Couples conflict - how do you fight - your stories?
May 28, 2016 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Hive mind, I'm looking for effective conflict resolution techniques/behaviors. A lot of what is written online seems a little too artificial to work in reality with the different personalities of people. What has worked for you in marital conflicts/arguments and why do you think it works? It is said it's not that a couple has fights but how they fight that matters. Having been in a relationship where one person simply doesn't validate the other person's issues and still expects peaceful co-existence, and the other person has a lot of anger in return, i'm trying to figure out what behavioral changes can we make to improve our conflict resolution. Some more details inside

My partner, I have realized over time is not emotionally attuned to me when I am upset. I have seen him be exactly as sensitive as I need him to be when I'm not expressing anger but he shuts down completely if I get upset, even over the things he has done which he acknowledges would hurt me. He than says my yelling at him about it makes us even. What have been effective ways of repairing such breaches for others?

For my part I concede I have a temper towards him because of a sense of unfairness/imbalance in the relationship. I am also quick to apologize. He sulks for much longer. What are ways for coping with a partner like this, I love him and we were talking marriage recently but our inability to fight well really stands in the way. All relationships have conflict, I have read the Gottman rules, which are instructive but I'm looking for personal experiences for confronting differences in a relationship.

Our main issues have been the preference he shows to overbearing relatives over my needs, differing stances towards our shared profession and his withholding affection after a fight and my escalating anger when he does that. We share many views, body chemistry and do love each other but do get fed up often because we can't resolve conflict effectively. He is very attuned to the way things are said and practically deaf to what is being said. It drives me nuts and I keep repeating myself until I've driven us both mad.

Also I feel like sex is a very good way to maintain intimacy despite other differences in a healthy relationship, but he takes a long time to get over fights and the sulking spills over into bed making matters worse.

I'm not looking for DTMFA advice. Just the different ways of overcoming issues with your significant other. If you find an attitude, a technique - whatever really works for you please share it.
posted by whatdoyouthink? to Human Relations (50 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
One thing to try might be to just control your temper and let him sulk all he wants until he gets tired of it. No matter how long it takes. If he withholds affection just smile and go read a book or something. Based on what you've written he knows it makes you upset and it's the reason why he's doing it in the first place so no need to give him (and yourself) the satisfaction of a big blowout. Then once the manipulation doesn't play out there will be an opening for real talk.

All I know is: it takes two to tango, but it only takes one person to not bother with the steps and ruin the whole damn dance. So no matter how much advice you are given and no matter how much you try- it's not going to result in anything but unhappiness and aggravation for you if he doesn't try as well. Same goes for vice versa. A relationship- No matter what kind of relationship it is- is only as strong as the person who puts the least amount of effort into it. Same as any dance.
posted by manderin at 5:19 PM on May 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

As far as the yelling vs sulking, you need to calmly tell him that you yell when you don't feel like you have his attention and that sulking (or whatever term you use) just confirms your fears. At least when you yell you are attempting to communicate. His withdrawal is as hurtful to you as your yelling is to him. If your yelling makes you even, then his sulking puts him one up again.
posted by irisclara at 5:22 PM on May 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

What are his needs when you're angry? Do you distinguish between anger and yelling? I distinguish between anger and yelling.

It looks like two problems from here. 1) He's not acknowledging your needs through stonewalling. Which leads to 2) You're not acknowledging his when you yell. Maybe this gets on a cycle and then feeds itself. Stonewall --> yell --> stonewall --> yell. You have a dynamic, and I think you will both have to work hard to break that cycle.

Have you asked him how he thinks he should solve the stonewalling?

Is yelling when he stonewalls getting you the love and affection you need? Practice psychological self-soothing.

My partner and I have been together for six years. One thing we do is we have both gotten pretty good at noticing whether we're hungry/tired/cranky/etc. and/or whether this is an actual issue. If it's an actual issue, does it need to be solved right now? Sometimes (for example) the very next thing that happens is dinner. It helps.

I think the number one thing we both do is acknowledge the wants, needs, and desires of the other person. So while we may not always resolve our conflicts, we're pretty good at identifying what those conflicts are and why they exist.

I think you might be interested in Nonviolent Communication. I think it's worth the read.
posted by aniola at 5:38 PM on May 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

I concede I have a temper towards him because of a sense of unfairness/imbalance in the relationship. I am also quick to apologize. He sulks for much longer.

He's winning (I mean you know, "winning"). He has the power. You're screaming to get heard because you're being shut out. And he's playing the long game.

He is very attuned to the way things are said and practically deaf to what is being said.

He's tone policing you.

Efforts at improving communication tend to work better when there's a similar level of investment, goodwill, and hope for a "win" for the relationship. He is not currently a good faith interlocutor, imo. I don't know what you can do.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:42 PM on May 28, 2016 [27 favorites]

Of the issues you list, two of the three are things that he will need to meet you somewhere on in order to fix them (relatives, work stuff). But the third seems like you having unfair expectations of him during these "fights."

I think that it is normal for someone to not want to be affectionate or have sex with someone who is yelling at them.

Which means that the good news is that the ball is all in your court.

You need to work on disagreeing without yelling. I also think that you should stop looking at his retreats as "withholding" or "shutting down", but instead as a coping mechanism that he needs to engage because he feels threatened -- which is a normal way to feel when someone with a "temper" is "yelling" the same stuff over and over again.

I think that if you can get your anger in check and engage non-threateningly, it might be easier to have conversations about how he is not meeting your needs when it comes to family or professional expectations.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:07 PM on May 28, 2016 [21 favorites]

Specifically, Gottman mentions that different couples have different conflict styles and it's all fine as long as you feel loved.

In our marriage, when we argue, we make bids for attention and try to accommodate the other's bid. So I will say things like "I'm really upset and I want a hug." And my husband will give me a hug and still tell me why he is upset. And we continue having our argument.

But our argument style is fundamentally different from yours. I shut down or cry rather than yell. And my husband does not sulk (or if he did, I would give him a night to sulk). So I don't know if it's helpful for you to know how we behave.
posted by ethidda at 6:22 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that to some extent yelling can put the other person in a fight or flight mode, which in this case is leading to withdrawing and stonewalling. But do you know why you yell? Is it because you feel that you're not being heard? Has the unfairness you perceive got to a boiling point, because you find that you can't get through to him that your needs aren't being met?

I think it's important to ask yourself those questions, because most reasonable people will tell you to control your yelling (which is a positive, yelling rarely leads to solutions and can hurt people), but they won't consider the degree to which your self-esteem might be damaged by silent controlling tactics. It's good to stop yelling; it's not good to stop yelling and tell yourself that you just need to be quiet and good and go with the status quo because your boyfriend isn't listening or communicating with you when he needs to.

I've found that when I get to a point where I'm really angry in a relationship, it's usually not because the other person disagrees with me and we've had talks about our differences and hashed them out to a point where we can reach a compromise. It's because I'm bringing up valid objections or needs and being met with silence, which leads to inertia, which is the exact outcome the other party wants, and is therefore a way of controlling by refusing to have a conversation about my thoughts or feelings or desires.

Most people who value intimacy and openness expect the same from their partners; when it isn't given, it can be very confusing and often we give the benefit of the doubt to the point where we have very little input on the direction of the relationship. Then the only option is put up or leave, which isn't a good place. Then comes anger and yelling.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:24 PM on May 28, 2016 [12 favorites]

It's hard to tell from what you've written if he's (deliberately or subconsciously) trying to win every argument by provoking you into yelling, or if he's responding to your yelling by refusing to engage because he feels threatened or unlistened to. Similarly, it's common for people to want space and not feel like sex when they're upset, but if he's doing this as a way to force to to avoid discussing your issues in the relationship, that's manipulative and not fair.

For me, I would have a huge problem if my partner yelled at me, no matter how angry they were. It feels like they're trying to win by loudness, it majorly stresses me out, and my response is basically to give up on the argument and go do my own thing because it doesn't feel like they're trying to communicate with me or that they're going to listen to whatever I have to say.

If you have a disagreement and you talk to him without yelling, does that result in a productive conversation? The issues you mention (relatives, profession stance) are legitimate problems, and you are right to want to talk about that, so if he's shutting you down regardless of yelling or not, that's a problem because he's not willing to listen to you and value what you need. He needs to make a good faith effort to responding to you.

One thing you could try is to write out what you feel and why something is a problem for you, so that you don't have to control your anger in the moment.
posted by raeka at 6:29 PM on May 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

How did your partner's parents argue? How did they handle being angry with him? Did they yell at each other or him? His behavior could be interpreted as stonewalling, but it could also be dissociation.
posted by bunderful at 6:30 PM on May 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Are you in couple's counseling? Part of developing good communication skills is recognizing when you can benefit from outside help. Having a helpful third party can really help you to hear one another and set shared ground rules for fighting. That, and his preference for satisfying the demands of his relatives over your wants/needs would trigger couple's counseling for me if I were considering marriage.

Whatever road you take, no amount of you changing your approach alone will fix this situation. He needs to be equally dedicated and invested in actively working on these things.
posted by quince at 6:35 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you what I do:

I cook great meals and make sure he is fed, or at least I plan where we are going for dinner or what to get for takeout.

I vent to him a little, and when his eyes glaze over, I vent to my girlfriends, either in person or via a woman-only email list with trusted friends that I have known for years.

I don't ask his permission to do my own thang. If he questions me (aka "why do you need that magazine"), I ignore it and put it on the conveyor belt, because no man is ever going to question a $2 purchase that I choose to make, EVER.

One thing I learned in couples counseling, years ago, from a great marriage counselor:

Doorknob communication. State your objection (i.e., you don't take out the garbage, you were a jerkface to me in front of people, no, I don't want to wipe your poop off the toilet, etc.). Then walk away, i.e., shut the door on the conversation and let him dwell on it, without going off with a big long rant, which will shut him down bigtime, Sister. Trust me, I know, I can literally put my husband to SLEEP with my voice, so it's just not worth my time and energy. I have to find another way to vent my frustrations, and he just isn't it. Nor will he ever be, especially when he is the cause, LOL.

Do not go shopping with a guy if he hates it. Do it yourself or tell him to nap in the car, sit on a bench. Sorry if this is old school stuff, but some guys just can't stand shopping and the browsing and stuff. My husband sweats like a mofo in any store after 5 minutes, so we compromise by letting him nap in the car or not coming with me, or I will compromise by agreeing to get in, get out, and no browsing. He just hates it, it bugs him and freaks him out, and I don't want to see him being uncomfortable and sweating and stressed out, so if he gets that way, I will cut it short and say, "let's go."

Appreciation: everyone likes it. Guys especially like it. I make sure to say thank you to him for almost everything he does. Thank you for taking out the garbage, thank you for stopping for milk, thank you for taking me to dinner, thank you for all of your hard work, thank you and a kiss and a hug and just a stroke on top of his head to tell him I love him goes a long way.

He also says a lot of thank you's to me. If he forgets, I remind him that I am low on affection, and he steps it up. Because he is willing, but just doesn't always pay attention. And I am not always perfect either with it, but when we meet at the end of the day, we kiss and hug, and I mean a real hug, and we often tell each other how grateful we are for the other.

Don't get me wrong, we have gone through some rough patches, where I was very concerned, and thought, OMG, how can I stay with this JERK for one more minute? And my solution was to take a bus and go meet some awesome MetaFilter peeps at a meet-up, and by the time I got home, I was refreshed, and he missed me, and I think socializing alone or mini trips alone are great things to rebuild your own ego, make new connections, and gain some perspective.

Give yourself a break, and your spouse too. Go away for a few days. Meet and interact with other people outside of your marriage. Think about what you want in your own life, without a spouse. I have thought about it, and it's not really my husband's fault if I feel like I am not living up to my potential. He has his strengths and weaknesses, and so do I. He puts up with me and I put up with him. I can be a real pill to live with sometimes, and he can be an indifferent ass sometimes.

It's all about adult communication and using your words, and learning when to walk away and soothe yourself. Even my marriage counselor, an admitted anal house cleaner, said she would walk around the block 7-8 times due to some stray comment her husband had made. And that is what it might take, until you can calm yourself down, find a new outlet for venting, and learn some healthy communication skills.

I feel for you, OP. Been there, done that, and you have to have a spouse who is willing to work with you and be honest and open and admit when they're wrong. And no doubt, a lot of this is women's work (apologize if I am misgendering you). Or one person's work. But give yourself a break: even really GREAT relationships are work, so do the best you can with the inner resources you have. Good luck, I wish the best for you and your husband.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:43 PM on May 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

I can't speak for your partner, but yelling makes me shut down and batten down the emotional hatches until it's over. The "that makes us even" could be manipulative or it could be a less-than-skillful attempt to express that he finds you yelling at him distressing enough that to his back brain it outweighs whatever he did. (I can imagine feeling "okay, I messed up by doing [something hurtful but unintentional], but you yelling at me when I've asked you not to feels abusive, so no, at this point I don't feel that the majority of the blame lies with me.")

Also I feel like sex is a very good way to maintain intimacy despite other differences in a healthy relationship, but he takes a long time to get over fights and the sulking spills over into bed making matters worse.

I think you seriously need to recognize that not everybody feels the same way about sex and conflict as you do. My libido shuts off when I'm in the middle of a bad disagreement with my spouse. Any attempt to have sex to "maintain intimacy" would be a complete lie back and think of England matter, and would probably result in me deeply resenting my partner for using my body to get gratification while ignoring the fact that I wasn't enjoying it or participating gladly.
posted by Lexica at 6:44 PM on May 28, 2016 [39 favorites]

Hard for me to answer this question in an even tone. I lived with this dynamic for two decades, am now divorcing, and wish I'd understood the red flags way back when. I sure do see a lot of red flags in your question.

You say you are upset about an imbalance and unfairness in your relationship, but on rereading, I'm not exactly sure what that is. You mention the relatives, the different views of your profession, etc, but I don't see those as "imbalances" and lack of fairness. What else can you say about that?

You ask for suggestions other than DTMFA; the best one I can give you is to read Steven Stosny's book Love Without Hurt. It was the most helpful and effective book for me (the angry one) and my ex (the stonewalling and withdrawing one) while we were still trying to fix things. I still think it is a brilliant and incredibly helpful book and I gained a lot from it that I still use.

That said, personally, I think the comments by cotton dress sock and stoneandstar nail it. What he's doing is a complete control move. In the book I just mentioned, Stosny makes the point that every person wants to control their spouse and that compassion is the thing that limits the control, usually, because most people really don't want to see their spouses hurt as a result of that control. Let's just say that there are an awful lot of exceptions to that "usually". In my experience, that's a pretty decent line to start to define abusive behavior.

If your boyfriend sees you hurting as a result of his control moves and is not inspired to find a different way to relate, it's a really bad sign.

Take care and good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 6:51 PM on May 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am a huge fan of Nonviolent Communication, recommended by aniola above. The basic premise is that behind every word and action, there is a need being expressed. When you are yelling at your partner, you may be expressing a deep need for him to hear you and validate your feelings. When your partner shuts down, he may be feeling scared that he is losing you and expressing a need to continue the relationship as it was before the conflict started. (These are just examples.) And the technique is to say, "I feel [emotion], because I need [____]." It may sound cheesy, but even the mental exercise of naming how you feel and what you need can be very powerful. Not only that, but it forces you to stop and think -- what AM I feeling? What do I want from my partner? Is it reasonable to ask for that? And it encourages you to focus on moving forward, instead of getting caught up in the conflict itself. Because once you identify what you need and what your partner needs, now the focus is on whether and how you and your partner can move forward toward that goal.

If that sounds too abstract, here are a few bullet points:
1. When you start to feel strong emotions, especially anger toward your partner, take a breath and before you say anything, try to identify how you're feeling and what you need.
2. Try to communicate those needs to your partner in a straightforward, non-judgmental way.
3. Assume that your partner loves you and has your best interests at heart. Remember that your partner has their own history, hangups, bad habits, just like you do, but ultimately you both want each other to be happy. You're working toward a common goal of getting your needs met and having a fulfilling relationship.

The other thing is that it can be really useful to talk about your conflict styles at a time when you're both feeling at ease with each other. In the middle of a fight your instincts may be to yell (you) and shut down (him). But when you're both feeling comfortable, it's easier to acknowledge that these are your default ways to handle conflict and talk about why (often it has something to do with your upbringing and how you watched your family fight), discuss your reactions to each other's conflict styles, and figure out a strategy for fighting better. (For instance, when you start yelling, he's allowed to leave the room and you will understand that he's not doing this because he's dismissing your anger, but because he needs that time to calm down and compose himself.) This may be a painful discussion, but it's a valuable one. If you've already tried this and it didn't work, consider doing it with a counselor.

I think it's great that you're working through these issues before committing to marriage. You're right, fighting well is essential.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:00 PM on May 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

Do you have a regular day to talk about stuff with your partner? With my ex, we agreed that we'd talk about things on Sunday mornings after breakfast if there was anything we wanted to discuss. If he was upset about something or I was upset about something, each of us would wait to discuss it (if it was important to us) until Sunday morning. By then we had calmed down and were able to discuss whatever it was calmly and not in the heat of the moment. Not talking about sensitive stuff when we were tired or hungry or when it was late in the evening also helped us have grown up discussions. We didn't drag up stuff from the past, and were usually able to focus on the here and now. I think that helped as well. Finally, on a couple of occasions I wrote him email when it was something that I felt so emotional about I knew I couldn't introduce the issue calmly face to face, so instead I wrote him something and then we talked about it later. People are different: I shut down when somebody yells at me. My brain just stops working well. But I don't shut down when somebody simply is angry. But I know people who do. This can be tricky stuff. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:04 PM on May 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

Wow, yeah, I am the person who would be retreating and DEFINITELY not wanting sex if someone were yelling at me. Getting yelled at on the regular wouldn't happen, because by about the third time I'd nope right out of the relationship, especially if it was pre-marriage. I think it's good that you're trying to find other ways to have disagreements, but reread your own post, and recognize how you're putting down his behavior and giving your own a pass. If you feel that dismissive, you're not going to be able to come to a solution that works for both of you. Is he "sulking" or is he "escaping being yelled at (again)"? Sulking is how you talk about teenagers. Show some respect for his emotional reality, and maybe you'll get respect for your own. Learn how to ask for that respect with words, not yelling, and maybe you'll be able to resolve differences in ways that leaves you both eager for intimacy.
posted by instamatic at 7:22 PM on May 28, 2016 [29 favorites]

I'm like your guy about the yelling. It actually feels abusive to me, and there have been definitely been times where whatever legitimacy there was in the point he was trying to make got totally lost in the fallout over 'now, let's talk about how badly you treated me by YELLING...'

I think it also makes my own behaviour during the fight worse because I feel subconsciously like if I don't react very strongly, he won't realize how badly he is behaving, and then the fight will go on even longer. So I respond with fear and crying, which winds him up more...and so on.

So, what changed things? I realized that there was something I was doing which affected him just as badly as his yelling affected me. And that thing was...over-talking. I would get into these mind-sets where I'd feel like if only I could explain to him that I didn't mean this or that, or that I was feeling X way because Y, then he would understand and the fight would be over. In reality, all of this talking made him go into that primal hiding place in HIS mind. It was useless to do it because it a) never actually helped him understand because it out him into a state of mind where he was not capable of listening and b) made him all the more angry and more likely to say something which prolonged the fight by leading to the yelling, which triggered ME.

So I had to learn to keep my mouth shut. And later (we are working on some therapy stuff to make that duration shorter) when he has calmed down again, a short debrief can be effective. The key though was realizing---really and truly realizing---that it was not just him being bad and me being innocent. We both had things which wound each other up.

So, a small victory. Last week, he came home grouchy and snipped at me. It was exactly the kind of moment that in the past would have escalated for us---me feeling unjustly victimized, him getting all the more riled up as he tried to goad me into giving him the space he was too worked up to ask for...etc. As soon as I saw that coming, I picked up my phone and left for the bedroom. He asked me where I was going. I said I was giving him time to cool off. He asked me not to. I said 'well then, be nice to me.' And he was and that was that. It took us awhile to get to this point, but I finally feel like we are doing it better.
posted by JoannaC at 7:34 PM on May 28, 2016 [17 favorites]

Ok, this may seem stupid, but it works. In the middle of the fight, force yourself and your partner to smile at each other. It doesn't always end the fight, but it usually softens the tone.
posted by brevator at 7:47 PM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Repair attempts are the most useful thing my husband and I got out of Gottman. If you haven't, read his actual book because I feel like he explains it better than I ever could. We use a lot of humor to diffuse mounting tension, especially.

You also have to start taking care of yourself better, and that means therapy for the anger--not just to deconstruct why you're angry but teaching you other ways to express your feelings. I was raised in a family where conflict was a shortcut to getting physical and emotional attention. Now, after therapy, I no longer have to get angry or pick a fight with him to make up or spend a night together. I can, you know, just ask him to spend time together.

When it comes down to it, it's not about who is wrong or right. You'll both be, sometimes. It's about turning toward one another again and again rather than away.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:56 PM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

my yelling at him
He is very attuned to the way things are said and practically deaf to what is being said

It sounds like it's difficult for him to focus on the substance of what you're saying when you're yelling it at him. That's not tone policing. I'm the same way -- I had an ex who yelled when he was angry, and his yelling scared me and became a roadblock to achieving any understanding. I think my ex didn't recognize the difference between feeling anger, on the one hand, and expressing it through yelling, on the other. He didn't realize that he could choose how to express his anger. His lack of interest in learning how to make those choices had a lot to do with our breakup.

I have a temper towards him because of a sense of unfairness/imbalance in the relationship

No - you have a sense of unfairness/imbalance in the relationship, and it makes you angry. Your "temper" -- how you choose to express that anger -- is a separate issue. Chickenmagazine's comment has some great suggestions for beginning to understand and unpack your temper.
posted by southern_sky at 8:10 PM on May 28, 2016 [12 favorites]

Of course no one wants to be yelled at.

The OP has that bit about her guy being fixated on the tone of delivery rather than the content of the message.

My hunch is that yelling wasn't the first stop on this bad train ride. And I will also guess that an angry delivery isn't the only one that this guy can't deal with--like sad and hurt.

Go reread what stoneandstar read about escalation.

If she's delivering the message "when you did X it was hurtful to me" and his response is only "I don't like the tone in which you delivered that", it's conveying to her clearly that what bothers her is immaterial to him. That's profoundly disrespectful in its own right. If he is struggles to cope with that message, and in doing so he never actually gets around to addressing the real problem, then what he is saying is that his unwillingness to tolerate discomfort is the most important thing to him and his partner needs to just suck it up. Someone upthread mentioned self-soothing--this applies to both of them, you know?

Yes, guys flood, in the way that JoannaC describes. John Gottman covers this in great detail. It's important to know that that happens. But it is *not* healthy for that to be the single most important thing in the relationship, and everything else has to be put to the side because boys are delicate flowers.
posted by Sublimity at 8:12 PM on May 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

My marital spats tend to all eventually devolve into my husband and I threatening to poop inside each other's butts. So yeah basically when we get tired of being angry we just get ridiculous instead.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:21 PM on May 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

Tone policing isn't healthy or productive, but continuing to yell when you already know it's unproductive and triggering isn't particularly healthy and productive, either. If yelling isn't getting the results you want (and it sounds like it isn't), then try something else. Like "When you X, I feel Y"-- this is a concept my elementary school aged children struggle with, but most grown adults should be able to at least try it on for size. I mean, you can always yell later if you really miss it. (But this question is explicitly about changing fighting behavior. "Stop yelling, it triggers your partner" is not bad advice in this context. Nor is "use your words," or "enforce your healthy boundaries.")
posted by instamatic at 8:31 PM on May 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've been the angry one, and Mr. Potato has been the withdrawing one. He has been able to admit that in his case, it really was "I'm scared." I had to explain to him that withdrawing without any end to it was deeply damaging to the relationship bond (in my case, that is true, but would not be for others), and that I needed him to come back sooner than the next day, or it all would escalate and then it becomes 3 days of this horrid yucky thing. As I've been able to convey a sense of safety to him, this has happened, he comes back sooner. I used to think it was a control issue on his part, withdrawing to get his way or silence me. Since I have learned to alter my own communication - not using the "harsh startup" in Gottman speak - I'm seeing that he really did withdraw for protection. He sees me making an effort now to be more considerate of how I approach my concerns, and as a result he tries to participate more.

I have learned through experience that finding another way to process the intensity of the emotion, and figure out a "talking point" or a summary of what happened and why I'm upset has gotten me much more progress. He can't handle the visceral reaction I have to certain patterns, which in my case is effectively an anxiety attack. If I find a way to maintain a calm persona, and then communicate from that place, there is more safety and respect all around, and more change happens, because he can actually process it.

I also look for signs that he is trying to hear me. I make sure he knows that I am feeling unheard before anything escalates. So I try to let him know that is happening for me, rather than feel like I have to yell to exist for him. I have to spell it out - when you do x, I am feeling unheard and disrespected, because I've asked for y before, etc.

I acknowledge any efforts I'm seeing even if it isn't perfect. Thank you for cooking (even though it was cold), or thanks for washing the clothes (even though the laundry is all wrinkled and put in the wrong places). If I can see good intentions, I make sure to mention it, even if I am also talking about the negative impacts of something. Not true for every spouse but mine usually has good intentions and he responds better when I show him that I remember that.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:35 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I should say: flooding is a real thing, it happens (to men and women, obviously). But if he can't come back later and say "I realize now I was overwhelmed; let's talk about this more calmly," or respond to you when later you say, "I'm sorry for yelling, I just really need to talk about X," and have a clear conversation with you then he has a lot of work to do. If he's fundamentally not already understanding that that is important, that is already a big hurdle, but if he's also unwilling to address it or go to therapy or something, then it's impossible without his cooperation.

And if he needs time to sulk, that's fine too, but sulking should not just be a timer he runs out where he sulks long enough that you both forget about it and never go back to address it.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:57 PM on May 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I find yelling absolutely, cripplingly terrifying. If someone else is getting yelled at in front of me, I get uncomfortable and panicky. If I'm getting yelled at, I basically shut down. I physically and emotionally can't handle it. And I consider myself to be a pretty badass person, and pretty brave. But there's something about having an angry person yelling at me that just incapacitates me.

I don't know whether your husband is like me. Because it could be that he's being manipulative or tone policing or any of the things folks above have accused him of. Or it could be that he legitimately can't handle the manner in which you're communicating with him, and that he doesn't know how to express that to you.

You should consider couples counseling. Because learning how to communicate and hear each other is one of the things it's really good at. I'm worried about both of you, and I hope that a professional can help you work through your issues together.

But in the meantime, stop yelling. That's something you can control, and there is really nothing that justifies yelling at someone in anger. Stop doing it, and see if it helps. If it doesn't help, then you'll have that information to talk to the therapist about. But maybe it will really, really help. Because I can tell you that if I were your husband, there is absolutely no way this situation could get any better if you keep yelling. And it's absolutely something I'd leave a relationship over, because I couldn't live that way. And I wouldn't warn you ahead of time or try to talk about it; I'd just leave, because I cannot talk to people who are yelling at me.
posted by decathecting at 10:09 PM on May 28, 2016 [21 favorites]

Yelling is violence.

He's not "sulking," he's waiting for you to stop being violent.

The title to your question includes the word "fight." That is violence.

Somehow, you've normalized violence in your life.

I'd be running away from you.
posted by yesster at 11:09 PM on May 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

Let me try to parse this:
  • Your partner "seen him be exactly as sensitive as I need him to be when I'm not expressing anger but he shuts down completely if I get upset"
  • "concede I have a temper towards him because of a sense of unfairness/imbalance in the relationship."
  • You think he sulks after you have lost your temper with him "and his withholding affection after a fight and my escalating anger when he does that."
  • Your issue with him are "preference he shows to overbearing relatives over my needs, differing stances towards our shared profession"
  • "He is very attuned to the way things are said and practically deaf to what is being said. It drives me nuts and I keep repeating myself until I've driven us both mad."
  • "feel like sex is a very good way to maintain intimacy despite other differences in a healthy relationship, but he takes a long time to get over fights and the sulking spills over into bed making matters worse. "
The first statement is how he is sensitive to your needs when you are not expressing anger (yelling) at him, otherwise, he is shutting down. The second statement shows a lack of emotional control towards your partner if you are prone to "temper" towards him. In two statements you have described his response to you as "sulking" and "He is very attuned to the way things are said and practically deaf to what is being said", which leads to the question of the way the words are said, was it yelling? Because, yeah, your words are being drowned out by volume. Further, in two statements you are upset that his response hampers his sexual/romantic/physical performance for you and it escalates your anger.

The only two issues I see are the relatives issue and his "stance" on your shared profession. There were no further details so I am not sure whether these are substantive issues that warrant the above-listed behaviour. His preference for the relatives (yours? his?) and what constitutes a "stance" on your mutual profession that again, requires being upset to the point of temper loss?

I am with decathecting on this one. Look, people remember how you made them feel and not the exact words you used to invoke that feeling (I stole this from Maya Angelou.) My next paragraph was going to be a bit harsh, but I erased it and hope you just read this part, which is to stop yelling at him.
posted by jadepearl at 11:54 PM on May 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

I don't fight. I was in a very bad abusive relationship with a guy who would pick a fight over anything. Peas left in a colander, the wrong kind of dish soap, utter trivia like that. I decided I had had enough fighting to last a lifetime and now do not fight.

This does not magically make my current relationship so full of rainbows and kittens that we never have a problem that has to be hashed out, of course. But I have a couple of rules for this and things work way way better when I stick to the rules, viz: do not fight, for real. If things are escalating we are done for the time being and will re-visit it later, possibly over e-mail if it is difficult to discuss in person without a lot of hard feelings. It takes (at least) two people to have a fight. Unless your partner is abusive like the dish soap shit, it is always possible to opt out of a fight; they require at least two participants.

Also -- critically -- and this works not just for intimate relationship but for everybody and anybody (one exception: small children, ones still young enough to live very much in the moment) -- give yourself 24 hours before bringing up what you need to bring up. After 24 hours I have slept, I have had things to eat, I have had time to reflect on how serious the issue really is, I have had time to think of possible resolutions instead of just "Christ, that was dumb." Often in 24 hours the issue reveals itself to be the trivia it is, and it either needs no mention at all -- or, if I had an issue with dish soap, I could calmly say "Do you give a toss what dish soap we buy? No? Okay, turns out I do, and I liked the old stuff better. If it's you who happens to pick it up next time, can you get the old kind? Silly, I know. Okay, cool, thanks" instead of having a fuss over how awful this soap is. Or it really is serious, and I can wait until we are both calm and go into it with "X sucked for me because... What I'm hoping is that when X comes up again in the future, we can A, or if B or C would work better for you, let's talk about those... Was this a big deal for you or was it just me having a fuss over it?" Talk, talk, talk instead of fight, fight, fight.

The only times in recent years that I have really screwed up as far as these things go have been when I have (usually when sick, "hangry," angry about something else as well, etc) skipped one or both of "don't fight" and "wait 24h to bring it up."

Yelling is terrible. I am instantly on edge when I fetch up anywhere near a shouty couple; as a kid I was freaked right out if I was on a sleepover and the kids' parents yelled at each other. I am forever grateful to my parents for keeping whatever disagreements they had at a level inaudible to us kids -- I think it was a great present, giving us a lesson that you can easily spend decades with somebody and not raise your voice, and I think the yelling parents did their kids a disservice by letting them believe that that is somehow necessary.

I had a "difficulty" with my boyfriend this winter; it was a very difficult winter in many ways. I discussed this with my daughter recently. Her eyes got wide and she said "Did you guys yell?" No, never, not even close. "Oh, oh, okay." In her mind there was a very big difference between us disagreeing and being disappointed in each other and so on and on -- this was a thing she could identify with from when the two of us "fight" -- but us yelling would have, I could tell, de-stabilized her world and made him rather less (or simply not) welcome and trustworthy, as he always has been. Yelling is, in my view, a big deal. I'm not saying everybody who has briefly lost their temper for a moment is an abusive character beneath contempt, but yelling is indefensible as a conflict resolution tactic; it is simply aggression.

One last anecdote: a couple I once met had a thing where he always opened the car door for her. Always. They could be in the middle of a massive disagreement and he'd still do it. It's good to have the good parts of your life carry on even when things are not precisely as one might like them to be. If we are trying to hash something out and one of us gets up to get something, there is still a "Can I get you a drink or a bite to eat while I'm headed towards the kitchen?" even if we are also busy doing a lot of internal eye-rolling. "I have to charge my phone, does yours need plugging in?" It's nice to retain a civil connexion in the midst of the mess, to make small demonstrations that you are still the same person who loves them and cares for them.
posted by kmennie at 11:58 PM on May 28, 2016 [24 favorites]

My husband who used to have similar issues says that he may feel once the yelling has started that no productive resolution can be reached, and may be shutting down on account of that. Does that seem to track?
posted by corb at 12:26 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Our communication was a pattern I could easily have described as being all his fault - he agrees to do things and doesn't! He polices my tone! Etc - but it got dramatically better after I started personal counseling. Most people react badly to feeling attacked or judged.
posted by Lady Li at 1:06 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

It looks like you want to resolve all conflicts immediately by hashing it out, and you get over things quickly, while he takes criticisms very personally and feels things deeply and cannot distance himself from bad feelings in the same way you do. So when a even benign issue is brought up, he knee-jerks defensiveness instead of trying to understand your point of view, and once you finally get through to him (after a while of repeating yourself), he finally concedes your points and maybe even apologizes, but he's super hurt by then, and maybe even feeling bad about himself for hurting you, so he 'sulks' or 'withdraws' after a fight (as if he's the one wronged!) and you're mostly over it by then, but his continued bad feeling/anger/mopiness is triggering to you and you start to escalate it because you are incredibly frustrated by his reaction.

This doesn't make it right, by the way. You're escalating on multiple fronts and you absolutely need to stop. Yelling is escalating. Refusing their apologies/surrender is escalating. Not being happy with their reaction is escalating. Being frustrated isn't an excuse. You cannot police his reaction to the fight; I get it, I too can be a pot boiling over momentarily, and I get over things very quickly. Fighting doesn't make me feel bad about my relationship, it doesn't drain me, and often after an argument is resolved I feel so closer to my partner. But my way isn't the 'right' way and nor is yours. And a lot of people don't get over an argument easily. A lot of people need time to get over being yelled at, for a lot of people fighting is draining and it shifts their mood and that's understandable. It's not 'sulking' -- it's reaction to a negative situation by withdrawing and regrouping. Unless he's being awful and disrespectful to you, give him space. It's also pretty hard to be jovial and normal when you've been yelled at. Yelling at people makes them feel small. You shouldn't want to inflict that on the person you love.

Yes, I understand he's not supportive and I'm guessing he is often frustratingly thoughtless, and that really bothers you. I think you take his thoughtlessness very personally, and he takes criticisms of his behavior super personally too. But you absolutely need to stop escalating and trying to control his reaction. It can be seen as kind of manipulative to want him to react a certain way, but most importantly, it doesn't resolve anything-- getting frustrated actively makes things worse. Take a breath, go for a walk, distance yourself from the situation-- if he needs time to get over it, give him time. If his sadness is triggering your anger, remove yourself from the stimuli until you can talk to him without escalating. Because if you don't, it becomes this horrible catch 22, and you're the only one that can de-esclatate the situation and control your own reaction.

This isn't to say he's blameless. I'm guessing he denies a lot of issues when you bring them up and is pretty thoughtless about things you feel are straight-forward, such as the family issues. But the thing is this-- I'm sure you think that your point of view is common sense (and it probably is), and it goes without saying you don't want MIL to stay with you two months out of the blue or whatever, OR you can't believe he thought you'd be ok with what happened and needs to stand up for you, but understand that what goes without saying to you, doesn't for everyone. This question on boundaries is a good example of how people are divided in their beliefs about boundaries, disrespect, common-sense and family and what have you. If this resonates with you at all, maybe reflect on your reactions to situations and anger. Maybe you feel he should know better, because it's so darn obvious. I don't think you're wrong at all, just understand that this isn't necessarily obvious, and most people can't mind-read in that way. To get on the same page about that, you need to be pretty clear about what's ok with you and what's not, what bothers you and what doesn't, and why. Wanting someone to naturally unlearn to be 'thoughtless' is an exercise in futility.

Sometimes when you are with people who 'button push' you so much, you're a bad match. I'm not sure if this is the case here, but I would look into couples counseling and conflict resolution for you both. I think you both have dangerous knee-jerk triggers that need to stop. (You: anger. Him: defensiveness). You both need to compromise on this: You need to curb your anger and step back and let him withdraw when the fight is over, he needs to step back when you mention an issue you have and not take it as a personal affront, he also needs to not score keep-- 'we're even because you get angry,' is not productive nor helpful, even if you shouldn't be getting so angry, no. You need to meet halfway. As tough as it is to not want to resolve the conflict immediately and just make up and have things be good again (I get it, I'm this way too), forcing that issue is making things worse for both of you.

Best of luck.
posted by Dimes at 2:27 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

The only thing I find harder to cope with than yelling is the perception that my partner thinks my resulting pain and anxiety is "sulking."

I had a frightening and emotionally abusive ex who would yell at me for reasons that were totally incomprehensible to me (but perfectly clear to him, of course) and then yell at me more for "doing that wounded thing." (The "wounded thing," to be clear, was feeling wounded.) This is not a fresh enough trauma that I've discussed it in detail with my partner (it was 15 years ago), but feeling unsafe in your relationship destabilizes you for a long time. It still affects me enough that if someone yells at me I am both absolutely terrified of them and absolutely terrified of reacting the wrong way. It is paralyzing and horrible and if someone expected me to have sex with them right afterwards I don't even know what I would do.

You list his "withholding affection" after you yell at him as one of the three main issues that cause you to yell at him. I don't know his history, but personally, if my partner ever wrote a post like this, I hope my friends would already be helping me get out.
posted by babelfish at 3:35 AM on May 29, 2016 [22 favorites]

By yelling do you mean physically raising your voice and shouting? That would be terrifying for me. There are lots of books on anger management. When I'm working on an issue I check out a bunch of books from the library and skim them while taking notes.

One thing my partner and I do that works for us is we have serious/important discussions over gchat. You can still get in trouble by inferring "tone" into the written text but I find when we do this I respond to my partner's words rather than his manner.
posted by betsybetsy at 3:50 AM on May 29, 2016

I don't think it's fair to ask about this in the abstract without contextualizing things. I at least can't think about this question without remembering your others. I mean the thing is, you're probably chronically angry because of the subjects of your other questions, and he's made it clear he won't move on any of the things you're angry about, and he doesn't want to hear about it. And you are at an impasse.

You can't magically make yourself not angry about his sister etc. Or about, basically, feeling that you matter less to him than other things in his life. He's not changing one iota in a direction that would make you feel emotionally safe.

You feel hurt, and justified about that, and then he doesn't want to hear about it, and you then feel guilty about being angry because you think it'll push him away. You want to swallow it down. But you can't.

I don't see an answer here that relates that much to how you communicate or don't communicate this; the answer I see is the one you say you don't want.

(It's not clear to me that you're habitually a "yeller", I don't think there's enough info to judge. It could easily be a pattern unique to this relationship. To me, it sounds like you're tightly wound all the time, because you're just unhappy, and because you're not being treated fairly. And it sounds to me that he thinks things are fine the way they are.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:10 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yelling is violence.

So is being stonewalled; silence can feel just as bad.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:20 AM on May 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

Seconding cotton dress sock. It was a turning point in my marriage when I was talking with a friend of mine who works in mental health, and she observed that abuse and neglect are equally destructive, are regarded as being equally harmful. However neglect is more insidious, because it's all about what *doesn't* happen and what *doesn't* get done. Aggressive behavior is a problem, no doubt about it, however it's also clear and evident and so can be easily identified and address. Neglect is much more slippery and much harder to identify, define, and remediate, not least because it's supremely easy to avoid accountability ("I didn't do anything.")

I think the reason this issue gets so complicated is that there are so many nuances at the boundaries between people in intimate relationships. It's incredibly difficult for people to grow to the point where they really internalize that nobody "makes" you feel anything; the feelings you have are all your own internal responses. (OP is getting angry because of her internal weather and sensitivities; her boyfriend is defensive and retreating because of his.) It's incredibly difficult to develop that binocular vision of being able to both recognize/articulate/honor your own pain and struggle arising from a conflict, and also your partner's at the same time, which can arise from a totally different take on the same situation, since both of them are legitimate. Having avidly read many (many) MeFi threads like this, it's remarkable how consistently you get a lineup of some people totally grokking one side, and other people totally grokking the other. Yep, both legitimate. Nobody wants to get yelled at. Nobody wants to be frozen out. Each of them are painful and ineffective strategies.

I think the thing where it hits breakdown is when *either* party gets to the point of "I don't have to respect what the other person thinks and feels because I'm so upset." Then you're really in a guaranteed-fail situation. The traditional remedy for that is to self-soothe, in order to be present for yourself and for your SO, and there are some great examples in this discussion. It's important to recognize that this might take some time ("I wait 24 hours", etc) or to mindfully shift focus ("I am grateful that the laundry is done even if it's not exactly how I'd do it") .

I think everyone would agree that it's not healthy or wise to acquiesce to that level of disregard when it's delivered as aggressive behavior. However I think it's also equally unhealthy to resign to this state of disregard when it manifests as neglect. A woman upthread related that in response to her SO's flooding, "I had to learn to shut up". That skeeves the hell out of me. Isn't this another facet of the imbalance of emotional labor? She has to be oh so mindful of his limitations, but he isn't obligated in return to show her that care?
posted by Sublimity at 6:29 AM on May 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Now that I've gone back and looked at your question history, my question to you is: you say you don't want DTMFA advice, but you've been so unhappy in this relationship for several years and it's not changing (except it sounds like it's deteriorating). It probably won't change for the better. As you've learned, you can change yourself, but you can't make anyone else change. That's their choice. So is it worth it to you to stay in the relationship as it is, today? There are some relationships where even if you solve whatever Issue you had, there is just so much residual bitterness and hurt and resentment that you can't ever get past it. And honestly, this is how your questions read to me.
posted by instamatic at 6:32 AM on May 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

No amount of yelling at someone will make them love you the way you want to be loved.
posted by pinkacademic at 8:49 AM on May 29, 2016 [14 favorites]

It took a few years to work on communication when fighting between my husband and me. We still do fight on occasion, now we're way better about it than we used to be.

A couple of things we worked on integrating into our approach:
1. It's not him vs. me, it's us vs. a problem.
We love each other very much. If there's a problem coming between us, it's it's not because we're intentionally being malicious to each other. It must be a miscommunication or lack of understanding, which is to be tackled.
2. My feelings (and his, of course) are important, even if they seem irrational.
This one I couldn't convince him of all on my own, it took his discussing with other people to accept. Other men basically told him he's not going to win by sticking his guns on this, he will be single instead. On the flip side it makes life with a partner a million times easier if he does, and it really doesn't cost him anything to do it.
3. Deal with things as they come up, don't stockpile ammunition against each other.
Because one thing sparking a little argument derailing into a giant argument about all the things doesn't do a lick of good - nothing gets resolved, everyone gets hurt, particularly when you've been sitting on stuff and seething about it all along. People are not psychic. Dealing with the individual things right away can get something addressed and clear the air.
4. Always give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Really this is to aid in starting discussions about problems, not starting fights. Something pops up that's got the potential to instigate a fight, well if you start off from the position you know they weren't intentionally being malicious it's easier to open the discussion calmly, and stay calm.
5. We want to accommodate each other, and find a win-win solution.
You can reason with someone a lot more easily if they see you're trying to work with them to find a mutually agreeable solution. If what one person wants is not practical as-is, the other tries to suggest reasonable alternatives, and we try to be generous with each other - we offer what we are additionally willing to do for them in turn, to sweeten the deal.

Note - No. 5 is particularly important when it comes to handling situations involving my husband's knee-jerk tendencies to prioritize running to his family's aid at my expense. Again, it's taken a lot of time but now that my husband knows I will do my best to accommodate him, so he is far more willing to negotiate and incorporate my needs into his plans.
posted by lizbunny at 9:06 AM on May 29, 2016 [13 favorites]

One other thing that might help if you can find it (having just seen the more recent comments). There's a class I took through professional development called "crucial conversations" which I think gave me a bunch of the tools I needed to not go into either "silence or violence" as they call it. (PS: One of the most important parts was the part where the moderator said "you are all now thinking of exactly who in your life you want to give this book to so THEY can start doing this. No. The person you can change is yourself and that is who you need to work on.")

A lot of it is about empathy and about giving someone the room to change their mind and agree with you without feeling terrible. Some specific items:

1. Find your common goals. In a relationship the most basic one is that you both want the relationship to be lasting and healthy. But there are owners too - not wanting there to be lasting damage to your things through neglect, compassion for each other, etc.
2. Don't attack. Give up trying to "win" or prove that you are better and more noble/correct/intelligent (this is where I needed therapy to see that things like "normal adults do not leave the dishes to all be washed on the weekend!" was not helping)
3. Say "I need". For a lot of us this feels harder than trying to appeal to authority of "everyone knows". It's sort of humbling. But in that way it also brings you and your partner closer together and lets them start thinking about how to solve your problem and take care of you.
posted by Lady Li at 9:46 AM on May 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

When I've worked as a therapist with couples in this dynamic, I've generally asked them to institute Time-Outs. The rules:

1. Either partner can call a time-out when they're feeling overwhelmed in a conversation/discussion/argument.
2. Both partners need to respect the time-out and stop talking immediately.
3. The person who called the time-out needs to set a time to restart the conversation within the next 24 hours, and has to respect that as an actual deadline.
4. If the deadline comes and either partner is still too riled up/flooded/whatever to talk, the partners must still meet, but the upset partner can set a new deadline within the next 24 hours.
5. If the deadline comes and both partners realize the argument doesn't matter anymore, that's fine.
6. If the deadline comes and the partners start to talk but someone gets too riled up/flooded/whatever to continue, a new time-out can be called.
7. Both partners must spend the time-out time doing things to lower their anxiety and anger. No venting to other people, no punching punching-bags, no violent videogames, no stewing.
8. Especially in the beginning, it may be that the avoidant partner calls for a time-out multiple times in one conversation. That's fine.
9. The angry partner must respect the time-out.
10. The avoidant partner must restart the conversation.

Basically, the angry partner has the responsibility of backing off during the time-out, the avoidant partner has the responsibility for stepping up after the time-out.

I have never counseled a couple who was able to institute this appropriately, which is one of the main reasons I got out of couples counseling -- couples just wanted to argue rather than implement steps to solve problems. But if both partners step up and use the tool, it is a way to stop dysfunctional dynamics and rebuild trust with each other -- the avoidant partner learns to trust that the angry partner will back off if asked, and the angry partner learns to trust that the avoidant partner will address an issue once emotions are lower.
posted by lazuli at 10:06 AM on May 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

And I should say: 100% of the time the Time-Outs failed with couples I counseled, it was because the angry partner wouldn't respect them, so I never got to see if avoidant partner would step up or not. So you likely have the most control over determining whether that technique will work for y'all.
posted by lazuli at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Something I read (here?) was to treat your relationship as an interested party and in any disagreement give it a vote. So when having a disagreement and trying to come to an agreement, consider what you want, what your partner wants, and what would be best for the relationship. A partner who continually agrees to do something they don't want to do is building up resentment, which is bad for the relationship, for example. This isn't a perfect approach but I know at least one couple who uses this approach and it's been helpful for that couple.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:18 AM on May 29, 2016

You are describing my marriage. We were together over two decades and the divorce was amicable, though some things, I never did figure out. Which is part of why we are divorced.

I don't know what your situation is, but I had serious anger management issues when my ex met me. He got yelled at and cussed at a lot, often over stupid things. One thing he did that made me crazy: he never turned off lights or the oven and he never closed cabinet doors. I would hit the roof over this.

A few months after we moved away from my home town (as a married couple), I decided screaming and cussing about something so small was not helping him remember or change his habits and it was adding a whole lot of baggage to the relationship. So I decided to stop having a cow about the small stuff. That is probably the single smartest relationship decision I ever made.

Pick your battles. Don't meet every little thing with the big guns. Save your screaming for more important fights.

Also I feel like sex is a very good way to maintain intimacy despite other differences in a healthy relationship, but he takes a long time to get over fights and the sulking spills over into bed making matters worse.

Your guy has a healthier attitude here than you do. Yes, I was you and my ex was your guy, but intimacy does not grow out of sex. Sex grows out of intimacy.

My ex and I generally felt obligated to resolve the issue before going to sleep that night. It was rare that we did not reach some point of resolution. Once resolved, make up sex often followed. However, this meant we frequently argued until well after midnight when he needed to be at work at 6am.

My oldest son is as grudging and difficult as his father. We get along really well. However, because I was the parent, he never got yelled at and cussed at by me over nothing. I felt obligated to find a solution without being abusive to the child, even in cases where his behavior was seriously devilish. He was a child. Devilish or not, he just did not know better.

My take away: If you want a long term, healthy relationship with someone grudging, it is critical to find a way to resolve your differences in a way that doesn't leave him with emotional baggage because he will not be able to readily set it down. That doesn't mean I never yell or cuss at my now 28 year old son. But it does mean that I don't vilify him and I don't ever act like a problem is all his fault and there are no low blows.

Also, that thing where you yell but are quick to apologize: Stop it.

That is what abusive people do. No, it isn't okay to knowingly, gratuitously hurt him over and over again so long as you say you are sorry afterwards. If you know you will need to apologize for it, don't say it. Kissing the booboo you caused does not heal it.
posted by Michele in California at 1:14 PM on May 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you know you will need to apologize for it, don't say it.

QFT. When you spend time with someone who habitually yells and/or says mean things and then apologizes, the apologies stop holding water.
posted by bunderful at 2:27 PM on May 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

This situation is a lot like someone saying "well, every time that I drink I do something terrible, but it's because I drink so it's not my fault." You are not forced to be in this relationship, correct? Therefore, your behavior in this relationship is 100% your responsibility, if only because you are not removing yourself from it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:36 PM on May 29, 2016

I should also note that despite some of the answers here, it is not at all normal and understandable to yell at someone because they are not having sex with you. It is abhorrent to treat sex as an entitlement that gives you permission to yell at someone. On the off chance that you are genuinely in a situation in which your only option is to yell at someone for not having sex with you, the only acceptable response is to avoid being in that situation entirely.

Changing my attitude towards my own behavior to one where my focus was solving the problem, instead of attributing blame for the problem to other people, has improved my relationships immensely. So that is what I suggest. A sea change in your attitude and an acceptance of your ability to control yourself and your behavior.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:39 PM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm not going to advise DTMFA because even if you did, you'd just carry your baggage into your next relationship, recreating some of the same dynamics. I'd suggest reading up on co-dependency by Pia Mellody or others. John Gottman's books have concrete behavioral steps if you want to give them a try. Harville Hendricks, while not my favorite, does have some sound info to share. And the universal recommendation of Brene Brown's 2 TED Talks and other material, because Relationships 101.

Also, it's only partially correct to say, "It is said it's not that a couple has fights but how they fight that matters." Two things are as important, maybe even more so:
1) How both partners repair relationship ruptures after conflict, and
2) A ratio of at least 4:1, positive interactions:negative interactions.

Based on what you've posted and my experience as a couples therapist, you don't have to go to couples therapy to fix this. But with the right therapist it will be easier and faster than fixing it on your own.
posted by dancing leaves at 5:25 AM on May 30, 2016

I'm not going to advise DTMFA because even if you did, you'd just carry your baggage into your next relationship, recreating some of the same dynamics.

This. So much.

You don't yell at him because he 'makes you angry' or shuts you out. You yell because that is your way of dealing with and expressing your anger and frustration. This is *your* behavior, and it's important to understand that no one else can be held responsible for your actions (or reactions).

I used to be like you. I would yell and get super angry -- because I felt like if I didn't do those things, I wasn't heard. I blamed my partners for ignoring me until I threw a fit. But then I realized, I can't change them. All I can do is change how I act and react. And yelling is certainly not going to get me the love and attention and change I want. It was a dynamic I had grown up with, and I didn't want to have a relationship like my parents did. So I taught myself the emotional skills my family could not. It was hard, but I did it.

It took me a long time, but I finally got a handle on my anger through CBT and meditation, learned to accept my partner and not get overwhelmed with upset at small things, and when something large came up, to have a calm, adult conversation where we both worked to fix the problem.

This isn't going to get fixed by you leaving. It's not even going to get fixed if your husband suddenly stops stonewalling you. It's only going to get fixed if YOU do the work on yourself, for yourself. It can be done, I promise. Best of luck.
posted by ananci at 11:15 AM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

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