How do I care for myself when my spouse is angry?
June 16, 2018 2:46 AM   Subscribe

My husband has periods where he becomes angry and yells, this is typically every few months. He is triggered by his mother, who is manipulative and hurtful, and he can manage it until he can't. It's usually something benign that will set him off and he yells, swears, pouts, and basically has a temper tantrum. I have learned to stay out of the way or the anger will get directed at me, but there are times when I am a bonehead and put myself in the middle, trying to "help" and solve the benign issue. This is when I become the target and he can be condescending and hurtful during these episodes. I have not stayed calm in the past, but am learning to walk away and let him cool down. More inside:

Obviously, the best strategy is for me to keep my distance. As I reflect, however, my issue is that I feel anxious and on edge when he is angry in our house. I don't know what to do to self-soothe, which is why I try to solve his problems. What are some strategies to take care of me when he is upset and I am agitated? In those moments, I become frightened and frozen.

When his tongue is sharp and the anger is directed at me, I feel intensely hurt and rejected. I struggle to let go and the tension can last for days. He expresses shame and regret about his anger (not always right away) which sometimes only fuels his anger. He has insight and will take responsibility, but sometimes the damage has been done. I have been through some trauma in past relationships and have received therapy, which has helped but . We also have a grief therapist due to a long history of pregnancy losses and difficulty with fertility.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Does your spouse get any professional help with his anger issues? Perhaps you could encourage him to move in this direction. Caring for yourself shouldn’t mean living with his frequent anger.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:51 AM on June 16, 2018 [28 favorites]

It really, really sounds like he would benefit from some specific professional help here, in particular in respect of his relationship with his mother. It does sound like he's trying to avoid the behaviour, and isn't happy or ok with it himself, but it also sounds like he has a potentially abusive, and certainly dysfunctional, family background to deal with. If he's not managing that properly (and people with those backgrounds rarely learn the skills to do so, of course) it's going to continue to exacerbate the issues he has relating to anger, which probably have his upbringing as their fundamental cause in any case.

Good luck.
posted by howfar at 3:01 AM on June 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

He needs to be the one who walks away to cool down. You shouldn't have to hide from someone in your own house.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:37 AM on June 16, 2018 [106 favorites]

He's getting angry because he's feeling hurt, which you've already percieved. Sounds like the hurt is deep. If you have it in you to just listen when he's expressing his anger and maybe respond with stuff that lets him know you hear his anger and see his pain, then I'd try that. Stuff like "that sounds very furstrating; I'm so sorry you're going through that" or "you seem to be feeling hurt", etc.
If that's not possible for you, then I'd stay silent and let him rant until he's done. Anger is a weird emotion - it lights up the same centers of the brain as being drunk - so talking to him rationally while he's angry is
never going to end well.
If you can remember that he's feeling hurt and powerless under all that anger, keep your sense of humor, and don't try to fix the situation (it's only fixable by him) then you'll be taking better care of yourself and actually being more helpful for him. A lot of times angry people just want to be seen/heard.

If you have any control/sway over whether he interacts with his mom when he's not angry maybe you could try talking to him about him setting different boundaries with her. Maybe he could reduce the frequency of his contact with her or keep his interactions with her surface-level, etc.

Is he in individual therapy? Sounds like he could benefit from talking to someone trained to deal with old wounds and possibly trauma from emotional abuse.
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:53 AM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

If seeing his mom is leading him to act this way toward you, he needs to stop seeing her.

If he genuinely can't control his anger, don't try to bring children into the house with him. If you think he COULD control his anger, but doesn't bother when it's you, why is that?
posted by chaiminda at 4:13 AM on June 16, 2018 [49 favorites]

You say that you've been through some trauma in past relationships, but I would gently suggest that you're going through some trauma in this one. In this instance, the trauma is caused by your spouse's inability or unwillingness to manage his emotions instead of inappropriately directing his anger and frustration at you. His actions make you feel edgy and unsafe in your own home. That's not ok.

Most of this is a him problem, not a you problem. He needs to learn to better manage his emotions, or consider cutting off or sharply limiting contact with his mother. You can't do those things for him, or force him to do them if he doesn't want to.

I think that the kindest thing you can do to yourself is leave when he gets like this. (Really, the best thing is for him to leave, but given that he makes you a target, I suspect that even if he agreed beforehand, he wouldn't take the suggestion well when it came time to actually go.) When he gets like this, grab a bag and go out the door. Get a hotel room for a while. Get a massage. Order a delicious burger or room service or whatever your heart desires. Remind yourself that the problem is him, not you, and that if he can't treat you well, he doesn't deserve to be around you. If you can't go to a hotel, maybe you can go visit a friend or relative, or otherwise do things that minimize your contact with him.

Also, as someone who grew up in a household with a parent with anger issues, please don't have children with this man until he has this completely and totally under control. Your children deserve better than that. You, too, deserve better than that, and you have a right to expect better of him.
posted by mishafletch at 4:30 AM on June 16, 2018 [44 favorites]

This is abusive. I get the impression you are not viewing it with that lens because you understand there to be very real pain underneath that behaviour. This may well be the case, but 'hurting' is not the opposite of 'abusive'. The two can go hand in hand.

What I would suggest you do to start with is remind yourself that a) this is not something you can manage for him, and b) this is not an inevitable force of nature where you just have to learn to walk around the edges. "Percy, the way you blow up at me is not okay. It makes me anxious, tense and hurt in my own home. This cannot continue. You need to take immediate steps to fix this, now." And then he can go and get therapy or whatever form of self-help might suit him for it, if he too agrees this behaviour can't continue. This is fixable - but it's only fixable by him, not you.
posted by Catseye at 5:02 AM on June 16, 2018 [39 favorites]

If he was taking responsibility for his anger, this wouldn’t keep happening. Right now there’s no reason for him to change because you keep putting up with it. He needs to learn some consequences. I would leave. (Actually I would leave and never come back because it’s not my job to parent a grown man into how to be a decent human being but I understand that may not be something you immediately want to jump to.)

So anyway, leave for a while so he knows you’re serious and then tell him he needs to get professional help or you’ll be gone permanently. Everyone has pain. Not everyone deals with it by dumping it on someone else because they take it for granted they’ll always be around regardless. And just remember, if he doesn’t address this while it’s just the two of you, eventually if you have kids it will be directed at them.
posted by Jubey at 5:20 AM on June 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

What Catseye said. I would also let him know you will give him space when he gets like this and then have a plan to leave the house for 24 hours when this happens. I once read that when you experience a traumatic event (in this case they were using accidents/disaster examples) the long term stress you experience correlates with how effective you were during the event. If you helped lift the car and get the victim out you would fare much better than if you stood by. I had a similar relationship to what you describe and years later what still makes me flinch is not so much how he behaved but how I allowed it. He has to fix his behavior, but meanwhile you need to be the one to protect yourself from it.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:21 AM on June 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

While it’s fair to give our partners space when they reasonably request it, it’s not fair to have to regularly walk on eggshells and get out of the line of fire of a tantruming adult. You’re not “boneheaded” for attempting to communicate about and help with minor issues— that’s how it works in healthy relationships.

Honestly if I were subjected to this I would tell him what you said here, that he has damaged your trust in him and you feel hurt and anxious in your own home. Figure out in your own mind (maybe in individual therapy?) what you will do if he does not cease this behavior. Make a real plan.

In the meantime, you don’t have to be the target of his rage anymore. If he starts up, go over a friend’s house, take yourself out for coffee, go to the movies. However. If he still rages at you when you return, then you’ll know you’re actually the intended target and not just the innocent bystander. Are you prepared for that possibility? Again, maybe something to discuss in individual therapy.
posted by kapers at 5:21 AM on June 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

It’s okay for you to leave, for a few hours or overnight. It’s okay to shut yourself in another room and read or take a long bath or a nap. It’s okay to go for a walk, or to a movie. My partner has periods of depression that are hard for me because I want to intervene but really can’t do anything, and all of those strategies are good self care for me.

Sometime when you are both in a good place, you two should talk about this - both to explain in advance that you are going to try some new strategies so that in the moment you can just say, “I’m going out like we talked about, I will see you later” and so you can reinforce that he needs to be in therapy and/or reducing contact with his mother. If you have not fully expressed to him how this is affecting you and therefore your relationship, I heartily recommend it.

I would then also make a list for yourself of all the things you could do to self soothe in the moment. And next time if you are too frozen to figure out what to do, just pull out the list and do the first thing on it and see how it goes, and work your way down the list figuring out what’s helpful for you.

Basically do as much groundwork as you can, on your own and with him, when you are NOT trapped in a panic response, to help make it easy on your future self. And make sure he understands that his poor coping skills are hurting you and your relationships and the situation is not sustainable in the long term if that doesn’t change.
posted by Stacey at 5:33 AM on June 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Get five small smooth palm-sized rocks. Put them on a shelf where everyone can see them. Tell him you understand he's having a hard time. Tell him it's not acceptable for him to take it out on you. Tell him you'll remove a rock every time he loses his shit on you. If he runs out of rocks, you leave for good. You'll be happy to help him find an anger management councillor, help him cut ties with his mother, or even buy him a good book (Anger Management for Dummies worked for me), but you're not going to continue to just soak it up or run away. And you're especially not going to focus on longer term relationship goals until this short term problem is solved.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:26 AM on June 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

It sounds like his anger is directed at his mom, as opposed to you, until you insert yourself into the situation, so I would disagree with the posters above saying that this abusive behaviour. It also seems to be infrequent enough that it can be adapted to through avoidance? If this only happens every few months , your best bet might be removing yourself from the situation completely until he cools down, and then talking about it rationally about it after the fact.

Is he willing to seek ways to mitigate and eliminate this behaviour long term? It sounds exhausting for him too. Have you talked to him about seeking therapy? You may also benefit from therapy yourself.
posted by sid at 6:31 AM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was married to someone like this for a long time, and I understand your desire to help, but also realizing that you are getting hurt in the process. Here is what helped me --

I thought of his anger and my pain in a physical way. Essentially, I thought of him as being a "knife thrower." What I mean is that instead of saying he had anger issues, in my head I thought, "He has knife throwing issues." I substituted something equally uncontrollable on his part, but which causes damage to me, however unintentionally. Once I made that substitution in my head, I then decided on my response based on that. So, anytime knives were being thrown at my house, I got out of there because I knew I would be sliced in the process. Thinking of his anger this way makes the answer to the question, "What do I do?" so much easier.

Eventually, this should lead you to make a decision of whether you can sustain a long-term relationship with someone who throws knives. It should also make him think about whether or not he can sustain a long-term relationship when he can inflict injury so easily. Hopefully, he will seek help so that he stops throwing knives. If he does not, you should seek help for yourself because it is hard to live in a house where knives are always being thrown.

I also found the book "Codependent No More" to be revelatory.
posted by eleslie at 6:34 AM on June 16, 2018 [15 favorites]

He is being abusive to you and you are blaming yourself.
You are not the cause of his bad behaviour.
He needs to get therapy to stop being abusive to you.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:49 AM on June 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

I see others have said it already, but i would also suggest you consider leaving the house.

I'm sorry to put the burden on you, but unfortunately, I think that's the way it's going to be, even though he's the one whose behavior is inappropriate. Look at it this way: You can't change his behavior (maybe he could, but he hasn't, and as long as the status quo persists, he probably won't), and you can't change your emotions (it's extremely uncomfortable to be around people who are angry, especially with a history of them directing it at you, especially on top of a history of trauma), so all you can change is your behavior. That's the bad news.

The good news is that it's inconvenient but also not as hard as it probably seems. My best move was to go to a movie. (And I don't even really like movies.) It feels like "a place to go," and it is an immersive experience, so it can help reboot your emotions. Same with an exercise or yoga class. Do you have friends with spare rooms or comfy couches? Also, you can find a spare room on Air BnB.

I would leave until his anger has passed, even if it takes days. This might sound unsustainable, and it probably is. It may be a catalyst to whatever comes next. Up until now, the answer to his angry phases has been for you to tolerate them, even when they are directly hurting you. By doing this, you'd be taking that option off the table and demonstrating with your feet that this is not something that you can tolerate being around. Then the two of you, separately and together, can start thinking about other options for handling this.

Who knows what that will be. In my experience at least, it's very hard to see beyond the moment you're in until you demonstrate (to yourself as much as him) "I'm not going to be around this" (and how good it feels to be able to immediately not have to be, and to be back in control of whether or not you are). But it could be everything from him getting therapy, to you guys moving to a place with a second bedroom or garage that can be his angry man cave, to something far more serious.

Easiest way to not feel on edge about something? Don't be around it! I don't mean to be flip, but I remember trying and trying to modify my emotions, and to not feel frightened, frozen, and on edge like you describe. It was kind of a mini-revelation to me to see how easy it was to pick up my wallet, turn the keys in the ignition, and drive to a movie theater. And voilá, his dark cloud was three miles away! (Not that I felt better immediately, not at all, but my environment had definitely changed.) It would be one thing if he was just ticked off at the world, but his past behavior means that you fear getting in the line of fire, and you don't deserve that. Especially with a history of trauma, I hope you can find a way to protect yourself from having to go through this any more.
posted by salvia at 6:51 AM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

my issue is that I feel anxious and on edge when he is angry in our house. I don't know what to do to self-soothe, which is why I try to solve his problems. What are some strategies to take care of me when he is upset and I am agitated?

I believe your best strategy is to create circumstances inside your home that don't trigger your anxiety and leave you on edge. Your home should be your refuge from the drama of the world outside, not a source of it.

You can present this as a straight-up demand at some point where he's not in the middle of a cortex-suppressing mother-induced rage: "Sweetheart, I am over walking on eggshells around you whenever your mother sets you off. It's simply not acceptable for you to behave in that way in our house. You need to find a way to deal with her that doesn't involve being poisonous to your loved ones. So next time you take it out on me I'll simply leave the house, and if it keeps happening after that I'll seriously consider not coming back. I love you, but this is serious, and it's not up for negotiation, it's just how it is. It's a shame it's come to this, but here we are."

You don't need to offer solutions, and you double extra super don't need to offer an apology for the existence of this perfectly reasonable boundary. All you need to do is point out that what he's been doing has been unacceptable. He'll either man up and deal, which is a win for both of you, or he won't; but if he won't, there's nothing you could have done anyway.
posted by flabdablet at 7:04 AM on June 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

You might find it helpful to read Why Does He Do That?
posted by lazuli at 7:17 AM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Obviously, the best strategy is for me to keep my distance.

No, the best strategy is for your husband to learn to deal with his shit and not to use his wife as a punching bag for when he's upset. If that's not going to happen, then I want you to imagine this same scenario except now you have kids, and every time daddy is upset, everyone needs to escape the house because his anger is unpredictable and daddy gets scary mad. So he's got that look on his face and it's your job to round up the kids, get them in the car and take them--where--the playground? Drive around the town for hours?

Do you see how insane this situation is?

Your husband needs help getting his act together. He needs to learn how to deal with difficult emotions in a way that does not require his family to leave the house.

What are some strategies to take care of me when he is upset and I am agitated? Tell him to get his act together because what he's doing is incredibly unfair and borderline abusive. You should NEVER be scared of your husband.

He expresses shame and regret about his anger (not always right away) which sometimes only fuels his anger. He has insight and will take responsibility, but sometimes the damage has been done.

Well, that's what abusers do. They're so upset about A THING that it was critical for them to terrify those around them and for them to use their loved ones an emotional/physical punching bags. Afterwards they've ever so sorry, and yet, nothing ever changes.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:36 AM on June 16, 2018 [48 favorites]

Your husband needs to find some other way of dealing with his problem. You are not there to be a target for him to beat up on emotionally when he's feeling bad. It doesn't matter what the cause is or why—taking his anger out on you is absolutely unacceptable, and it's on him to change his behavior, 100%. You deserve to feel safe in your home. You deserve to have a partner who doesn't see you as a safe target for him to take his anger out on. Your husband needs to step up, because this isn't something that he should be expecting you to just put up with forever. It's not OK, and you are not the problem, nor are you responsible for dealing with the problem. This is all on him.

In the short term, he needs to stop doing the things that are making him angry. If that means not talking to certain family members for a while, so be it. In the long term, he needs to come to grips with the fact that what he is doing is unacceptable and find other, non-abusive ways to deal with his anger. What he is doing right now is unambiguously abusive and cannot continue. He needs to recognize that and fix it, whether that means by going to therapy or some other way.

If he can't or won't fix it, you need to find a way to leave. You deserve to feel safe. You are right to feel unsafe right now, because his behavior is alarming and could easily escalate to becoming truly dangerous. Right now it's yelling and swearing, but if he learns that that's OK then maybe it'll escalate to breaking things, or to hitting you. Get out before that happens.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:39 AM on June 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

As someone who floods out and has a tendency to get this way I had to learn to completely own my shit.

Your husband absolutely has to own this behavior and deal with it. If you can find the courage to put this back on him it will help you and in the long run help him.

For you my advise is to set a limit on how many more of these episodes you are willing to endure, and tell him that number, and clearly explain to him that if he reaches zero more times of this kind of behavior then the relationship will move into “we are no longer staying married” phase.

This is literally the ultimatum my wife (current wife, Team Sparkles wife, who I freaking love so so so much) set upon me and let me tell you my ranty pouty flooded out bullshit ceased because no one deserves to experience that kind of behavior, myself included.
posted by nikaspark at 7:52 AM on June 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

Oh and by the way, your impulse to help him and soothe him is perfectly commendable. We should try to soothe our partners when they are upset, and in a healthy relationship either partner should be able to go to the other one with their negative emotions and expect that their partner will try to make them feel better. That's a big part of what having a partner is about! But you can't do that for him unless he stops attacking you emotionally. You can't soothe him unless you are both on the same side, and when he's pissed off and acting out at you, you two are not both on the same side. When he learns to deal with his anger in a non-abusive way, then he can expect help from you with his feelings. (You should be able to expect the same help from him too, when you need it.) Not before, though. You have to look out for your own emotional safety first.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:03 AM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am a bonehead

Be kind to yourself. There is nothing wrong with trying to soothe an unhappy spouse. However, you have learned that you can't without turning the beast's attention to you. So.

Either you leave or he leaves. When he's having one of these fits, or forever. You don't deserve any of this, and your home should be your sanctuary, not a walking-on-eggshells home of a grownup toddler-monster who will turn his ire on you at the drop of a hat.

Also - he could sever his ties with his mother any time he wants, but he isn't. He must get something out of this cycle. Ugh, I'm sorry.
posted by 41swans at 8:12 AM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have been a rageball person, though I never directed it at other people directly--inanimate objects, myself, maybe a rant about people who are not there. My husband had to explain to me that it didn't matter that I wasn't mad at him--the raging was still upsetting to be around. I had to learn to control it, let it roll off. I believe that the antidepressants I'm on helped a lot; they cut the anxiety that I think was part of what was behind my disproportionate reaction.

But it was on *me* to fix it, because I was not behaving in a way that anyone should have to be around. He did not want to live with that, and he was right to stand up for himself, and you are, too.
posted by gideonfrog at 9:14 AM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

He has insight and will take responsibility

No, he doesn't, not really. If he had insight, he would understand that his behavior is hurtful and what the source of it is. If he took responsibility, he would be taking direct and concrete steps to change that behavior based on that understanding. It can't be fixed overnight; there would be slip-ups. He'd start the behavior, realize what he was doing, and stop. Maybe some of the steps he'd be taking wouldn't be quite right (changing from the current hurtful behavior to one that is still not great, but is at least recognizably less harmful). But you would see that change. That does not seem to be what he's doing at all. So he is really just mouthing words to placate you afterwards. Which is meaningless. But it gets him absolved for hurting you, so he's most likely going to continue until it stops working.
posted by praemunire at 9:58 AM on June 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

You might find it helpful to read Why Does He Do That?

OP please read this. You are already exhibiting the kind of self-blaming behavior that comes with long term bullshit and abuse. It doesn’t mean he’s abusive all the time, but this behavior is abusive, and the dynamics you describe around it are abusive. It’s disheartening as FUCK to see so many people in the thread excusing his shit and buying into the premise that it’s your job to placate an abuser, but that’s patriarchy for you.

That book is not going to be an easy read, but you should read it. He is absolutely able to control his anger, but he takes it out on you anyway. It doesn’t matter how ashamed he feels if he’s not taking steps to deal with that. He’s not in therapy? His reaction to the very first time he did this to you wasn’t to completely re-evaluate his life and make sure he never, ever did it again? Then yeah he doesn’t really understand it’s a problem. He believes he’s entitled to take his anger out on people when the circumstances are “right” because it makes him feel better to vent it at someone. (And women occupy that special role the majority of the time.) He may not think that, but he believes it. Because he keeps doing it.

Nthing others who say do not have children with a man who behaves this way. This is really classically abusive. It doesn’t mean he’s the worst abuser out there, and I don’t know if it will get worse. But it is abusive.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:39 PM on June 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

I agree that this is abusive. And if he isn’t doing it to everyone else in his life, he can control it. He’s just choosing not to. Have you been in therapy without him? I think that would be a good idea because you need someone who is on your side and can help you see what is really happening. This reads as if you are blaming yourself when this is 100% his fault. Lots of people have problem mothers without lashing out at their partners.

If you really want to stay with him, please don’t put up with this anymore. Tell him that you won’t. Leave the house when it happens. And please be aware that this could escalate. Self-care shouldn’t mean figuring out a way to endure this. You don’t deserve to be treated this way. He can stop it if he wants to. If he won’t, he doesn’t deserve you.
posted by FencingGal at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2018

This is not your fault even a little bit. Abusers will gaslight you into thinking if you'd only done X, they wouldn't have done Y or Z. It's not true. He, and only he, is responsible for Y and Z.

Does he yell and swear at his boss? No? Then he can control his anger and he is choosing not to around you because there are no consequences. Your hurt and trauma aren't consequences for him, or he would stop. Read that until it sinks in. Your hurt isn't important to him.

You might think "he's never hit me, so it's not abuse." You don't have to stick around until he does. I had no idea how much stress and trauma I was carrying around until I left my ex and didn't have to feel that way all the time.

Be aware that if you choose to stay, and set boundaries (like leaving the house when he gets angry, or asking him not to speak to you that way), he may get even angrier because he is not used to you standing up for yourself. Have a safety plan.
posted by AFABulous at 3:25 PM on June 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Why don't you tell HIM to gtfo when he's so mad he "can't" behave decently? I get why people are suggesting you leave the space, but why should you have to? Really now.

"Babe, I can see your mom did one of her numbers on you and from what you just said to me it sounds like you need to go cool down. See you when you're feeling better. Bye now."

Let him be the one to deal with the inconvenience of having to be alone because he can't control his temper.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:06 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I agree that in theory, it'd be ideal to ask him to leave when he's angry. But if the situation is such that OP is already feeling frightened and frozen? Having him leave when he's in this state may be the destination, but it doesn't have to be the first step.

OP, you've been through this, so you probably can think through what it'd be like. Maybe get a little action plan together in your head, whether that be asking him to leave or leaving yourself or whatever feels right. Then rehearse it a couple of times in your head so that when it happens, you kind of go on auto pilot. I don't know whether it makes sense to talk to him about your plan or not. (I think in some relationships, it would help a lot, but in the relationship that I was in with someone who had a lot of anger, it would have just incited a fight to bring this up.)
posted by salvia at 7:54 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Here was my best solution when living with an occasionally angry partner. One evening he was throwing a tantrum about finding ants in the kitchen, yelling, stomping, slamming cabinet doors.

I said, "I don't need to be here for this. I'm going to the restaurant down the street for a glass of wine. You can join me if you like after you've calmed down."

He joined me about 30 minutes later, completely calm. I don't know if he was angry because he just wanted attention, but as soon as I removed my attention and stopped worrying and stressing about his anger - that was strictly his to deal with - he got himself under control fairly quickly. And I stopped being around for his irrational anger which in turn made me feel much less stressed and absolutely in control of the situation.

After we broke up he started individual therapy and as far as I know benefitted greatly from it.
posted by bendy at 8:24 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

This wasn't my experience but I'd definitely try to leave the house if his irrational anger was directed at me. First of all, that's not the way grownups settle disputes or resolve feelings - that alone is a huge reason not to participate in, blame yourself for, or even witness his outbursts.

Second, sure he should be the one to GTFO until he calms down, but you may not be willing to confront him while he's angry. Also taking the initiative and showing him that you won't put up with his shit puts you completely in control of the situation. By removing yourself from the situation you're not waiting around to see if he'll respect your wishes and leave when he's angry.

All my best to you. ❤️

PS. In retrospect my relationship was co-dependent. I agree with those who recommend you read up on co-dependency and its effects.
posted by bendy at 8:34 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don’t know how possible it is to not feel the intentionality, chemistry, and general arousal of fear in response to anger directed at you, while that person is near you (and frankly even when you’re away from them, if the anger carries on for long periods, as you say it does.

I’ve known exactly one ragey person to change, and it was after an ultimatum. (And that person was highly motivated to change for multiple reasons, including being dependent on the person issuing the ultimatum and being sick of a lifetime of that anger ruining relationships). The ultimatum issuer was 100% prepared to end it, though, it was not an empty threat. Ragey person committed to therapy 200%, wholeheartedly, and results were pretty evident pretty quickly.

Are you in a position to leave (or issue an ultimatum like that) - financially, and emotionally? Are you at a tipping point with this, or are you bracketing out these moments from your larger relationship and living with cognitive dissonance? If the latter is true - this is abusive, you have to call it that. Is it acceptable to live this way for the rest of your life? Would it be acceptable for a child to endure these rages? If not, why is it ok for you? If you’re financially stuck - improve your earning potential by whatever means necessary and investigate government resources.

It’s fear you’re feeling and I don’t know how to tell you not to feel it when you do, because it’s valid and based in reality.

If you can’t leave him or aren’t ready to. Prevention is the way to go. Never talk to him about his mother, don’t try to help him, just make validating sounds if he talks about it. (You’re not dumb for trying to help him, that’s a normal impulse, but he doesn’t behave normally in this situation.) In calmer moments, if you judge he’d be open to this, from you, maybe talk to him, once, about limiting exposure to her before he blows his top. (Never say “I told you so”, though.) Failing that, physically leave (will probably not totally take away the pain but may limit some of the stress).

Really, ideally, you should leave or he should take responsibility for this (not merely by apologizing, by actively working in this such that his behaviour noticeably improves).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:06 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I agree with what others are saying, but to actually answer your question as asked, here is what worked for me.

Your words show that you know what he is doing is cruel and unfair. In this state, he can't be appeased, and he's giving you nothing good. He's allowed his own shame and rage to trap you in a lousy situation which only he can free you from. So let those facts be a lever: use it to free yourself to feel okay about caring less for a while. There's no point in trying to make it better--he demonstrates that every time he acts this way. So stop caring about him right now and take care of yourself instead. When he acts like this, he's giving you a free ticket to do whatever you want. You can go back to being considerate whenever he does. Until then, stop feeling responsibility for his feelings.
posted by heatvision at 7:47 AM on June 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I saw this on Twitter yesterday and it resonated so much:
Here’s the thing people who’ve not been abused need to understand: abusers convinced their victims that there is a map through the minefield, and if they’d just learn it, they wouldn’t get hurt anymore. And then life would be sooooo perfect. So victims try to learn the map.

It’s bullshit, of course, the minefield changes all the time. You’ll never get through it safely. There is no other side. But you *believe* there is, so you keep trying.
posted by AFABulous at 9:30 AM on June 17, 2018 [24 favorites]

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