotional and physical well-being. You're already well on your way to acknowledging that changes must be made. But it's not your boyfriend that needs to change*. It's you.

*of course he needs to change - but you can't change him and his anger issues are NOT your problem to solve. You can only control your decisions and boundaries about what is and is not acceptable for you.
posted by Gray Skies at 7:45 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have not been where you are. I have a loving husband who is good to me, doesn't put me down in front of ohers, doesn't look at other women, yell at me when things are going wrong, etc. But I DO have a friend who has been where you are. Like your boyfriend, he blamed others and particularly, low blood sugar. SHE was supposed to have a spoon and a jar of peanut butter available at any given moment. As soon as SHE saw he was angry, she was supposed to feed it to him. When she didn't have it, it was then her fault he was angry. It was also her fault that she did not feed him before he got angry. As though he was a little child who didn't know when he was hungry.

And I see that your boyfriend is doing the same thing, twisting things so that you have to tell him when he is angry. You can't win at this. You will never be able to tell him in time for you to prevent anything, you will only be able to tell him after the fact, and he will blame you for not predicting and reading his mind.

I am sorry for you that he is a manipulator. There are good men out there, after you have a chance to recover from this, I hope you find one of them. Just to prove to yourself that they are out there. But really, you are a smart, strong woman, and you don't really need a man unless being with him enhances your life and adds to the happiness that you already have.
posted by 101cats at 9:03 PM on April 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

So, I was that guy. I still am, but 1% as much, so it's possibly not a lost cause.

That said, you need a strong intervention, and he needs to take it seriously, or it's not going to change.

*That* said, I'd suggest against the word "shouting/yelling" to mean "snapping/angry". Shouting and yelling are *loud* things, and he's probably focused on the *loud*, which he likely isn't (at first?) You're focused on the angry, which he certainly is. But by using a word that gets him to focus on the loud, it's immediately slammed into a semantic argument, which isn't helping. If he's angry... probably walk off, until something changes first.

Anyways, what worked for me was three-fold:
- I gave my girlfriend something to tell me when I was upset, that was kind of a trigger-phrase. If she said it, it didn't matter if she was right, or if I was right, but *did* matter that I stop what I was doing, step back, and *silently* consider why she'd just said that. I agreed to let her do it until she abused it. It's been years; she hasn't been wrong.
- When I was angry, I blamed a lot of stuff on others. Learning to pause before reacting was crucial. Which is, oddly, what meditation *is*. As it turns out, instead of some hippy-dippy ridiculousness, meditation is a long tradition of practicing focus, self control, and the ability to step back (or at least pause before acting.) Looking up the least-new-age meditation resources I could find helped quite a bit. The app Headspace was a good start.
- It took awhile to mostly fix myself. To get the breathing room to do so before my relationship completely fell to hell and back, I changed a few things in my life to remove the stress. For whatever that means for your SO, it's likely a good idea; if that means more sleep (or regular sleep!), or regular meals, or whatever takes the top 5% of the edge off, it's worth doing while establishing better habits, immediately.

That said, they have to want to change, and they have to take it seriously... or nothing's going to work, no matter how well intentioned. If they're not willing to have a serious chat, hit the road; while not every time is a good time for this conversation, if there are conversations you *cannot* have while in a relationship, that really is a dealbreaker. If they don't care for you enough to put anger aside when they're not already angry, there's really nothing you can do here.

Dunno; glad to answer questions, if you ping me.

Good luck!
posted by talldean at 10:55 PM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was with Angry Dude for two years before I ended the relationship. I wonder if the "safe" that you feel with him is more like "familiar." Sure was for me.

There is a better way, and we don't have to do it alone.
posted by macinchik at 11:22 PM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

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