Why does my husband's overreaction bother me so much?
April 22, 2018 8:55 AM   Subscribe

My husband's over-the-top reactions to situations that aren't happening right now bug me. Why?

Last night when I was out with friends, something happened that drives both my husband and I crazy - something innocuous but maddening. This morning I was relating this to him so we could commiserate, and his response became louder and more irritated - almost like it happened to him, and not me. I knew he would be annoyed, as I was - that's why I told him in the first place - but his reaction totally turned me off. It's not fear, it's more of a "okay settle down buddy, you weren't even there" feeling. I found myself defending the people I was just griping about, to the point where he accused me of not letting him talk, and now we're not speaking at all. This is not the first time this has happened.

Why can I say something bad but when he does it, louder and more assertively but most definitely not directed at me, I shut him down? Why do his over-the-top reactions ruin the conversation for me?
posted by lyssabee to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Does it always happen in this sort of way, where it is about something that you experienced and he did not? If so, I can imagine getting the feeling "hey man i was looking for something more like support and recognition of how it felt to me, but now you're making it all about how it makes you feel instead, and that feels selfish."
posted by sheldman at 8:59 AM on April 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Because he’s making it about him and how upset he is, instead of letting it be about you and how you were upset. And furthermore, he is obligating you to comfort and support him (emotional labor) when you were the one in need of support.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:00 AM on April 22, 2018 [94 favorites]

My husband does this. The problem for me is that it doesn’t make me feel better- but worse. I was very upset recently about a bad haircut and one night I complained about how upset I was the hairdresser did this and he really went on about how bad it was of her and how he was furious too and I felt this crushing in my chest and told him to stop. We discussed it later and he explained he was trying to validate and be supportive in the way he likes to be supported.... so now he doesn’t do it anymore when I explained it just amplified my own feelings so much.
posted by catspajammies at 9:01 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

I find it really stressful to listen to other people talk about negative things in an intense and vehement way. In this case you wanted to vent yourself and for him to take on the work of listening to you and hopefully sympathizing. Instead you wound up listening to him vent - and that's work. Perhaps you began to take the other side out of a desire to end the venting.

Some people find co-venting supportive, but I don't find it helpful and it sounds like you don't either.
posted by bunderful at 9:04 AM on April 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

because if you want a neutral sympathetic perspective to react to, or a conversation with both sides represented, and he grabs the outrage role for himself, it forces you to either be the devil's advocate against yourself or a be a junior watered down echo of your own opinion, while he's the star.

he may be trying to be supportive and some people do enjoy that, it's not wrong until you tell him you hate it and he keeps doing it. (in fact some people love it when other people will amplify their anger and validate how awful the thing was, I serve that purpose for people sometimes.) but if you want to tell a story and suddenly you're pushed into being the audience to it, when it's your own story, it's infuriating. but subtle enough that it's difficult to explain to someone if they think they're being helpful or just saying what they think. he is not being fair with his complaint in response unless you insist on being the star of all conversations, as a pattern. but wanting to be the star of your own personal anecdote is completely ok.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:05 AM on April 22, 2018 [14 favorites]

To use an extreme example, it’s like the stories you hear about people who need you to be extra kind and generous to them, because they’re just so upset and traumatized after learning that you have cancer.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:06 AM on April 22, 2018 [26 favorites]

his reaction is also what people do when they're trying to make a point about overreactions ("oh, someone was rude to you at work? how AWFUL for you, this is worse than BOTH WORLD WARS, do you want a PILLOW FOR YOUR HEAD").

doesn't sound like he's doing that at all, but even if you don't suspect him of mocking you or belittling your issue, really over-the-top enthusiastic co-complaining can come across that way and make you feel deflated and foolish.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:11 AM on April 22, 2018

I want to add that my husband is a really great guy and he stopped when we really discussed how it made me feel and clarified how we like to be supported- he was usually equally bothered when he would tell me how mad he was about something and I would try to say something like “oh well maybe that person was having a bad day” or something. Now I’m more emphatic about telling him I would feel the same way or something.
posted by catspajammies at 9:15 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why can I say something bad but when he does it, louder and more assertively but most definitely not directed at me, I shut him down? Why do his over-the-top reactions ruin the conversation for me?

What I always want in these type of situations is my spouse (or whomever), to listen, agree a little bit and then we both have a little chuckle about, hey, life, and then we move on. No big deal. Making it less of a thing, rather than more of a thing. Who wants to make a small thing into a five alert fire? No one. We are all looking to just let off a wee bit of steam and then move on with our day.

Personally, what I do when I know a certain thing will trigger someone, I just skip telling them. Who needs both of us upset?
posted by nanook at 9:19 AM on April 22, 2018

Yeah, but if it turns into a thing where you can’t tell them anything because they will invariably make it into another episode of the Them Show, then that sucks. It’s worth having a conversation. Ideally it would work out like it did for catspajammies, where both people clarify what they need and both people are on board.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:22 AM on April 22, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have another theory: in the world you want to live in, you can be irritated at, or even seriously object to, other people's behavior, but still like or love them. By reacting too strongly, your husband is effectively casting these people as not-good, which puts the world on unsafe footing.
posted by amtho at 9:42 AM on April 22, 2018 [24 favorites]

I don't like it when this happens because to me it plays up the "male privilege" to overreact while I'm expected to stay calm.
posted by beaning at 9:46 AM on April 22, 2018 [18 favorites]

In line with what amtho is saying, it sounds like you view this anger you share as a sort of play-anger, because this behavior is "innocuous." If he seems actually angry, that's upsetting because it indicates that he has a real problem calibrating his anger appropriately. Many people find that trait to be unsettling, nervewracking, even frightening.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2018 [12 favorites]

(Or, if this is play-anger, a huge part of the fun is getting to be the aggrieved party. It is a sort of emotional-play turn-taking. When something happens to you, you play "aggrieved party," he plays appreciative audience. When something happens to him, he gets the starring role. He's not doing well at turn-taking, and that's annoying.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:04 AM on April 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think Rock 'em Sock 'em has it here..
Sounds like he is just kinda terrible at both handling his own empathetic response to the situation and handling how to appropriately respond to your feelings about it.
posted by OnefortheLast at 11:17 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ie. Getting outgraged on your behalf; Feeling like you have to do something or fix something when your partner is expressing less than positive feelings is pretty typical male social conditioning. He might view this as being supportive and then is becoming frustrated that it's result is actually more invalidating to you emotionally than supportive.
Rather than shut him off, maybe talk about what response you're specifically looking for from him in these scenarios during a calmer time.
posted by OnefortheLast at 11:37 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

where he accused me of not letting him talk, and now we're not speaking at all.

Does this happen a lot? Because if his reaction to you having a shitty time is generally to take center stage and then be pissy when he's not unquestioningly ceded the spotlight, then of course you're going to be anxious when he starts ramping up. It's a sign that now you're stuck managing his feelings rather than getting support. And the more it happens the more his irritation is going to trigger your Spidey senses. If his intent was to validate you, he'd have the sense to pull back a little when you started pushing back. At the very least he'd let the matter drop instead of complaining about not having his time to vent about your experience.

It may be worth taking time when things are calm and telling him how him ramping up makes you feel like the focus is shifting from you to him. Ideally it'll click and he'll tone it down. Some people aren't great at figuring stuff like that out on their own, but once the pattern and underlying cause is explained they can adapt. Even if he still starts emoting at you, ideally he'll then back off when you start playing neutral party. You can then trust that he'll not keep escalating the situation if you tap on the breaks.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:38 AM on April 22, 2018 [15 favorites]

I do this. : / I get more bent out of shape when an injustice occurs to a loved one than I get when it actually happens to me. Usually it isn't much of a problem, but I'm noticing it causing a real issue with my mother, who has faced just an amazing amount of crap lately, is having some cognitive issues, and who is someone I feel very protective of. She tells me an event, say, of a friend of hers who is behaving badly, and I just get so very ticked off on her behalf that while I believe myself to be commiserating, she begins to feel I'm attacking the person, then she feels the need to defend the person and ends up feeling attacked herself. Add to it that she has been just awful about standing up for herself my entire life, and maybe I do end up attacking her a bit. Then I feel badly about it. I can see that I might turn that guilt into hurt, then into not talking to her, but I can mostly manage to drop it at that point.

For me, then, it really does come from a place of caring about her. But close relationships can be just so fraught and complicated. I'm sorry that you are feeling unheard because of this trait of your husband's, and I will think of this Ask next time I find myself getting so wound up by something my mother has experienced and just try to hear her.
posted by thebrokedown at 11:38 PM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

(I didn't even mention that I have a degree in counseling psych, was a therapist for years, and am considered in general--I think--a pretty good listener, and yet I STILL do this when it comes to the people closest to me. It's a hard thing to get a grip on.)
posted by thebrokedown at 11:48 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

he accused me of not letting him talk, and now we're not speaking at all. This is not the first time this has happened.

Why can I say something bad but when he does it, louder and more assertively but most definitely not directed at me, I shut him down?

It sounds like his escalating anger was in fact eventually directed at you if his outrage over whatever petty social thing happened to you turned into him being so angry with you for "not letting him talk" that you two aren't on speaking terms.

I would guess your instinct is to shut him down because of all the diva behavior and emotional labor stuff people are mentioning upthread, but also because you have noticed the pattern of him escalating these discussions from him hijacking your venting sessions to him losing the thread and just being angry and wanting someone to be angry at, which ends up being you.

Actually telling you that he's upset you aren't letting him talk during a conversation about something bad that happened to you is not great. If he feels so entitled to rage like this that he throws a separate tantrum over feeling like you aren't allowing him to keep on raging, in addition to the tantrum he was already having (over something that didn't actually happen to him), that's some toxic anger and you're right to want to nip it in the bud. If you're both regularly trying to bond over raging/griping over some petty social shit and end up fighting with each other over who gets to rage harder, that might be a dynamic to work on too, and you might want to look at how often you bond over mutual negativity if it's getting out of control and leading to fights. But it sounds like he's the one doing the majority of the escalating, and that's on him, not on you for complaining.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:34 AM on April 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

I've done a light version of this myself, and it's usually down to a difference in communication styles, particularly one that tends to be drawn by some people along gendered lines.

When he's hearing your complaints, he's thinking of them as a problem to solve or litigate. You're venting about something that happened, which is how you unpack what happened and move on. He's attempting to talk through the situation and re-litigate it in words, because he's trying to get to an outcome: saying something that you or he would have done differently in that situation, or deciding that a particular person in your anecdote was in the wrong and why they were in the wrong.

He needs to not make it about him, and figure out how to remain disconnected from this. Your desired outcome is that you unpack the situation, vent a little, and you're done. His role is not to weigh in on it. He's probably on the fence, although not consciously, between wondering why you bring these things up and being frustrated that he now knows about a conflict he's powerless to affect.

Maybe explain that in these situations, all you're looking for is empathy and maybe a "wow, that sucks" response from him. He doesn't need to internalize!
posted by mikeh at 11:43 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sometimes - not always, but sometimes - people respond well if you tell them what you need from them.

A: Someone at work stole my idea today ..
B: What unpleasant people! They should be reprimanded! No they should be fired! No here's what ...
A: Hey .... I appreciate that you're on my side. What I'd really like right now is for you to listen to me vent and give me a hug. That would help me feel better.

Keep in mind, some people are just not as good at this as others. (I have pissed people off by not getting *more* worked up about whatever injustices they were venting about and just mildly saying "Gee, that must have been frustrating for you.")
posted by bunderful at 3:56 PM on April 23, 2018

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