Is there a name for this fresh BS my partner is hoisting upon me?
October 31, 2016 12:51 PM   Subscribe

During disagreements (no matter how small), my partner tends to go from 0-60 and uses words, tone, and facial expressions that I see as an attempt to intimidate me into shutting up. It's frustrating and insanely uncool but my question: is there a name for this behavior?

Here's the deal: my partner, to whom I am engaged and will not be dumping anytime soon, tends to escalate even the smallest disagreements, taking anything I say personally and resorting to angry proclamations that I deem said simply to hurt my feelings. We're working on this and things have improved SIGNIFICANTLY over the past 4 years, in regards to his anger and how he expresses it. There has been progress here and it's promising so we're not in DTMFA territory.

That said, we had a small argument yesterday in which his words, facial expression, and tone all said to me "shut up lady, or I will scare you into shutting up!". I'm not actually scared when he does this just insanely annoyed and angered by it. Then today, he brought said small argument (even though *I* apologized yesterday and thought we had moved on) and when I requested he shut it down, his response was the same.

Here's a rundown of the issue yesterday:

Me: Hey, look, a walking stick!
Him: Ohhhhhhhh, I hate those (and he bats it with his shoe).
M: Don't do that! It's not hurting you at all, just leave it be. (Note: I was not yelling, just emphatic.)
H: I don't care what you think, I hate them, he's dead now.
M: Wha?! Why? That was totally unnecessary! Why couldn't you just leave it be?! (now my voice was probably elevated because WHAT?!)
H: Don't talk to me like that.
M: But dude, you could have just left it alone!
H: (as he was walking into the house) I told you I don't care what you think about it, kiss my fucking ass!

Yeah, no. His face was pursed when he said this and his tone was angry. The look on his face was one that I can see a crappy manager having when dealing with an employee he feels is being insubordinate or when one is about to get into a drunken bar brawl, like he was trying to assert himself using his stature and tone so as to get someone to shut up. He puffs up and while these things were said while he was in the act of walking away, it still seemed like I was some dude in a bar he wanted to fight. I'm not cool with this but frankly, it seemed to be a one-off issue that hasn't happened in quite some time due to the personal work he's putting into controlling his anger so while I was POWER PISSED, I apologized and moved on.

Then today, fiance stops by work and as I'm walking him back out to the car, he mentions something about the damn walking stick. I said "you're still on that? I thought we'd moved on" and somehow from there, he ended the conversation with "If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!". This was said with anger, loud tone, and what seemed like the most intimidating face he could muster. Obviously, this gets ALL THE NO from me and to be frank, I'm livid that he'd talk to me like I'm some employee of his...or that he'd even potentially talk to an employee like that! To top it off, he said it in front of a male employee of mine so let's heap even more no all over this thing...

I'm not asking you to beanplate this or my relationship with me and I'm not asking for advice on how to make this behavior stop. I'm asking if there's a name for this tactic, using your tone and face and words to be a dick and make one feel inferior. I realize, writing that out, it's probably just called being a not nice bloke in the moment, but still.

I've discussed his argument style with him before and again, he's open to hearing me and working on it but currently, I'm angry and I'm focusing on finding a word for this way of talking to people so I can address it with him calmly and like an adult.

Thanks for any thoughts in advice, mefi!
posted by youandiandaflame to Human Relations (104 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
That's just emotional abuse, IMHO. Verbal, emotional abuse.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:55 PM on October 31, 2016 [131 favorites]

The closest term that comes to mind for me is "chest-pounding," as in a gorilla.
posted by fifthpocket at 12:56 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm asking if there's a name for this tactic, using your tone and face and words to be a dick and make one feel inferior.

It's called using every tool you have available to be an emotionally abusive asshole.
posted by phunniemee at 12:57 PM on October 31, 2016 [89 favorites]

Abuse. Verbal abuse. "Not being a nice bloke in the morning?" Yeah, no. He's abusive and there is a good chance this may escalate.
posted by Aquifer at 12:59 PM on October 31, 2016 [17 favorites]

Abuse is the only word I know.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

Yes. The word is abuse. Please go see a counsellor or a women's shelter and develop a safety plan, whether you decide to stay or go. I won't tell you what to do. But you deserve a safety plan, no matter what choice you make. Please go see a therapist before marrying or having children with this man.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

Abuse. That's what it's called. Verbal for now, but...
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

both verbal and emotional abuse.
and I would consider killing a harmless creature -- with you standing right there begging him not to -- emotionally abusive as well. not to mention downright frightening.
posted by changeling at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [89 favorites]

I guess bullying? Verbal abuse? Strange, immature verbal abuse.

(OMG. I am so willing to put up with a lot in a relationship. But this?! It's just terrible! Terrible. I have to leave this AskME because I know this does not end like it should. :( Oh, there are such
nice people in the world! I want you to go find one and be amazed how pleasant life can be. OK. I am going now. )
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:02 PM on October 31, 2016 [22 favorites]

I was going to say verbal abuse as well. I would be especially concerned that your fiance is displaying this behavior at your workplace -- there have been cases where women end up losing their jobs because their partner was abusive and the workplace deemed that "disruptive" -- seriously effed up, but it absolutely does happen.

I would also say this sounds like gaslighting to me -- he randomly kills a bug and you end up doing the apologizing? And just the general pattern here, that you feel like you can clearly identify this behavior as unacceptable, and yet because there's been "improvement" you feel you would never break up with your partner over it. Actually strategically acting "improved" is a common tactic of abusers to convince their partners that they must be crazy to consider leaving the relationship.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:04 PM on October 31, 2016 [43 favorites]

"If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!"

He's making threats against you and humiliating you in public, in your place of employment.

This is abuse.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:06 PM on October 31, 2016 [77 favorites]

I think the word you're looking for is "bullying."
posted by xingcat at 1:07 PM on October 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: he ended the conversation with "If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!"

This sounds threatening to me. So I'd call it threatening. I'd call it intimidation. I'd call it abusive.

(As a one-off kind of thing? I'd call it "a bad day." Years of it, even with some measure of improvement? Threatening, intimidating abuse.)
posted by rtha at 1:07 PM on October 31, 2016 [43 favorites]

I think sometimes women think that if they always call out their asshole boyfriend every time they're an asshole, and give as good as they get, it means everything is cool and nothing scary or weird is going on. This is not true, you're still dating a weird, angry bully who steps on bugs you were just admiring and then tells you to kiss his fucking ass. And this is during a time where you say things have improved SIGNIFICANTLY? Jesus! Life is too short, this guy completely sucks.
posted by cakelite at 1:07 PM on October 31, 2016 [153 favorites]

Just to be clear - he killed an insect for no reason (just being a dick?) and when you called him out he yelled at you? In front of other people? And you want to know if there is a name for this tactic? Douchebaggery.
posted by fixedgear at 1:09 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Early-stage intimate partner verbal and emotional abuse, designed to ease you into accepting further, more deeply invasive, and soul-withering attacks.
posted by tilde at 1:09 PM on October 31, 2016 [39 favorites]

Best answer: Focusing on your statement that "I'm focusing on finding a word for this way of talking to people so I can address it with him calmly and like an adult.":

It's OK to argue. It's OK to be angry and frustrated with your partner. It may be OK, depending on your conflict style, to yell.

It's not OK to intimidate, and it's a very bad sign if a partner is exhibiting distain or contempt. From the parts of your relationship you are describing, it sounds like he considers it to be in large part a power struggle, in which his winning requires you to lose, rather than a safe, supportive environment in which conflict is natural but not threatening.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:10 PM on October 31, 2016 [61 favorites]

From your sample argument...

Are you sure you guys, like, like each other? I get that you are engaged, and that DTMFA isn't on the table. And I'm not sure DTMFA is really what I'd recommend. But why are you together? What made you choose this guy to spend the rest of your life with? What makes him feel the same way about you?

I definitely hear that this is a thing within the context of a larger relationship where yeah, of course you love each other! But do you guys bicker a lot? Is it hard to remember that you two are actually on the same team and are supposed to have each other's backs?

My parents had this constant level of bickering and low-grade conflict about literally everything including grudge-holding and re-airing of long-held grievances that had to do with nothingburger petty shit like your walking stick story. They had a miserable marriage and eventually got a divorce.

If you guys can't maintain a baseline of not constantly fighting about every little thing all the time, you really should reconsider whether this is someone you can be with long-term.
posted by Sara C. at 1:11 PM on October 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

From Karaage's link, tactic 14, symbolic aggression:

A symbolic act is a verbal or physical gesture that represents or means something of larger significance than the gesture itself.
Symbolic aggression includes verbal or physical gestures aimed at terrorising, threatening, intimidating, dominating, making someone afraid or controlling them.

One of my exs used to do this: he'd use his body in ways that were threatening, but retained plausible deniability. For example, he would come towards me with his chest pushed forward, as though to chest-bump me (he was quite a bit taller than me, so he'd be hitting my chin), making himself as tall and as broad as possible at the same time. It's difficult to put into words just how intimidating this was, given that there was no physical pain involved (and hardly any physical touching, either). So he killed two birds with one shot: on the one hand I'd be afraid (or so he hoped), on the other he appeared entirely innocent of any bad behaviour (since he was just moving towards me, or just twisting his face in cold fury, etc.) Noone ever took me seriously when I talked about it, was the result.
posted by miorita at 1:12 PM on October 31, 2016 [52 favorites]

Threats and intimidation. Those are the words your looking for. And what he did to that insect is called cruelty, and also "the sign of an asshole who likes to hurt things weaker than himself."
posted by MsMolly at 1:17 PM on October 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

posted by Dashy at 1:17 PM on October 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

To answer your question: the words I would use are aggressive, dictatorial, and designed to intimidate - regardless of whether or not you actually felt intimidated. And raising the topic (and his voice) in public, and in front of someone over whom you have authority? Humiliation.

The fact that he brought it up again the following day - after your (unwarranted, offered only to keep the peace) apology - makes me think that he's trying out cowing you into submission. If your wedding date is approaching, I feel duty-bound to advise you that my abusive ex-husband escalated in this way leading up to our wedding and got *markedly* worse after we were married. So many more apologies just to keep the peace, just to calm him down, just to make the argument end.

I know you say you're not planning to separate from him, but please be aware that this kind of behavior can be controlled by the abuser prior to "locking you in" as a marriage partner, and that my experience of it becoming our way of being after marriage is not an unusual one. Him exploding at me, me apologizing, him asserting control over me, rinse, repeat.

Does he have mental health challenges? Is he receiving professional help for that? Assuming you're correct in your assessment that he is essentially a kind and good man, he does not sound well at all. He sounds like someone who is struggling. With that said, I want to emphasize that if he is struggling, it is not your job to make it better. It's his.
posted by pammeke at 1:18 PM on October 31, 2016 [51 favorites]

Look, it doesn't fucking matter what word you choose to call it. This guy is showing nothing but contempt for you and seems to enjoy upsetting you, which is sadistic. Get away from this guy. If you don't, please do not have kids with him.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2016 [28 favorites]

I think you labeled it correctly in your first paragraph: intimidation. Other words that come to mind include machismo and hyperaggressiveness.
posted by WCityMike at 1:20 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

It looks from other questions that you already have a son. This is really truly not the kind of behavior you want to be raising children around. Think about what kinds of lessons he will be getting about how men behave.
posted by peacheater at 1:20 PM on October 31, 2016 [27 favorites]

He's exhibiting contempt. He's treating you as if you're an aggressive stranger threatening his life, and deserve complete verbal annihilation. It is, to put it extremely mildly, complete overkill and is not an acceptable way to conduct yourself in a non-life-threatening situation.
posted by delight at 1:21 PM on October 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

(i am not trying to diminish other replies here, just trying to give some additional help)

it sounds to me like he's having a hard time asserting his side of things in a useful way. so he's getting frustrated and falling back on various not-so-smart responses. if that's the case then he could perhaps benefit from being more assertive (not more aggressive, but more direct and open). this book is one i've used (for myself) - it's clear and well written, and it does talk to people who are too aggressive (some assertiveness books tend to talk only to people who are non-aggressive). he might find that reading that helps him express more clearly and productively his annoyance at you telling him (for example) not to kick sticks, or whatever.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:21 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, saying that he has improved over the past four years is not in itself good enough reason to stay with him. If he has improved over four years but is still showing an unacceptable level of contempt and lack of respect for you, why should you stay? He doesn't get a participation trophy for trying. And he shouldn't have to try so hard to show basic respect for you - there are plenty of guys out there for whom this is not such a hard challenge.
posted by peacheater at 1:23 PM on October 31, 2016 [11 favorites] we're not in DTMFA territory

For the sake of your sanity and safety, please reconsider.

With due respect, labeling this behavior is the least of the issues.
posted by she's not there at 1:24 PM on October 31, 2016 [41 favorites]

Yes, definitely verbal abuse that will leave to emotional abuse, and then to physical abuse. (I lived through it myself and survive).

to whom I am engaged and will not be dumping anytime soon

You may want to seek therapy for yourself so that you can change this.
posted by TinWhistle at 1:26 PM on October 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This guy sounds like he may have pretty standard insecurity-bleeding-into-rage issues. You see this in some ostensibly nice males who, when talking with their partner, manage sudden verbal rage over minor things. Basically, they live on a razor's edge where they suspect their partner is judging them, hating them, planning to leave them.

You know that exhilarating "Do they love me? Or don't they?" phase in the early part of a relationship? They never grew out of it. They never learned to trust, they never got to the point where every single thing you do isn't a referendum on whether you really love them. And now it's driving them bonkers. They explode like that because they're trying to trigger a situation where you see how much you've upset them and then do something to affirm that you're really and truly on their side. It's fucking terrible and it's manipulative. It's also usually a death spiral for a relationship.

As bad as this sounds, that's my best case scenario read of this: that he's an immature wreck with no faith in you or your relationship and it will be nigh-on impossible to get him to settle down and be a decent human being. It's still better than the other interpretation that sticks out, in which he is dangerous and may hurt you.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:29 PM on October 31, 2016 [43 favorites]

To me it looks like some manifestation of repetition compulsion, as in re-staging some specific behavior that was tossed in front of his feet by his parents/siblings/otherpeoples when he was little. Most people would say it's a dealbreaker unless he's doing something substantial about it, like therapy.
posted by Namlit at 1:38 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

"If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!".

Intimitation. Bullying.

If your kid saw this or sees other events like it, it's also terrible parenting.
posted by 26.2 at 1:39 PM on October 31, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'd label it "the behavior of someone I used to know."
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:41 PM on October 31, 2016 [33 favorites]

'it's called abuse... of the emotional and animal variety.

Also, bullying or intimidation works too.
And I don't think any of the above works for you in a life partner.
posted by Tsukushi at 1:44 PM on October 31, 2016

It is called violence that will only escalate when you are pregnant and physically limited and then will in all likelihood be directed at both your own child and any child you have with him. It is called the behavior that will one day leave you bleeding on the floor or fleeing your own life in the middle of the night, losing what you have, and living in fear forever. It is called the behavior that your children will learn is appropriate between men and women, putting your son at great risk of becoming an abuser and any daughter you may have at huge risk of being abused.

You don't need technical terms. That's what it's called.
posted by praemunire at 1:46 PM on October 31, 2016 [25 favorites]

It's called a huge red flag. You should be paying very close attention. Coming up with the perfect term for it is not a step forward in making him stop.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 1:51 PM on October 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

I'm curious why you feel like you need a word for this? Do you feel like if you tell him it's a real thing and not just in your imagination it'll convince him to stop?
posted by zutalors! at 1:57 PM on October 31, 2016 [35 favorites]

So you are on the Internet looking for the exact right word to use in discussing this issue, which you've been talking to him about for would really be ideal if he were researching how best to talk to others about it in order to change.

I would call it intimidation, as you did, and I'm not quite sure why you're looking for another word. But in a three year old -- who wouldn't have the same ability to hurt, wound, and damage me -- I would call it grandiosity. In a three year old, I would consider it my job to help establish bounds of human behavior. In a partner, I sort of feel like...if you have to teach your partner how to be a baseline level of a decent human being to you, it's really not a partnership at all. So I would also call it hostility. Dominance. Aggression. Undermining. Meanness. Narcissistic rage. Harassment. Threatening. Browbeating. Menacing.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:59 PM on October 31, 2016 [24 favorites]

I'm not sure everyone piling on her with different expressions of the same opinion over and over is going to be helpful to her.

I'm not advocating for you to stay, but in your post, you said that's what you're doing. So, if that's what you're doing, I would meet with him. I would outline what you do and don't feel is acceptable in terms of expressing his anger, and I would work out with him ways you both feel he could acceptably express anger. I would also make it clear what actions you will and won't take if he continues to express his anger in ways unacceptable to you.
posted by WCityMike at 2:01 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I broke up with this type of person six months ago. I thought he just had a kind of shitty temper, passionate, whatever. The first time I saw this sort of behavior, I panicked and told him I couldn't see him any more (I'd dated people with anger issues before and it scared the shit out of me) but of course he reassured me that it'd never happen again.

Guess what? Should have listened to my gut. It never stopped and it only got worse, to the point that I ignored any urge to challenge or disagree with anything he said simply because I didn't want to deal with the aftermath of one of his anger explosions.

It was awful; I didn't feel like a person anymore, I just felt like a timid shell of myself. All of my energy was spent walking on eggshells or trying to 'fix' things when he got mad, over things I could never have even dreamed would make a person mad.

If you really need to tag it with a name, here: minimization, denial, etc. I bet you can find even more things that hit home when you start looking, though.

It's not just an argument tactic, though. It's a pattern of abuse and it's part of a larger personality type which so many people fall victim to.

Save however many years of your life that otherwise might be spent with this person who makes you feel this way.
posted by rachaelfaith at 2:01 PM on October 31, 2016 [11 favorites]

Since you're only engaged at this point, I'd call it "not yet his worst behavior."
posted by wryly at 2:06 PM on October 31, 2016 [53 favorites]

I think the "walking on eggshells" and "broken stair" metaphors are helpful. You basically have to arrange your life around this dysfunctional element (aka broken stair) or severely cramp your own sense of dignity (walk on eggshells) to avoid activating the anger.

You might also say that you're making yourself smaller, taking up less space than you deserve, etc.
posted by delight at 2:17 PM on October 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

"If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!".

I had a friend who used that phrase a lot, whenever she was feeling insecure about something and overcompensating.

Sometimes it's because she was doubling down on something in the face of overwhelming evidence she was wrong. Sometimes it was because she wanted to do the dumping before getting dumped.

One time it was in response to behavior similar to the rest of your boyfriend's argument style, which I would call verbal intimidation.

So he may have some underlying insecurity.

Or he really does think he's entitled to boss you around, like a tinpot despot.

Either way you're right that this isn't acceptable behavior. If it's insecurity, him working on that (on his own, with a therapist) could help. I'm not sure about the latter, or how you could definitively tell the difference from a distance.
posted by ghost phoneme at 2:24 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe you're looking for truculence?

Semantics aside, I wish you strength and wisdom in your future with this man.
posted by Everydayville at 2:25 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Abuse, bullying, whatever. This isn't a question of finding the right word for it, the guy is dangerous. He is killing things for no reason, getting furious when you question him about it and puffing up at you in front of other people to display his dominance. It sounds like you are a strong person who is not easily intimidated, and the fact that you're not scared of him may be blinding you to how scary this behavior really is.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:26 PM on October 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I’ll also say this … again, working off the framework that, per your original post, you’re not going to leave him. (You’ve got plenty of advice already if you choose to discard that requirement.)

It can be difficult for some men, depending on their background, to understand the correct way in which to voice their anger. Hell, I’ll abandon third-party and say that I have that problem, so perhaps I am projecting. I do not think your fiancé is doing it well, obviously. But you say you’ve been working on it for four years and he’s made significant improvements.

Anger is looked at by some as wholly a negative thing, and that can be taught to some men. The result is that anger itself is suppressed and comes out in unhealthy and unacknowledged ways. The behavior your fiancé is expressing seems to me like that.

My prior suggestion goes towards building a conversational and situational framework for your fiancé in which he can express anger about something in a healthy, acknowledged, and safe (emotionally and physically safe for you, emotionally safe for him) way.

The way you describe him seems to me as if he has no understanding of how to express his anger correctly, and as a result, it blows up in entirely unacceptable ways. If we’re to assume GOOD intent as opposed to ABUSER intent – and I only make this assumption to give you an alternative to the abuser-intent opinions, because you are requesting that –

Let’s put it this way. Assume anger is water with this metaphor. Right now, the water is coming out in uncontrolled bursts whenever water comes down the line. Assuming you are going to stay with him, he needs to agree to, he needs your help with, and he probably needs professional help with getting some plumbing and faucet dials in place, so that the “water” can fall under his control.

For example, when I am angry, I can envision walking along a gray rocky beach with a cold brisk wind cooling my body. I can listen to blue noise or waves. With some people, I have negotiated “walkaway” rights, i.e., we can agree to leave an argument for a period of time and come back. These are the equivalent of cut-off valves to keep the water from overflowing.

It sounds like he needs to build a control structure and coping techniques for his anger.
posted by WCityMike at 2:38 PM on October 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

I know you don't want to DTMF but at least keep an open mind about tilde's and wryly's comments.

"Early-stage intimate partner verbal and emotional abuse, designed to ease you into accepting further, more deeply invasive, and soul-withering attacks."


"not yet his worst behavior."

I am so so sorry I know you love him and I'm sure he has many great qualities and maybe he does this because he's immature, afraid, damaged or scared on some deep primal level. Maybe he has *really* tried to do better. Maybe it's just chest beating.

But he still just killed something in front of you, abused you into apologizing for it and then humiliated you in front of someone else. Over a stick insect. Before you are legally bound together. And this is the improved behavior?

There's another read on this that might position the 'trying' or 'working on it' as a manipulative strategy to disarm your objections to the behavior and lull you into a (false, imo) sense of security.

What happens when the stakes are higher and he knows it's going to be so much harder for you to walk away?

I am so so sorry again to tell you this but your story is like the absolute textbook beginning to a narrative that ends in serious violence. "But no, I know him, I love him, he would never." No. Abusers are skillful. They acclimate you to their abuse verbally and emotionally gradually turning up the control and intensity. This is the *early* stage and it can last a long - years - time. So you feel safe. You think you know what you're dealing with. He yells. He's mean. But you push back. You're strong. You don't take this shit.

Then, one day, maybe sooner, maybe later, it goes up a notch. A push. A scarier threat. The car keys and your phone are thrown out a window. And you are so ground down by the years of yelling and intimidation you just - decide it's easier to say nothing. Or you push back with words - and he pushes back with his fist or an open palm. On and on up and up.

You have apologized for something he did. You're intimidated. You are *already* being acclimated. (I'm saying you - but you are NOT the one at fault here. No matter what happens now or later and no matter how he tries to blame you or say it takes two or whatever. The abuser is the one responsible.)

Maybe worse won't happen. We only have a tiny internet slice of your life, but for the love of god, if you stay with this guy, do not marry him til this shit is resolved. As in real, appreciable change and understanding from him as to why it's not OK. Not words and promises. Action and demonstrated, consistent behavioral over an extended - years - period of time.
posted by t0astie at 2:44 PM on October 31, 2016 [28 favorites]

"If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!".

Well I kept talking like that once, just to see what would happen. I almost instantly found myself pinned against the wall off my feet. His hands were sort of aiming for my neck, only not getting there because if he let go of me in any way I was well positioned to succeed in my attempts to either sucker-punch him or knee him in the balls. It was scary as shit.

My sister wound up being married for a whopping six months, bailing after he became abusive shortly after the wedding. She got a lot of flak from his people and the church they went to, I won't lie. But she found a new church, moved, etc. and pulled through okay.

Look, I'm just saying... this is scary, and I'm concerned about you and your son, and if you ever need anything at all, MeMail me.

During a calm time, I'd establish some firm boundaries. If you Y, I will X. If you are still Y or Z in 2 mo time I will be moving out. etc. And stick to it.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:47 PM on October 31, 2016 [10 favorites]

I agree that it's severe abusive intimidation, and possibly terrorizing. Just because you don't respond by being totally cowed (though you do apologize in order to placate him) doesn't mean that his intention isn't to terrorize you into submission. The fact that he does this during even the smallest disagreements means that his abuse trigger requires almost no pressure to respond.

Just another voice suggesting that you not minimize this very troubling behavior, especially since you have a young son who may be learning to model male behavior from his soon-to-be stepdad. You may be habituated to this kind of abusive behavior, but as you can see from the responses here, stuff like this is considered a red flag because even if there have been improvements, the aggression and contempt can easily escalate into physical violence. Him working on this in a very serious manner with a professional who specializes in working with abusive men would be a good start.
posted by quince at 2:48 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I realized that my answer didn't include the type of language you should use to describe his behavior.

What about "People who care about you don't talk to you that way."

If this dude gives half a shit about you, "that is not an appropriate way to talk to someone you love" should be all the reminder he needs. You don't need a buzzword or some psychobabble to explain why this isn't OK.

I was once in an abusive relationship, and this doesn't, in isolation, come off like specifically dangerous abuse to me. To an extent I think that's a red herring*, and that trying to frame someone with a particular and maybe solvable problem as an "abuser" isn't going to accomplish what you want.

But yeah I expect much better treatment from people I'm even willing to consider friends, let alone someone I would marry.

posted by Sara C. at 2:51 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Poor Conflict Resolution Skills + Bullying and Intimidation.

The answer? Joint counseling so you can learn how to relate with each other in healthier ways, especially because this current way of communicating triggers insecurity, then anger.
posted by jbenben at 2:52 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think you've got the name of what's going on pretty well sorted. But when you say "working on it" - what do you mean, exactly?

It's clearly abusive behavior - does he recognize it as messed up after the fact? Is he seeing a counselor? Does he have some kind of mental health issue and is working on addressing it?

I say this as a parent of a tween with ADHD and some other stuff who lashes out with some verbal attacks when things aren't going well. But we are seeing doctors, counselors, and we have lots of calm conversations around the nasty outbursts to talk about better ways to handle conflict. He's working on it.

I know he's your boyfriend and not your child, but the degree to which he recognizes this is messed-up and is willing to accept responsibility for it is, to me, the make-it or break-it issue.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you do have a child that is around this person please realize that while you say you're not afraid of this behavior - your child certainly is. Do you want someone speaking to you that way in front of your child? To your child?

I would also hazard a guess that in some way you are afraid because otherwise why twist yourself up in knots to apologize and keep the preace? You're doing it out of fear that his behavior will continue or get worse if you don't do that. Just because you don't think he's going to hit you (yet) it doesn't mean you're not being abused or acting in fear.

This behavior is classic outright abuse. He's not even trying to hide it in public and that is scary even for me reading this.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:05 PM on October 31, 2016 [23 favorites]

"intimidation tactics"; "threatening language"; "verbal abuse" to start.

(How on earth did you guess that DTMFA was going to be the consensus response to your description of this man?)

(did I read right that YOU apologized to HIM when he screamed at you to kiss his fucking ass because you asked him not to kill a bug?)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:13 PM on October 31, 2016 [14 favorites]

I know a woman who dated a guy who did this with escalating severity and frequency over a few years while they dated, although he seemed to make "some progress" in couples therapy and she was sure it wasn't abuse because she usually called him out on it and, as she explained, "sometimes I'm a bitch to him too".

His nastiness, bullying, physical intimidation, and contempt escalated more after their engagement and a week before their wedding he hit her for the first time. She didn't tell anyone, she apologized "for provoking him", he cried and apologized, they got married. During their marriage he continued to be nasty and threatening, occasionally hit her, often terrified her, and cheated on her dozens of times to boot.

The only word for this behavior is "being an abusive shitbag" and when you're ready to hear this- truly- the cure is to leave him.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:15 PM on October 31, 2016 [22 favorites]

Consider that he knows not to treat his boss at work like this. As delight says, he's not going to treat strangers who are mildly disagreeing with him like this, certainly not if he needed anything from them. You should be able to demand that he treats you better than he would a complete stranger.
posted by XMLicious at 3:20 PM on October 31, 2016 [22 favorites]

Dominance Display

(Also, agreeing that this behavior is completely unacceptable and that I hope you are safe and stay safe.)
posted by blurker at 3:26 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

It sounds like he needs to build a control structure and coping techniques for his anger.....and these things are HIS responsibility to learn, NOT yours to teach him.

I think he knows perfectly well that his behavior is horrible and I'm in the DTMFA camp.
posted by brujita at 3:41 PM on October 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

To me it sounds like the facial equivalent of his foot squishing the walking stick, but reined in for now. The expression and demeanor and language are meant to squish you. I hear you that you are aware of that and are not going to let yourself be squished by this man. But I do hope that you take care that in the years of defensive and protective postures that you will have to assume to prevent the squishage, you do not mold yourself into shapes that end up distorting the person that you want to and would otherwise be.
posted by tentacle at 3:51 PM on October 31, 2016 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I like that someone above mentioned symbolic aggression. Another way I think about this (this is a trait I share with your partner) is as petulance. Or, to sort of compare it with a concept used to describe biological development, I can see this being an example of neoteny: we're adults who have retained this very childlike, uncontrolled emotional anger response during confrontations. I think it can be a bit of a cultural thing. I'm a man, but I definitely act like my mom when conflicts arise, right down to the curled lip, furrowed brow, and general stinkface.

I loathe this attribute and have spent most of my adult life learning how to limit it, but it also feels very innate at the front end. I don't think I can get rid of the response, but I've gotten pretty good at closing it down as soon as it starts to well up. Part of that success has included getting my partner (of almost a decade) to understand that this is something that I feel like I have limited control of once it gets rolling, so when I recognize it happening (and I do recognize it) I can let him know and we mutually avoid things that make it worse. Most often that means I need to walk away for like five minutes while my petulant rage-y hormone flush subsides. So, not to beanplate or anything, but because I read some hoo-boy comments above I'd like to take a quick moment to note that behaviors aren't on/off switches, they're a phased continuum of stimulus and response. We can't flip that switch, but we can understand and control the stimuli to affect a change in the response.

I'm glad my partner didn't DTMFA, and instead we talked about things and agreed to patiently work with one another. We didn't become abusers to our three kids, either. Instead, they see dad and dad get into an argument and then put strategies in place that diffuse the irrational angry bits. Then we talk. We often include the kids in this talk. It's weird to see people assuming that the only people who have successful relationships and families are faultless.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:55 PM on October 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I'd call it assertiveness failure expressed as agressiveness. You know your partner better than anyone else here, so you can decide whether the DTMFA chorus is more right, but I see the confrontation a little differently than they do...

From your description, you pointed out the bug, he reflexively batted it away (and told you how he felt about it) and then you scolded him for doing soething he's already done, he explained why he did it (in a dickish way), and then you started yelling. He asked you to stop, and you yelled at him more. I do think you owed him an apology for that because that sounds super obnoxious to be on the receiving end of.

Now, him bringing it up the next day might have been shitty, or it might have been his way of trying to work through something that made him uncomfortable about the previous conversation. I think you owe it to yourself to really be honest about how you are talking to him when he is asking you to not "talk to [him] that way."

Now, as to his body language/facial expression/tone: This was said with anger, loud tone, and what seemed like the most intimidating face he could muster. You seem to be working from the assumption that he is choosing to 1.) be angry, and 2.) change his physical posture in a way to purposefully be intimidating. I'm not sure that this is a fair assumption.

From the sounds of things, he doesn't have a particularly healthy way of dealing with anger, but when people are angry they talk louder, and puff themselves up, and get red in the face -- it's how anger works by default. It's entirely possible that he's not doing this as a way to intimidate you, it's just how the "fight" part of his "fight or flight" response comes out. It's ok for you to ask him to work on better ways of expressing that anger, but to be fair, it does seem like what you want is for him not to get angry in the face of abuse, which is trickier.

And yeah, I should make it clear that, to me, "That was totally unnecessary! Why couldn't you just leave it be?!" is more verbally abusive than "I don't care what you think, kiss my ass." Though, of course, neither bodes well for the future of the relationship.

He needs to be more assertive about how he deals with (what he perceives as) you scolding him. Assertiveness goes both ways -- being too passive can be just as unhealthy as being too aggressive. You both seem to have "rules" about the ways that you are willing to put up with being talked to. Consider whether his rules are unreasonable (maybe they are!)
posted by sparklemotion at 4:02 PM on October 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

You don't write eight paragraphs to find out what this behaviour is called. He's abusive and I think you know that.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 4:02 PM on October 31, 2016 [24 favorites]

You two could benefit greatly by understanding the nature of your communication from the viewpoint of Transactional Analysis (TA).

At it's core TA is simple, based on the 3 ego states of Parent, Adult and Child (PAC). TA is as simple as noticing the state from which one is communicating and the state at which it is aimed. Relationships are pretty good when most communication is Adult to Adult. When both are communicating Parent to Child, drama ensues.

Without knowing the PAC model, my next paragraph probably seems judgmental and blaming. After spending a few minutes learning about the model, the next paragraph is either clear to you and him or is just another worthless opinion.

The walking stick conversataion was each of you in your Parent state addressing the other's Child state. The clearest expressions of this were "Don't do that! It's not hurting you at all, just leave it be." and "he was trying to assert himself using his stature and tone so as to get someone to shut up."
posted by Homer42 at 4:25 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Around this time last year, a friend's sister's husband got into a fight with her at a bar my friend waitressed at, and then the sister and her husband drove home, and then he beat her to death. Child services took my friend's three young nieces and nephews when their father went to jail and the family have not yet been able to regain custody of the children. My friend posted a big series of photos of her sister's grave this week, to commemorate the first anniversary.

So, some thoughts.

You spend the majority of this post describing violent behavior. In the middle, and especially at the end, you take a hard swerve and re-frame the power dynamics at play in these interactions from a into a professional hierarchy dispute:

"or when one is about to get into a drunken bar brawl"

"it still seemed like I was some dude in a bar he wanted to fight"

which then gets twisted into:

"I'm livid that he'd talk to me like I'm some employee of his...or that he'd even potentially talk to an employee like that!"

You are taking a list of violent incidents and violent behavior and trying to frame it as a non-violent power balance issue. Normal employers do not keep their employees in line by killing insects in front of them, swearing at them, using physically intimidating body language, or literally setting off their fight/flight instincts, making them feel like they are about to be in a bar fight.

You're trying to take your own power back here by being indignant and contemptuous of this, calling this display "fresh BS", saying that you are "POWER PISSED," whatever. You already know what the word for this is: it's an escalation of your partner's anger issues towards physical abuse. Your repetition that your partner was rounding on you like "some dude in a bar he wanted to fight"? That's your physical, adrenal response kicking in in reaction to a real danger. He was going to get violent with you and your body was preparing for it. If this really is a gigantic improvement after four years, you already know that's what's going on. You know that "If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!" means "I'm going to physically fight you."

Look. Maybe you can take your SO in a fight if you do "have a big problem." Maybe you are OK being in a constantly embattled relationship where enormous amounts of your time and energy are devoted to keeping this guy's anger issues under control. To making sure he doesn't literally stroke out from rage like he did 4 years ago when, unless I'm super mistaken, you two got back together. How is your son dealing with this? He's 12? That's not going to be an easy time to deal with a father who's gearing up into beating his family.

I'm sorry you're in this situation. You don't deserve to be emotionally abused, intimidated, or physically threatened. But I think it may be time to seriously step back and think about whether this relationship is a safe one for you and your son.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:28 PM on October 31, 2016 [62 favorites]

For what it's worth, I don't think you telling him not to do something, and providing a reason, is in the same rhetorical league as "I don't care what you think." The first is at least related to the matter at hand; the second transcends the actual events to say, "even though you're my partner, I literally don't think your opinion is worth my time."

And if that's not what he means, he needs to figure out how to say what he means.
posted by delight at 4:31 PM on October 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

Not only do i think this is abusive, but as someone who has(and had, as many of them have passed away) multiple very abusive members of my extended family this is almost word for word identical behavior to several of them.

If i had to pick a phrase, i'd say not as abusive as it's going to get. It never ever stops here, in my experience. If he really meant it with stopping it, he'd already have gotten professional help on his own.(or will, maybe, when he hits rock bottom hard enough. but probably not)

My grandfather died in his freaking 90s still acting like this. I am dead serious that this always escalates. I wish my mother had an account here, so she could comment on this. I see no one has mentioned the gift of fear, and it's been years since i read it, but i know there's several more descriptive terms for this exact kind of behavior in there.
posted by emptythought at 4:36 PM on October 31, 2016 [10 favorites]

"If you keep talking to me like that we're gonna have a big problem, I can tell you that!"

This is something that comes out of 4 yr olds, not grown men. Hearing an adult say something like this while making over the top anger faces just sounds incredibly immature. Immature and, frankly, a little scary. I would want him to articulate just how he thinks you are talking to him and how it makes him feel. I would also like to know what big problem we are going to have because threats like that are not ok, not even from 4 yr olds.

This man is never going to argue effectively acting like this, it's obvious his anger mounts fast and gets the best of him. He needs to learn some calming techniques before he hurts somebody he loves. At the very least, if he can calm himself, he can argue his viewpoints more effectively.

Note that I'm trying to be diplomatic here, if this happened with my partner often, I would be eyeing the door.
posted by Foam Pants at 4:50 PM on October 31, 2016

posted by Sebmojo at 5:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Abuse. Bullying. Unacceptable. Those are the names I'd use.
posted by SisterHavana at 5:26 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

When your fight are about really small things, that suggests that what you are really fighting about is power / control. If your fiance thinks that he should be able to control your words and your feelings, then he may have trouble with boundaries and with respecting your independent agency.
posted by puddledork at 5:56 PM on October 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

Look, people are voicing their concerns about your son being part of this possible family because they're concerned your fiance may model violent behavior in front of him ("model it" on you) which will increase his chances of growing up to be abusive to women.

Let me voice my concern that your son is hitting adolescence, and that even the most patient and loving parent will have conflict at times with adolescents. Managing that conflict healthily is a necessity. The physical intimidation and emotional manipulation that your fiance thinks is okay to use on you? It's just as likely he's going to start doing it to your son, if he's not doing it already.

What's going to happen when your son gets older and has the normal teenage conflicts with parents? What's going to happen when he gets bigger and more of a perceived physical threat to this guy? What's going to happen if your son, growing into manhood and wondering about his role, tells him "Hey jerkass don't treat my mother like that?"
posted by Hypatia at 6:07 PM on October 31, 2016 [21 favorites]

Abuse and bullying, with generous side orders of gaslighting, cruelty and contempt.
posted by rpfields at 6:24 PM on October 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

In an effort to be productive, since you say you want to stay with him - I've had a lot of people like this, to some degree, in my life. I don't think the way to deal with them is to say that you feel like you're walking on eggshells, or how hard it is on you. The way they see it is that you're just as bad as they are, and they see the eggshells thing as an attack.

The thing to do is empathize and explain how you would handle a similar thing. So instead of saying "you could have just left it alone" with the walking stick, be like, "oh, yeah, they're weird. Personally I would have just left it alone, but I get it" and then redirect the conversation.

And then when he brought it up again, same thing. I feel like you saying "you're still on that?" made him feel attacked again and like his behavior was inappropriate, which will make him escalate. Instead be like, "yeah, i get how you feel" or whatever.

Basically he's insecure and stuck on the "Fight" part of "fight or flight." The only way to deal with it is to make the "fight" part impossible because you're being so understanding.

I mean don't get me wrong, this is exhausting. But it does work to stop fights.
posted by zutalors! at 6:27 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Killing the bug is what I would really try to find a name for. It seems to be an extension of his helplessness in trying to contol/intimidate you. And it seems to be a dangerous part, projecting his inability to get to you onto something weaker.
posted by Vaike at 6:39 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Threatening, intimidation, bullying, chest-pounding.

I agree with everyone that this is abuse and control but the specific interaction where he rages out to get you to behave how he wants, and patrcticularly because this is accompanied by a "warning" is threatening.
posted by kapers at 6:42 PM on October 31, 2016

"The way my father acted before his fists started flying?"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:47 PM on October 31, 2016

I think you should ask yourself what, specifically, would improve if you had a name for this. Where would you use that name? In conversations with him, yes? But he already knows what he did - he was there. If he was willing and able to understand it for the unacceptable behaviour it is, you wouldn't need the perfect name for describing it because it wouldn't even matter - you could even say "hey, you were doing that thing again" and he'd say "yes, yes I was, and I am so sorry, and I am horrified and disappointed in myself, and here are the concrete steps I will take to stop myself dealing with things that way." Actually, you wouldn't even need to do that because he'd be the one bringing it up in the first place.

When you look instead for the best name to use to describe it to him, you sound like you want to name it in a way that legitimises your dislike of it. Like if you say "you were doing X," he will say "oh! Oh now you put it like that, I understand and it was bad and I'm sorry." Or maybe that you'll know some objective third party somewhere classes this as Unacceptable Behaviour even if he doesn't. Or at least, that if you name it just right, he'll know what you mean when you bring it up - because otherwise he might just say "what? That was minor, that was nothing."

So if you want the word that best describes it to someone else or to yourself, maybe 'intimidation' or 'verbal aggression'? But if you want the word that describes it perfectly to him, then, well. If he already sees why this is not ok, then you could call it "flarnwarbling" and he'd still feel just as determined to stop doing it. And if he doesn't already see that it's not ok, after four years of 'working on' his behaviour, then all the naming in the world won't make him.
posted by Catseye at 6:54 PM on October 31, 2016 [23 favorites]

I can't tell you to consider ending this but I can ask that you read - even peruse - a book that many have found to be helpful. It can put some framework around what you've described and show that others have faced it.

Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum.
posted by Lil Bit of Pepper at 6:54 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was in a relationship for four years with a man-child who gradually escalated exactly this kind of hot bullshit. And I didn't leave, because I wasn't afraid of him, because it was like watching a six-foot forty-year-old melt down like a toddler. And who is afraid of a toddler? It was laughable, and I kept thinking if *I* did or said the right thing, surely he'd realize that he was batshit insane, and get help.

He never hit me with an open fist. But the screaming turned physical, and he shoved (much smaller) me backwards onto a ceramic tile floor.

Ask me about my permanent nerve damage.

posted by SockPuppetOfShame at 7:06 PM on October 31, 2016 [58 favorites]

> in which his words, facial expression, and tone all said to me "shut up lady, or I will scare you into shutting up!"

...what do you think that does to a child?

I made a reproductive mistake, and then an access/custody mistake, with a person who behaved like that. It took pretty much half my kid's life to undo the damage. Fortunately she is a well-adjusted, happy kid...

...who cried in terror recently when there was some threat of seeing the person who had behaved like that (because one of her extra-curriculars are about to do a thing where they might bump into him). Just the IDEA, years and years after things came to an end, sent a well-balanced, happy child into terrified tears for a brief moment while I explained: NO, you are NOT going there, you certainly WILL NEVER HAVE TO do something like that, etc.

That brand of shit can act nice when it likes to. Very manipulative.

For two-plus years now I have been seeing a guy who, if I told him, 'When you did that, it felt like "shut up lady, or I will scare you into shutting up!"... I expect he would be near tears, absolutely horrified. (Infinitely more so if it had been my kid he had scared.) But it's just unthinkable, you know?

One of the first men I had anything approaching an intimate relationship with after the "shut up lady, or..." guy, when I told him some stories, he literally reeled back in horror. He was quite unfamiliar with the dynamics of abuse. Older gentlemanly sort. Just literally a look of shock on his face.

Normal people don't behave anything like that. The word you are looking for is "abuse." There is a pile-on here for very good reason.

You can stay with a guy like that if it pleases you to do so if you are single, but there is no excuse for letting abusers anywhere near children. I tried for some years to 'help' mine. Educate him. Oh, look, here's another therapist. Oh, look, he's in anger management classes. Oh, look, here we are visiting my parents for the 1000th time because I can trust him to 'behave' there and not frighten us...

One thing that helped with getting me firmly out was an Ask MeFi answer I wish I could still find. It was a first-person experience. The jist was: 'Our mother had choices, our mother had agency. We were kids and did not have choices. I will never forgive her for what we had to go through...' That woke me the hell up.

People like this do well at acting, at playing 'Ooh, I'm doing it less.' But normal people do not do it AT ALL.
posted by kmennie at 7:57 PM on October 31, 2016 [54 favorites]

Ahem. He visited you at work today just so he could loudly bully you in front of people you work with. Because it made him feel better, and because he can't let things go.
posted by the webmistress at 8:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [20 favorites]

Domestic violence. That's what it is.
posted by honey-barbara at 10:34 PM on October 31, 2016 [13 favorites]

"Being a creep who likes to pick on people and insects smaller than him." Find someone nice!
posted by johngoren at 2:40 AM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would call it purposefully intimidating posturing by a bully that worked, since it led to you apologizing. No wonder he returned to the topic the following day: he wanted more of that sweet feeling of winning, and what's more in public (in front of your employee) this time. That's called escalating the abuse, btw.

I couldn't help noticing quite a bit of humorous tough-guy wording in your question; I suspect it serves to reject a "victim" identity and to distance you from the emotional impact of being on the receiving end of such hurtful unkindness (as well as to steer our answers away from DTMFA territory). It reminds me of the mother of an (abusive) ex of mine, who had been married to his abusive dad for four decades. By the time I met her, it was like she was made of cast iron. I just remember feeling like that was no way for a human being to have to live their entire life, showing no vulnerability or weakness, never completely relaxing, managing their adult partner like the seen-it-all mother of a volatile toddler. The amount of emotional labour involved was just staggering. (Also, note that her son also grew up to be abusive.)

It's weird to see people assuming that the only people who have successful relationships and families are faultless.

I might agree with this sentiment (and the entire answer it is a part of) if it were the rage-y partner who had written the question, asking for strategies to work on their abusive tendencies. Abusive people do have a possibility of recovery with a lot of really hard, gruelling work. But the chances of someone curing an abusive person (by finding the right way to persuade them from being abusive) are nil.

I think I have recommeded Lundy Bancroft's Why Does He Do That? inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men to you before. But go ahead and read it this time. I really feel like you'll get a lot out of it.

Also, if anyone came and killed a small living creature I was admiring, I would be livid and they would be left in no doubt about that. There was nothing wrong (and certainly nothing abusive, as someone suggested above!) with your response.
posted by sively at 3:23 AM on November 1, 2016 [25 favorites]

[after not understanding a couple of comments here, some googling has revealed that "walking stick" is the common name for a kind of insect in the usa. i didn't know this when i wrote my answer; perhaps this comment will also help someone else.]
posted by andrewcooke at 3:33 AM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Re-reading this after a day of thinking about it, the name of his tactic is, of course, massive defense.

The problem is that while he may be working on controlling his anger (and perhaps improving in terms of statistics), the underlying state of deep-seated anxiety (which shows itself in his facial expression and by saying categorical things like "don't talk to me like that" when you actually just express some rather mild disagreement) is not addressed.

Everyone gets triggered into feeling threatened every once in a while, so that's not the point; it's the differences in people's defensive strategies that tell the tale. Someone who first flattens an innocent insect, brushes aside your rational and emotional responses, and, when challenged, launches into a poorly camouflaged panic attack is not handling "feeling threatened" well.

Compare with yourself: he yells at you, threatens you in front of others, but you say you're not scared. You don't seem to have that kind of anxiety. Which makes me think you may be lacking an understanding of how dangerous he might actually become.

I will put a coin into the bucket others have been steadily filling here: there is no "beanplating" necessary to predict that this isn't going to end well and to say that you should consider taking your leave from this relationship.
posted by Namlit at 4:19 AM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

My mother behaved like your partner. As soon as I could I left home and went no contact with my entire family for years

Do you want your kid to view your home as a prison they have to escape? You've picked the right man for that if so.
posted by winna at 4:20 AM on November 1, 2016 [12 favorites]

Your example is a bit of a tricky one because I also get very annoyed when people 'tell me off' about 100 times ('but why didn't you...?' 'but why couldn't you...?'). I really hate it and it does make me very angry and yes I do want to shut the person up because why go on about it? Once is enough. The shame is already very overwhelming. For me, I view that like relentless bullying from the other person. He seems to be carrying a lot of anger, however, outside of that sort of scenario and if he's trying to shout you down and is physically threatening then that could very well escalate. I also agree that you're trying to not appear to be a victim which is dangerous when you are. Is this man the father of your child? The one who did not want to pay child support? If so then please read over your old messages. There are about 100 red flags which most of the commenters on those posts clearly point out.

'Getting better' is not the same as 'good enough' btw. It could take him your entire life until he behaves acceptably by which point the damage will have been done to both you and your son.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 6:46 AM on November 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Because sometimes I think it helps to view yourself as the third party: your fiance did this in front of your employee. If you witnessed this sort of behavior happening to your boss (or your sister, or your best friend, or your child, or a freaking stranger on the street), would you be worrying over how to classify and label the behavior? Or would you be sincerely worried about that person and wanting to help them get out of the situation ASAP?
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:33 AM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm focusing on finding a word for this way of talking to people so I can address it with him calmly

I think everyone else has given you lots of options for what to call it so I'm actually here to say something else about the need to address this.

I have a 14 year old son. He was still slight and shorter than me at 12 but by 13 he was 180cm and 85kg (about 6ft and 190lb). My son has no idea how strong he is. A few times now I've stumbled backwards a step after a high five just because I'm not expecting that much force, or he and his siblings are playfully roughhousing until he accidently knocks someone halfway across the room.

He's huge, he's strong and full of testosterone. If your boy grows anything like mine did all of a sudden, I would be worried about him being around your partner. It could be dangerous for both of them.

I just wanted to mention this in case your son is, like my 12 yo, still quite small and cute and it hasn't occurred to you how quickly they can become big muscly adult-sized people. It took me by surprise.
posted by stellathon at 9:47 AM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not asking for advice on how to make this behavior stop. I'm asking if there's a name for this tactic.

The word for this behavior is Abuse as others have said over and over. The word for this kind of relationship is Abusive and the word for him is Abuser.

As you're not interested in stopping this abuse; I'd recommend therapy for your pre-teen son who is surely not unscathed by this, and extra curricular activities where he can be exposed to positive male role models.
posted by French Fry at 10:05 AM on November 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

I know this probably feels overwhelming and I commented yesterday but I wanted to say that the words I provided were based not just on his reaction at the moment, although that would be enough.

It's the idea that he started it again, at your workplace, the next day. Yes, it could be an argument gone wrong, but the thing is...if he wasn't in a place to bring it up and hear you disagree or even be dismissive then it was his responsibility to wait a bit longer.

Since I've stepped there...that capacity to continue to demean you in a terrible way the next morning informed my post. I have personally been through anger management training and have fought some tendencies towards rage in myself. I can tell you that there was no language that my husband could have used to make me stop, because he didn't have to discuss it with me seriously more than I think about twice before I started working on it myself. Improvement over four years does not impress me. It's hard to change but it's not that hard to change to a degree where you don't do the same thing over again 12-18 hours later over the same topic.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:12 AM on November 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think I must be missing something here. It sounds like you don't like the way his face looks when he gets angry? Why is the way his face looks something you think he should control? Honestly, it sounds like you're getting into two-sided fights where you use words he perceives as rude (e.g., dismissing his desire to talk about the walking stick incident), and he reacts with anger.
posted by yarly at 11:21 AM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another comment from lived experience for perspective.

When I was six years old, a group of classmates were staring at the school sidewalk. I'd just gotten out of class, so didn't know what was going on. A teacher noticed me and said, "we're looking at a Daddy Long-Legs!" Well, since my parents had taught me that you kill spiders, I walked right up and stomped on it. In front of all the kids. Several of whom started crying. The teacher was looking at me wide-eyed. "Honey... what did you do that for?" But I was already crying too, because I realized I'd killed an innocent being and hurt others' feelings. "I'm sorry, I thought you were s'posed to," I sobbed.

I'm 40 years old now and still remember stepping on that spider and hurting other people's feelings. That incident gave me a Buddhist appreciation for insects.

You did not owe your boyfriend an apology for his behavior.

I too dated a guy I thought I was handling fine; I'm big and strong, and used my wellsprings of patience drawn from having grown up with a father like your boyfriend's (to whom I no longer speak due to his childishness and abusive outbursts... he's 60+ now and hasn't changed). I always talked things through with him, did the whole emotional labor thing hoping to help him. He asked for help, too. The problem was, he improved on the surface while the violence got progressively worse.

One day he slapped me in a supermarket. In public. Because I had put ketchup in our shopping cart. I broke up with him not long afterwards. He threatened to kill me; gave our (my) cat away to his new girlfriend's best friend. He had a new girlfriend a few weeks after we broke up; they had a daughter 6 months after the breakup. Yeah. Do the math. She wasn't premature.

Are you happy babysitting this guy?
posted by fraula at 1:20 PM on November 1, 2016 [23 favorites]

For anyone else who's not familiar with walking stick insects- they are large, interesting, harmless insects. Little kids love them. Slow-moving, gentle, fragile, almost elderly in their character. Stomping one is not at all like killing an ant or a little spider (which I also think is shitty, but lots of people do it). Deliberately killing a walking stick is much more like killing a grasshopper or even a butterfly. It's actually a brutal, shitty thing to do, and I feel safe in asserting that most people would not choose to stomp on a walking stick.

OP, I also think it's a red flag that you did not actually describe this guy killing the walking stick, although you did describe him batting it with his shoe first. But he did kill it... you just left that action out of your description. Perhaps I am wrong, but I interpret that as an attempt to minimize your partner's abusive actions by not fully reporting the more heinous ones. You also sounded really mad and Power Pissed as you described the ensuing interactions, but then I was surprised that YOU were the one who had apologized. You really did nothing wrong to my eye- and certainly nothing as nasty as he did. Questioning his motive in killing a bug (even if you nagged or scolded, which I actually don't think you did based on what you wrote) is not anywhere NEAR as bad as him telling you he doesn't fucking care what you think and scaring you- that is egregious, that is contempt, and those are breakup words.

It seems to me that the feelings you have in your head are strong and opinionated, but the actions and words you are using with this man are very conciliatory, and erasing/minimizing your actual feelings about this guy. That is a huge red flag that you are on the bad, unsafe end of the power dynamic in this pairing.

Your son might grow up big and challenging to this guy, exacerbating his insecurities, and this guy might bar-brawl with your kid once the kid hits his teen growth spurt and talks back one day. Or your son might grow up small and sensitive and soft, arousing this guy's contempt and getting bullied and dominated. Along the way, your son is learning how to treat you and other women.

Most father figures would help your little son learn about a walking stick bug, not crush one as a display of dominance then harp on it to humiliate Mom at work the next day. This guy is seriously treating you very very badly, and your entire history of questions (which I assume are about him) underlines that it's not just the one issue- it's a pattern. Please please leave him. He's not kind, and worse, he's not safe.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:48 PM on November 1, 2016 [31 favorites]

Did he like killing the insect? Did you read joy or shame in him mostly? I bet as he kicked at the walking stick, he felt the wrongness of that act, even as he committed it, for a host of reasons. Because it's a harmless and charming insect and it's just on its face wrong to kill those things. Because he knew he would look brutal. Because he knew you would be hurt. Then your saying "what, why" intensified all those feelings and to push the feelings away, he doubled down and decided to decide that the problem was not what he'd done but your anger at him. It is not as if the actions and perceptions of an abusive person are simple; they're as wracked and ringed with afterthoughts and second guesses as anyone's. The difference is that an abusive person will lie to make it simple and to avoid shame. It's like somebody on speed. They want to keep taking speed so they don't have to come down. He'll either figure it out and grow up or keep wrecking relationships with people and perhaps wrecking the people themselves.

He'll have to do his figuring out with somebody else, though, because he's torn it with you by revealing that he's got it in him to kill stick insects. Anybody who would deliberately kill a walking stick and announce that he "hates those" is not fit to be a human companion, even if he did secretly feel bad about it.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:34 PM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've been there, and the sense that if only you could describe the behavior perfectly, or if you could identify its cause, then the behavior would stop is one of huge fallacies of being in an abusive relationship. It makes a person on the receiving end of abuse feel like they have more power than they do.
posted by salvia at 10:24 PM on November 1, 2016 [21 favorites]

Also--speaking as someone who loves walking sticks too, and the characterizations of the insect here are very accurate--even if it was a big, ugly, scary, gross bug that I hated, if my partner saw it and said "I love those!" I cannot imagine what would have to possess me to make my next move killing it. Why would I want to kill something my partner has just said they loved? When my partner says they love something, it makes me feel warm and loving toward them, not angry and like destroying the thing.

Oh, and yes, it's called verbal and emotional abuse.
posted by tiger tiger at 12:35 AM on November 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think you have been dealing with this abuse for so long that your outrage meter is broken. And you should be outraged by his behavior. And despite saying you're not breaking up with him anytime soon, you should.
posted by poppunkcat at 7:33 AM on November 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

More potential labels for this: Cruel. Sadistic. This guy really has serious issues and you don't need him around your kid.

With that out of the way, I'm a little curious as to whether he is aware of your vulnerability in this kind of situation. It's heartbreaking to me even to read that he killed the bug like that and I assume it hurt your feelings to see it. But it seems like he is missing any kind of sense of the emotional impact and thinks you are just picking something to bust his chops about. Do you tell him how you feel when he does stuff like that? But I ask this with the understanding that this guy has problems way beyond what better communication from you will solve.
posted by BibiRose at 7:58 AM on November 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, I married someone who wasn't that bad when I married him, but became a lot worse.

. You cannot change his behavior, only your own. You may be able to affect his behavior. You might affect his behavior in ways you don't like.
. Be yourself.
. When he is a jerk, killing a harmless creature that you like, describe his behavior accurately. Wow, that was mean/ ugly/ unpleasant/ uncalled-for/ jerk behavior. and I hate it/ find it repugnant/ am disgusted by the specified behavior. Try to limit the emotional component.
. Live your life. Do not let his childish, narcissistic, assholery change how you vote,work, watch tv, have friends, relate to family, etc.
. When he is a jerk, reject his behavior. Walk away. Say your piece, then stop. Do not engage in argument after you have made whatever point you have. Allow him to make his point, but not at length. The term for managing behavior by ignoring it is extinguishing, which is nifty.
. When he is a pleasant person, give him positive reinforcement. Thanks for picking up the towels/ I love it when you do X nice thing. Even a smile or gesture can convey positive reinforcement. Good behavior should get attention.
. Read the Shamu article.

Me, I changed my behavior towards my then husband. Stopped arguing, stopped fighting. Walked away so often, I wore (ok, metaphorical) ruts in the rug. And he left. Because he didn't want the me that didn't engage and that didn't accept the crap. Other reasons, too. For me, the end of the marriage was the only possible resolution. If I had changed my behavior much earlier, I think it could have gone differently.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Why do you keep apologizing to him for his outbursts? The only way that makes any sense is if:

a) You think you are responsible for his behaviour
b) You are afraid of escalation

Fear of escalation is a completely rational response. Notice it and heed it.

You are not responsible for his behaviour. It's not your fault.

Your post cites several irreconcilable differences. The solution is pretty obvious, and it ain't naming each one. DTMFA.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:56 PM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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