Please help me understand this communication issue with my husband.
May 25, 2014 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I am feeling upset about an exchange my husband and I had the other day. We have had communication issue in the past, because we have drastically different styles o expression. He had trouble controling anger and he lets his frustrations show often in his actions. Nothing violent, but a lot of huffing and puffing and frustrated sighs & sometimes slamming things a bit firmer that necessary. He knows he does this & tells me that it is just how he is, despite the fact that I have told him that it makes me uncomfortable. He thinks I read his actions wrong. They are usually not directed at me, so maybe I am too sensitive (although no one else puts me on eggshellslike this.)

So the example in question is this:
We are working on something together, and he is frustrated that I might not be doing it right. We were approaching a dinghy dock to tie off to, in the past when doing this, I have needed to grab on to another boat to pull it out more so we can fit in. Once in a while I let go too soon, I'm not perfect, and sometimes my grip isn't right or the boats are wet. We do this a lot. So upon approaching the dock I reach for another boat, & my husband rapidly repeats "don't let go of it!" 3 times. I get annoyed because I know what I 'm supposed to do & don't feel the repetition was completely necessary. In the meantime, a gentleman is walking past on the dock and iffers to help. My husband quickly responds "no, we're fine, we're fine!" I feel he said this in a snippy and rude manner. So I get quiet, and continue to tie off & unload things on to the dock. Yes, I am annoyed, and I am getting things wrapped up in a hasty manner. The husband askes harshly "What the F#%k is wrong with you??!" I say I think he is in a frustrated mood based on his tone & say I will not discuss while he is in this mood. He says I am incorrect, and thay he was not rude at all & I am interpreting this whole thing wrong.

So today, I say that I am upset with the way he talked to me, specifically the "what the F$%k is wrong with you?!" part. He says "sorry, but...." basically explainig that I am again reading into this & should know he does not intend this. I said, then just say you are sorry, with out the "but..." and went on to say that I do mot like to be talked to like that, & that I feel he needs to control his anger before he swears like that to me. I still never received a genuine acknowledgement that the question was inappropriately worded, an am left feeling like this whole situation is my fault because I read things wrong. For the record, I have never had an issue with misreading things, I am a good and calm communicator, and I have never been spoken to in that tone or manner by anyone else, ever.

So Mefi community, please tell me what the heck is going on here, and what I'm doing wrong? Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Your husband is behaving like a passive-aggressive jerk and refusing to own the emotions he is expressing, which apparently include contempt. I'm sorry to say.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:34 AM on May 25, 2014 [51 favorites]

I am also a blower-upper, and have had trouble in the past with people who think I'm blowing up at them instead of at my frustration. This is on me, so my therapist has helped me to realize that my release can be somewhere not in front of people, as long as it's kind of loud and shocking. I love to drop a heavy book on the floor, because it goes "BANG!" and it's a big release of energy. I can do this in the basement (cement floors for the win!) and my partner knows that this is my way of expelling all the pent-up GRAR at whatever, and I tell him that I'm going to go do that.

The key is to communicate. I don't think you can change someone's need for frustration/anger release (I go from 0 to 60 in my tension, but then back from 60 to 0...I've come to realize that if I wind up in front of someone, I'll often leave them in the state that I used my explosion to get out of by exploding in front of them while I'm fine afterward), but you can change the way you do it. You need to be able to communicate to figure out a good strategy, though, and "I'm sorry, but..." isn't going to get you there.

I would encourage you to find a time when he HASN'T been in a stressful situation (i.e., not defensive about something he just did) to talk this out. He can have his coping style, but he shouldn't use his coping style to belittle, anger, or scare you.
posted by xingcat at 7:41 AM on May 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

From the way you tell the story, and especially that it was left unresolved, it sounds like you two could benefit from some couples therapy.
posted by gillianr at 7:43 AM on May 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

You're doing nothing wrong, at all. Your husband has an anger management problem and he needs to deal with it; I think seeing a couples counselor who specializes in communication problems like this would probably be helpful. Boats, of course, are one of the great provokers of unnecessary grumpiness. My guess would be that the particular incident you described was greatly exacerbated by the (entirely well-meaning) third-party guy who offered to help. Your husband will have taken that (perhaps subconsciously) as directly impugning his capability and this, in turn, will made him defensive and angry.

I think the thing you need to do is just to sit down and tell him that you understand that he doesn't intend to be bullying or hurtful, but that when he gets worked up in this way and becomes snippy and belligerent it just makes you miserable, and that you're just not going to be able to enjoy doing things like sailing together and so on unless he's willing to work on changing his communicative style. I suspect that he knows he's being an ass and that he feels at least a little shamefaced and guilty that he allows small things to get him riled up in this way, so he'll also feel defensive and angry when you suggest he needs to work on it: but by the same token there'll be at least a part of him that knows he needs to and would like to be able to approach these sorts of situations with more equanimity.

Good luck. I think the main thing, in the end, is to be clear about what you need and not to buckle under. If he wants to keep doing fun stuff together, he needs to learn how to make it fun for both of you. If he's not willing to do that, then you shouldn't be willing to participate either.
posted by yoink at 7:44 AM on May 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

For more detailed diagnosis, and also the kind of prognosis that may help motivate your husband to get his act together, you might start with John Gottman's Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Gottman's explanations can be stupidly based on evolutionary psychology, but those are easily skipped. More useful features include quizzes, exercises (mostly kinda fun), and lots of numerical evidence that it is in your husband's personal best interest to change his behavior (e.g. the statistical benefits of marriage, and the odds, based on close observation followed by long-term tracking, that his current pattern will lead to divorce).
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:49 AM on May 25, 2014

Totally not a communication issue at all. He is being a childish, abusive asshole throwing tantrums and has clearly accustomed himself to giving his anger free rein so as to pressure people into getting what he wants, while convincing himself that such manipulation of others into serving his whims is unintentional or accidental because it's "just the way he is."

Putting up with this at all is simply going to coddle him, not be a successful enterprise of cross-bearing over years on your part that will bring him around to treating you with respect and rationality. Either leave him or meet him with as much fierceness and anger as he doles out as if you're two pack animals facing down, if your relationship can handle it and you see any reason to preserve it.

If he loves you and you matter to him he will learn to leash himself. Do not let him treat you, his supposedly most-cherished loved one, ten times worse than he would ever treat a stranger in the same circumstances.
posted by XMLicious at 7:49 AM on May 25, 2014 [27 favorites]

He should have clued up to the “I get quiet” and “I will not discuss while he is in this mood” hints, but it doesn't sound like he's the most receptive of types. You'll need to say — as soon as possible, and preferably in a place where you're out of earshot of other people to prevent blaming/shaming — ‘When you yelled at me at the dock in front of that dude who offered to help, you made me feel embarrassed / incompetent / small; I know you didn't mean to, but …’.

Shouty Man and Silent Treatment Woman have never really been part of the set of effective crime-fighting duos. I'm sorry you're having to deal with this.
posted by scruss at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

meet him with as much fierceness and anger as he doles out as if you're two pack animals facing down

This is astonishingly bad advice. Responding in kind merely escalates the situation and sends the message that he's behaving appropriately (if you both do it it's clearly the "thing to do").
posted by yoink at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

"That's just the way I am" is identical to "I do not care about your feelings enough to want to change." Don't let him get away with that.
posted by Etrigan at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2014 [55 favorites]

"That's just the way I am" is identical to "I do not care about your feelings enough to want to change."

Although I'd be willing to bet there's a strong measure of unspoken "and I'm deeply embarrassed about that aspect of myself" mixed in with that "that's just the way I am."
posted by yoink at 8:00 AM on May 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm curious whether your husband is from the same culture as yourself. The reason I ask is, I recently visited a country where everyone was behaving this way. It made me intensely uncomfortable and I couldn't wait to leave; but I also know that what I was perceiving as aggressive and rude, was, to them, the baseline. It didn't indicate a state of anger or contempt. It was a cultural norm.

So what I'm saying is, I'm with you -- for people who weren't raised this way, this sort of behavior is alarming and off-putting. But before jumping to the conclusion that your husband is expressing contempt with this behavior, I'm asking whether there could be a cultural or familial component. Do you know his family? Is this how they act? Because if it is, your understanding of the problem may be different from "he needs to grow up and behave the way I like, which people like me think is the normal way." I'm not saying you have to put up with it either way; but the framing may be different. It's probably easier to identify a behavior as a cultural thing that needs to be changed to accommodate one's wife's culture, than it is to identify it as a personality defect.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:23 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

You didn't do anything wrong. What your husband did is not ok, and is more than a communication issue.

Someone who says "What the fuck is wrong with you?" to their partner, and doesn't later offer a heartfelt apology with no "but"s .... Well, I think that's a person who just doesn't care about their partners feelings.
posted by Asparagus at 8:41 AM on May 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would have grave, grave reservations about a relationship with a partner who would say "What the fuck is wrong with you." Doubly so for something as minor as sometimes being a little clumsy about tying up a boat. It's not like you were murdering puppies, shooting up heroin in the bathroom, or blowing your joint retirement savings at the slots.
posted by Andrhia at 8:54 AM on May 25, 2014 [18 favorites]

If I read the OP correctly, "What the fuck is wrong with you" refers to her silent behavior, after the boat is tied up. (Not to say that such reservations wouldn't be warranted, either way.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:59 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think that, as obvious as it can be once you do understand it, some people don't instinctively grok why it's not okay to give a "sorry, but" response when their partner says they've done something hurtful. As such, giving your husband the benefit of the doubt, I don't think I'd immediately leap to the assumption that he doesn't care about your feelings - but that doesn't make his behavior any more acceptable.

"I'm just like that" is NOT an appropriate response when you learn that something you do is upsetting to your partner, and neither is it acceptable to foist it off on you by claiming it's your fault for reading him wrong. Being around an explosive, childish adult is stressful, regardless of whether or not they're yelling at you! This is NOT your fault, you are not doing anything wrong, and you are not just being oversensitive. Moreover, "What the fuck is wrong with you" is ABSOLUTELY directed at you (and absolutely unacceptable).

Because you two have had problems with communication before, and because trying to tackle it on your own is only leading to more hurt feelings and inappropriate responses, I think this sounds like a good opportunity for couples' counseling to help you both develop more healthy ways of communicating with each other. Failing that, I would suggest disengaging and walking away any time your husband starts acting out - you can't control him, but you can protect yourself from his outbursts by removing yourself from the situation. This also means no putting yourself in places you can't get out of - no more boat trips until he takes actual steps towards taking responsibility for his own anger.

Define what you need to keep your husband's behavior from causing stress in your life, and then stick to those boundaries. You don't deserve to be walking on eggshells.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:05 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Walk away and completely ignore him whenever he is acting like this.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:06 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would like to repeat Etrigan's comment over and over from the rooftops. It's not that your husband has a "problem" with his anger, it's that he benefits from how things are now and is unwilling to make changes to his behaviors because he wants to keep those benefits. And, to do so, he's concocted all these mechanisms to deflect the responsibility from him to you. You are not reading things wrong, you are not overreacting. He is being an abusive, childish, controlling man-baby and he doesn't want to stop because then he won't get his way.

"An abusive man is not unable to resolve conflicts nonabusively; he is unwilling to do so. The skill deficits of abusers have been the subject of a number of research studies, and the results lead to the following conclusion: Abusers have normal abilities in conflict resolution, communication, and assertiveness when they choose to use them. They typically get through tense situations at work without threatening anyone; they manage their stress without exploding when they spend Thanksgiving with their parents; they share openly with their siblings regarding their sadness over a grandparent’s death. But they don’t want to handle these kinds of issues nonabusively when it involves their partners."
— Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

posted by FirstMateKate at 10:10 AM on May 25, 2014 [21 favorites]

I say I think he is in a frustrated mood based on his tone & say I will not discuss while he is in this mood.

I heard this a lot when I was a kid. It didn't help me to come out of the mood. Actually, it was counterproductive. (One technical term is 'emotional invalidation'.) Your husband isn't a kid, so the moral rules are different; but the same causal rules may apply.

The missus & I struck a deal early on, that has proven vital: we're allowed to have whatever negative emotions we're having, without blame or shame to either party (i.e., no talking about whether or not someone's mood is 'justified'). Often resolution happens more swiftly and completely if we talk about the situation while we're still having the emotions.

Of course, during such times, it's more important than ever not to be harsh or insulting. Last time she swore at me I left the house, got in the car, and went to visit friends. Given the behavior you describe, it's entirely reasonable for you to vacate the scene, in whatever manner available to you, including silence.

I'm just saying that since part of the problem is his refusal to own his moods, it's probably a better idea to treat his moods (vs. his treatment of you) as perfectly legitimate and OK. By legitimate, I don't mean 'justified' -- I mean, these emotions exist and they're real and they don't in and of themselves make your husband someone who should be ostracized.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:31 AM on May 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is relevant, but my usually jovial, genial father turns into an absolute asshole when he's on his boat - he yells, snaps, commands. I think it's a combination of fear - he's afraid of crashing or looking like he doesn't know what he's doing - and, I don't know, Admiral's Syndrome? I stopped going out with him because I got tired of being yelled at. If this is a primary source of tension (rather than just an illustrative anecdote), maybe you guys need a new hobby?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:03 AM on May 25, 2014 [17 favorites]

The person who is supposed to be your partner in life, the person who has promised to love and cherish you, spoke to you with a complete lack of respect. It sounds like he lashes out at you pretty frequently and he's got you believing that you're always in the wrong.

This won't get better unless he sees he has a big problem and wants to change. From your description, this seems unlikely to happen. What I think will happen is that if you stay in this relationship, you'll lose more and more of yourself until you're a cowed, scared person who has no sense of self-worth.

I would consult with a lawyer privately, and then file for a separation. If he wants to stay in the relationship, then he needs therapy first on his own and then with you, but only if you want to try. I think you deserve much better treatment from your partner in life.
posted by Kangaroo at 11:03 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is seriously effed up. Maybe to people who don't know what abusive relationships look like, it would be nothing. But to me, it automatically makes me cringe up and get tense and raise my hackles because I know (in an instinctive muscle memory type way) to expect worse coming down the line. A data point, for what is worth- this is not really just normal stuff. This is probably not an "oopsie" one-time deal. This is seriously concerning, enough to start saving some money of your own and perking up your ears for good divorce lawyers in town type concerning. You don't have to leave, but IMO you have to be prepared for this to escalate and decide NOW what the line is.
posted by quincunx at 11:24 AM on May 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

His behavior is boarish and I would dislike it just as much as you do. It's rude and uncivilized and it sucks that you are expected to tolerate it. Maybe you can find some ways to not let him get away with it, for example by creating consequences for him. If you do things for him that he likes, such as cook, or have sex, or whatever, then refrain from providing those and do it in a way so he knows it's directly tied to his behavior. Emotionally he's acting like a child, and the way to train children to behave properly is to have consequences for bad behavior. This is obviously causing you a lot of grief. It should not have to be this way, you don't deserve that.
posted by Dansaman at 12:56 PM on May 25, 2014

I was in an abusive relationship and stuff like this is way too familiar. For what it's worth, his insistence that it was my job to avoid triggering his abuse coupled with other people's well meaning advice about how I was complicit in the conflict is what kept me in that relationship for far too long. Every time a friend a concerned look on their face asks me how it got so bad, or why put up with it, I want to remind them of every time they or someone like them said that these issues were normal, or cultural, or situational, or that it was well meaning and he was just emotionally clumsy, or that if I just did _____ then it would stop. With someone who is completely unwilling to look at his own part, any one of those things is a chance to push the burden of change on the victim.

Be more tolerant. Speak up when he's being mean (but not too much lest you make him defensive! and not too little or else how can you fault him for not knowing!) Read more books about relationships and learn to compromise (by swallowing your anxiety and hurt so it doesn't start a bigger fight). Find the right time to talk to him about it (if talking about it makes him feel so defensive then the perfect time immediately stops being perfect when the conversation begins). Learn to forgive (the way he makes you feel so constantly on edge that you will look back on it afterwards and not recognize yourself because even the happy moments are tainted with that tension).

This attitude won't get better without him being willing to take a serious look at himself. It's too self serving and he has too much to gain with saying "sorry but" because it stops him from looking at himself and keeps the attention on what you can do to stop or change it. It's not fair and he has no incentive to change the status quo unless the risks of continuing are so great that he loses more by not changing. I don't know if he is abusive or not, but I am telling you that his attitude is very familiar to me. Does anything in this thread seem familiar to you?

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by hindmost at 2:04 PM on May 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

If this kind of exchange happens mostly when you're pulling the boat in, you need to come up with a different method of making that happen. But, honestly, I don't see much to get excited about here - he's trying to do a job that requires physical effort, coordination, teamwork, and luck and he gets frustrated and pissy when things aren't as smooth as he'd like them to be. So - he gets cranky and he curses and slams around a bit. I can only tell you that when I was married and my husband was working on the car, I was a long way away. Same story when he was trimming trees or trying to figure out what was wrong with the lawnmower. I just went away and let him deal with himself. I understand that you can't do that when it comes to getting the boat docked, so you may have to have a good hard talk with him about that - no swearing, no attacking you or ordering you about. Figure out the method and each of you does the part he/she's supposed to do, and that's all there is - or no more boat. He'll get it, I think.

If you ever feel seriously threatened - like he's going to hit you or push you, or even just directly verbally assaulting YOU, that's a different story. Then he does need anger management and you need to visit a domestic violence center for some excellent advice on how to avoid being his target and how to get help with the marriage and with his temper.

I was just realizing that my son is the same way as his father in some ways. I hate - hate - working with him to accomplish something - and so does every girlfriend he's ever had. If we're moving a mattress, for instance, it'll be "Don't PUSH it - just LIFT it" "Damn it - you're PUSHING it again!" "Mom, just follow my lead - don't PUSH" and all I've done is stand there with my hands on the mattress - never pushed it an inch.

We all have to put socks in our mouths when we do something like move. This will probably be offensive, but I just say, "Men!" and let it go at that. I'm sure he says, "Women!" the same way.
posted by aryma at 4:39 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is astonishingly bad advice. Responding in kind merely escalates the situation and sends the message that he's behaving appropriately (if you both do it it's clearly the "thing to do").

If you are astonished by the possibility that an entitled, self-centered person behaving this way could be shocked out of their tantrum by seeing the same posture they're putting on mirrored in another, I think you haven't experienced a very wide range of this sort of personality. I'm not recommending being as impolite or contemptuous as him but that the OP should behave as though he's saying these things in an effort to hurt his spouse—which is what he's trying to do.

Reacting to this kind of aggression as if there's simply been a gaffe or a misunderstanding or miscommunication, once it's clear from repetition that's not the case, or putting on an arched eyebrow at how illogical his emotion is, will encourage him to maintain the illusion that his behavior is somehow in the realm of acceptable for interactions between people when one of them is frustrated or having a bad day. Certainly if the OP finds these exchanges only escalating and becoming more heated he or she should try another approach, but showing justified anger like any stranger would at being treated this way is totally appropriate.

I mean, half the point here is that it is possible to express anger in a polite fashion without swearing and abusing your interlocutor or slamming things and stomping your feet, if he even has any justifiable reason in a situation to direct anger at the OP anyways.

Forget any dickering about whether or not it's technically rude or if it's within or beyond the bounds of etiquette in the context of, er, seamanship as it were: regardless of the circumstances, using these words and treating someone this way is an unambiguous and gratuitous attempt to hurt.
posted by XMLicious at 4:44 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the past, when such situations have arisen, I've been known to pass the rope/the knife or whatever it is that I'm so useless at that I deserve to be abused back to the person yelling at me and say, "Fine, it's all yours then. If you can't talk to me with basic civility, you've inherited the job! And until I get an apology and an assurance you won't talk like that to me again, we won't be boating/cooking/whatever together until you can keep your cool." Then I walk off and leave them to it, they can moor the boat, fix the meal by themselves and if that means they screw up a dinner party or only get half in to the dock, oh well.

This may come off as immature, but I prefer to think of it as actions having consequences and me drawing my own boundaries as to how I will be treated. He talks to you like that because he is allowed to get away with it. Put a stop to that!

The next time they want to do x activity, remind them of their past behaviour and state that if it happens again today, you'll never do it with them again. They don't get repeated chances to act like an asshole. Boundaries and consequences.
posted by Jubey at 5:41 PM on May 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

He enjoys being mean to you more than he enjoys not being mean to you.

You cannot fix this, and it cannot be fixed unless he wants it to be.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:29 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

What you're doing wrong is believing that being in this relationship is preferable to being on your own.
posted by macinchik at 8:58 PM on May 25, 2014

Sounds like he might have issues with anxiety, insecurity, or control. Who cares about some passer-by? Who cares about the dinghy? Isn't the idea to enjoy your time together? Being angry or frustrated is normal, but it has to be channelled towards the right goals.

What can you do? First, one of you has to remain the adult. If you care about this guy, understand that he is probably not happy with his response either and would probably do something different if he knew how. You tell him how. Pacify in the moment. Talk it out later.

Second, you need to communicate. Don't get quiet (I know it's hard). Try to understand where the anxiety or insecurity is coming from and address it at the source. What is it that worries him? Saving face in front of the boat staff? Damage to the dinghy? Deeper frustrations with career or sex?

He has to be willing to explore his feelings with you, otherwise there is no relationship.
posted by soyiuz at 11:26 PM on May 25, 2014

I agree with everyone that his communication sounds overly aggressive and his failure to own up to that is a problem. I want to add, though, that I have someone in my life who uses the silent treatment as punishment regularly, and it's often a precursor to them blowing up at me, with the result that I've become very sensitive to it -- it really feels extremely aggressive to me. I have no idea what's up with your husband, but it's possible that he too feels threatened by any kind of silent treatment and sees it as a kind of punishment or judgment.

Again, it's not to say that he's right, but it sounds like working together to figure out better ways to communicate might solve this problem. A lot of answers above seem to condemn him wholesale or imply that he's abusive. Which is possible. But it may also be that he just really doesn't know how to handle his defensiveness yet. I don't know whether you can get there through couples counseling or otherwise, but at some point he needs to realize that putting your feelings first doesn't need to mean diminishing himself in any way.
posted by egg drop at 12:35 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could try changing how you react to his anger. If you frantically try to appease him by doing what he wants - successfully docking for example, you are encouraging him to use anger to motivate you. Worse, his bad mood is infecting you. It starts with him upset and turns into both of you angry at each other.

So when he gets angry stop doing what he is trying to get you to do and give him your full attention. Don't go back to doing whatever it is until he is no longer angry. It's not about docking the boat. It's about him freaking out over the situation. Just sit still mildly looking at him. If necessary explain that his being angry is making it hard to do whatever so you are waiting until he is not angry to do it. Be patient, give him time to calm down, be friendly and slow and peaceful.

His behaviour is abusive in my opinion.

I'd look into dog training techniques for dealing with an over excitable pet and see if any of them would work. They would be non abusive techniques. The idea is to restore calm to the situation. He probably very much does not enjoy losing his temper. For many people it feels awful to be out of control. So perhaps you could make it his and your priority for him to regain control before anything else happens. Just as you do not put the leash on a dog who is barking and jumping up and down because it wants to go out, you wait until it is sitting quietly. Similarly I think you would be better waiting until he is sitting quietly and relaxed before you try to tie up at the dock.

The paintwork on the dingy is a lot less important than salvaging the relationship. I mean, what use is pristine paint on the dingy if you can't stand going sailing with him? Better to let it get scraped than to reinforce his belief that he can't control his anger.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:22 AM on May 26, 2014

I thought about this question all day yesterday, and it kept me up last night. This might get long, so I'll put the important part up front:

There is no magic formula that you can use to solve this. There is no combination of behaviors you can unlock. There is NOTHING you can do on your own. If he does not sincerely perceive a problem, he will never address it and thus never change. This is how the rest of your life will go until he addresses his anger.

When I read your question, I wondered if I'd somehow slipped into a wormhole and posted it eight years ago. This is how our downward spiral began. It would go like this: something unfortunate happens, like it rains on our picnic. Somehow it's my fault - he'll say, why didn't you check the weather forecast?! I'm upset, but I don't want to escalate his anger so I remain quiet for now. I talk to him later, and he responds with "sorry but... I was mad our picnic was ruined. Don't take it personally." I forgive him, because he's generally a good guy, and it really was frustrating that our picnic was ruined.

These incidents never stopped. From his perspective, they were separate incidents: he got upset, yelled and slammed doors, and then he was over it. For me, it was a cumulative erosion of my self-respect. I came to believe that I really was clumsy and careless. I believed I really was thoughtless and selfish for not understanding why he was angry. For being upset that he was being disrespectful. Why didn't I cut him some slack?! No one's perfect!! Everybody gets angry!! Why am I taking it so personally?! I'm oversensitive, overreacting. I came to never trust my own judgment of a situation.

I became resentful because I felt I couldn't express my own anger. I was afraid of escalation - okay, he hadn't hit me, but he got so angry that I couldn't be sure he wouldn't. I remember telling a therapist "at least he hasn't hit me yet" and her jaw DROPPED. I started keeping my cell phone with me at all times. He never did hit me, before I left him, but living with that constant low-level fear was toxic. He even got angry at me for being afraid!

I feel like there's a lot more you're not telling us here. It's not about a boat or some guy on a pier. This is a pattern, isn't it? This pattern will. not. stop. because he has no incentive for it to. You are absorbing all of his anger; he has no consequences for it. Obviously your discomfort is not incentive enough. Think about that: he is absolutely okay with making you uncomfortable (and probably afraid). He is absolutely okay with disrespecting you. Why would he change? This is "the way he is." Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with a guy who thinks there's something wrong with you?

I bet he's a good guy most of the time, maybe the vast majority. No one would stay with a guy who was yelling like that 100% of the time. My husband was very romantic and generous. He worked hard to provide for us. He was smart and handsome.

I saw those things and I stayed because I had hope that he could be that person all of the time. I thought that if X or Y circumstances changed, it would be alright. I thought I could find some magic combination of behaviors. Maybe he was right and I could be more understanding. Maybe I should yell back, stick up for myself. Maybe I should walk away and let him cool off and when I come back he'll have learned his lesson. Nothing worked, because he did not see that there was a problem. This is just the way relationships were, you know? Hot and cold. I was going to have to learn to live with it.

And I tried to live with it, for years, and it wore me down until one day I'd had enough. I was done. I packed my bags and didn't look back. I didn't realize how much anxiety I was living with until it was gone. I am so relaxed now. I feel so much lighter. I don't have to watch what I say. I don't have to worry that if I drop something, he'll be upset. I feel like I have my life back.

I am not saying you have to leave your husband, or that you necessarily should. If your boat example is a once-a-year event, then maybe it's worth it to you to stay. But I'm guessing you left a lot out of your question, and that this happens far more often. Again, there is nothing you can do to make it better and you are not doing anything wrong.

I don't believe couples counseling is effective in these types of situations because a counselor works under the assumption that both of you share responsibility for the problem and want to work on it. He does not. Can you really open up? Can you completely trust that what you say in counseling will not be used against you after you leave the office? Our counselor missed the abusive patterns and told me that I "push his buttons," either consciously or subconsciously. Even if that were true, his upset did not entitle him to belittle and disrespect me. Couples counseling can be dangerous in abusive situations because being called on the abuse can escalate it.

Man, I could go on forever but I will stop here and tell you that you are welcome to memail me any time, or if you'd prefer not to reveal your username, you can reach me at That goes for anyone in a similar situation. THE OTHER PERSON'S ANGER IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
posted by fantoche at 8:04 AM on May 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

A few more thoughts:

He knows he does this & tells me that it is just how he is

Is he like this with anyone else that you know of? Does he tell his boss WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU when he disagrees? His mom? Then it's not "just how he is," it's how he is around you. He can control it yet he chooses not to, around you. Think about that. You are supposed to be the person he loves the most and yet you are the target of his anger and frustration.

He says I am incorrect, and thay he was not rude at all & I am interpreting this whole thing wrong.

How would he react if anyone else spoke to him this way? Would he accept it? Or would he think they were rude? How would he react if the guy on the dock spoke to you this way? Would he get angry that a stranger was speaking to his wife like that?

maybe I am too sensitive...
I might not be doing it right...
I'm not perfect...
left feeling like this whole situation is my fault because I read things wrong...
please tell me what the heck is going on here, and what I'm doing wrong...

I guarantee you he was "just like this" long before you met, and then it was someone else's fault. It is not yours. You have internalized this, but it is not true. Just because he says something does not make it true. Your feelings and thoughts are just as valid as his.

I suggest reading the comments by women in this thread and see if any of them ring true. Whether or not the abuse takes a physical form, the psychology is the same. We're all made to believe it's our fault, we're all taught to walk on eggshells, we all turn the focus on ourselves and what we're doing wrong.
posted by fantoche at 9:11 AM on May 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

As someone that owns a boat I'm here to say docking can absolutely be a huge pain in the ass. That and "help" from people on shore is almost ALWAYS a bad idea. 99% of the time they have even less of an idea of what needs to be done. Meanwhile you're operating a boat capable of injuring folks and causing considerable damage. For sure, it's stressful.

That said, you can't "un-yell" at people. In this or any other situation, especially not your spouse. That's just a bad plan.

Is it abusive? Let's get a grip folks, climb down off your frantic horse and get some perspective. From what's posted there's not much to go upon, so why drag it all out proportion? It may be, but barring more details who is helped by assuming it is?

What I find works best is to explain ahead of time what I think I'm going to need my passengers to do. And do my best to make that happen. If conditions conspire against me (wind, currents, what-have-you) then I let my passengers know I can't make it work quite yet and we're going for a do-over. Sure, there's a bit of ego involved but I couldn't give a rats-ass what the people on the docks think of how it's going, what matters is whether my passengers and me aren't stressed. It's always better to take a do-over instead of becoming more stressed.

My advice is for the OP to ask for a better way of handling it. And to refuse to participate if he's being an ass about it again. No drama, just hands down, no more help with the boat and a dead-serious stare. The situation is already laden with stress, adding more won't help. If he wants your help (and, trust me, he needs it) then it's going to have to be on YOUR terms. Accept no less.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:46 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

It may be [abusive], but barring more details who is helped by assuming it is?

The poster. If someone had told me that my husband continuing to swear at me even after I told him it was degrading and inappropriate was actually abusive, it would have helped me. If someone had told me that my husband slamming things in anger even after I told him it made me very uncomfortable was actually abusive, it would have helped me.

Partners get angry, yes. Non-abusive partners apologize, sincerely. Non-abusive partners work their asses off to express their anger in ways that don't demean, belittle, or intimidate their partner.

anonymous, you deserve a non-abusive partner.
posted by jaguar at 8:17 PM on May 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

Switch positions in the boat. Or refuse to go boating with him.
posted by at at 5:56 PM on May 29, 2014

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