Can you help us salvage this relationship? Anger, PTSD edition
July 20, 2021 12:15 PM   Subscribe

My partner (41M) and I (38F) have a really good thing, but we have both been through the wringer with past relationships. He gets very angry very quickly when we are talking about anything difficult or emotional, and loses the ability to communicate rationally, often saying things that are cruel and hurtful. I need practical advice (other than therapy, that is booked) about ways to deescalate these tantrums before they get out of hand, and for healing through them when they do. More snowflakes inside...

To be very clear, I am not worried about my safety, he does not throw things, hit walls, break objects or do anything violent. He yells and does his best to hurt me with words. I find this extremely upsetting, I try to always approach fights with my partner by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Eventually though, in a lot of these cases, I end up yelling and crying too.

My partner was abused, lied to, and cheated on in several previous relationships. He is a very sensitive person. He has never been to therapy but agrees that he should go. I suspect that he is suffering from PTSD, and that his ability to trust me and feel safe in our relationship is seriously compromised. We have a couples session booked for next week.

We had a huge fight on Sunday night. The details are not as important as the underlying issue, which I believe is his inability to have a difficult conversation without getting extremely angry. I stayed with a friend last night and he has gone out of town for work for a few days. We are not talking, other than an extremely irrational stream of text messages that were him calling me all sorts of names, demanding an apology, and threatening to break up with me. I tried to repeat that we would talk when he gets home, that I love him, and that we can fix this. I do not know what will happen - I am prepared to apologize for my part, but I am also very afraid that no matter what I say, he is going to get angry again and that will be the end of it. Previous fights have not been this bad, and we have made up after he has calmed down.

It is very hard to catch this before it starts, it seems to fly out of control very quickly. I try speaking slowly and not yelling back as much as I can. Obviously saying "calm down please" is not effective, and he seems to lose any sense that I am a person he cares about, so it is not helpful to ask him not to be cruel - he wants to hurt me. I am now thinking that I should just walk away as soon as it starts? But then how do we get anything done?

I am resentful that I am always the only one trying to calm down the situation. I would like tools or strategies (for both of us) that you've applied successfully to deescalate. I would also really appreciate any tips for healing from this, and how we can try to move forward. Obviously this all depends on us both doing some work, but we need to keep shit together while we get there.
posted by dazedandconfused to Human Relations (61 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You're not able to do this unilaterally. You literally cannot control his anger. The best move is to (1) avoid couples counseling; this is not a couples problem, it's a him problem (2) walk away for your own sanity. Things might not get done, but having someone sit there intentionally trying to hurt you is not working either. You need to take care of yourself first, your relationship second (or third or further).

My partner was abused, lied to, and cheated on in several previous relationships.

Please read "Why Does He Do That" by Lundy Bancroft. You don't need to commit to it being relevant, just read it and see if it strikes a chord.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:26 PM on July 20 [72 favorites]

He is abusive. Hitting isn’t the only form of abuse. Screaming and name calling is abuse. Break up with him and spend those therapy dollars on yourself.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:26 PM on July 20 [82 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not really comfortable with this relationship. Obviously this post is not a complete picture, but there are a lot of red flags.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:28 PM on July 20 [7 favorites]

I have PTSD and have been in numerous abusive relationships, including developmental ones, where I was yelled at, called names, etc etc. I don't feel compelled to yell at my current partner (or prior partners) when I'm upset in spite of this.The only cause for me to feel highly triggered is if I talk to one of my abusive parents, which I generally avoid doing because I don't like to yell or feel so intensely in any capacity.
This is all just to say that no matter what your boyfriend went through before, he's disregulated in an extreme and usual way, and I don't think this will get better for you nor is it your job to help him sort this out. Also, be wary if he's shit-talking exes and also being verbally abusive to you. Be wary of any man that does this. He's likely not a reliable narrator.
Leave him. He won't change.
posted by erattacorrige at 12:31 PM on July 20 [16 favorites]

We are not talking, other than an extremely irrational stream of text messages that were him calling me all sorts of names, demanding an apology, and threatening to break up with me.

Like, he's doing this after you've both had time to calm down -- this is an escalation. My experience with people with past relationship baggage that can reasonably be fixed is that it deescalates over time and that a bit of time and space tends to calm things down 100%. To me, this is a sign that he is not going to improve.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:31 PM on July 20 [52 favorites]

You say: He is a very sensitive person.

You also say: He yells and does his best to hurt me with words.

So he's only a very sensitive person about himself and does his best to make his girlfriend feel like garbage? I would be gone so fast.
posted by jabes at 12:32 PM on July 20 [51 favorites]

Frankly, it sounds like he needs anger management classes, if he's that prone to "flying off the handle" and hold his grudge like that for hours, where he worked himself up into an even worse frenzy.

But it's also good that he lets it out, since holding it in may be worse.

I'm not sure this is PTSD, unless you're trying to say he's still grieving over his past relationships, but then I'm not a mental health professional, just some yahoo with a keyboard. He's clearly still angry over something and he may need to talk to a counselor privately to resolve that part of his psyche.

WIthout knowing the source of his anger it's hard to recommend any specific strategy. I would try something along these lines. This just lessens the screaming, not the tension.

Phase 1: "Why are you angry? Are you angry at me or the situation?"

Phase 2: "Please talk to me calmly, or I am leaving until you calm down."

Phase 3: "I am leaving as there is no use talking to you while you are angry like this." (and walk out)
posted by kschang at 12:32 PM on July 20 [5 favorites]

As soon as he's not being rational: "I can't have this conversation right now. Let's try again later." Rinse, repeat.
posted by aniola at 12:37 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

And let him know that's what you'll be doing.
posted by aniola at 12:37 PM on July 20

I was in a relationship with similar dynamics a long time ago. The best strategy I applied was leaving that person. It all stopped, and after a mourning period (and a lot of that mourning was for me) I came out the other side to see myself and my life blossom in ways I couldn't imagine. (And everything was so peaceful, and has remained so ever since.) I recommend the leaving strategy to everyone I know. (Note I left after spending a lot of time "working on myself" and "working on the relationship" to make someone I truly loved not abuse me.)

Also recommend Why Does He Do That? iIt's fantastic, and I wish it was mandatory reading for young women starting in high school.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 12:38 PM on July 20 [18 favorites]

You sound like The Mommy, not the partner. Don't put yourself in this role. He is a forty year old man and you are supposed to be his partner. It's not your job to raise him. There are so many red flags in this post the flag makers ran out of ink. He throws tantrums. He *tries* to hurt you. He won't work on his shit. You're walking on eggshells around him. You're making excuses for him because of his difficult past. No, no, no, no, and no. Not acceptable. Not salvageable.

This may feel fixable to you because you're running on hope, but to any reasonable person looking at this without the emotional investment, this is a slam dunk DTMFA. Ask yourself: if a good friend or family member came to you with this scenario and asked for advice, how would you react?
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 12:39 PM on July 20 [40 favorites]

What you are describing is emotional abuse. You're an adult who can make their own choices, but I don't think that many of us will be comfortable giving you any advice other than to leave. I know I'm not.

He has more control over his behavior than you are giving him credit for. his type of behavior is not an uncontrollable consequence of past trauma; it is a choice that he is making. He is choosing to hurt you. He isn't even only doing it in the "heat of the moment" (still inexcusable), he's sending you abusive and manipulative text messages after the fact.

It isn't your job to manage his anger - and you can't, even if you feel like volunteering. That is difficult, intensive, and personal work that he needs to engage with himself. Someone who flies off the handle like this when even remotely challenged will find reasons to fly off the handle, regardless of what strategies you employ.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:39 PM on July 20 [48 favorites]

I don't think "making up" and apologizing should be your priority here. He is still going out of his way to hurt you, days after your fight... that's awful, and not the kind of relationship I would choose for myself, or for anyone I care about, or for you. Prioritize protecting yourself over protecting him or this relationship.

We all do or say the wrong thing sometimes - I'm sure we all hurt our partners sometimes. But you can't build a life with someone who, when he hurts you, doubles down and tries to hurt you more.

I think you should draw a boundary that you will not stand by and be insulted and deliberately hurt by him, but honestly I would be very surprised if that doesn't result in the end of the relationship if you stick with it.

Your magic power to de-escalate these arguments is to walk away from them.
posted by mskyle at 12:40 PM on July 20 [5 favorites]

There's a huge difference between being angry or triggered, and - your words - "does his best to hurt me with words."

Good partners don't do their best to hurt their partners. They might get upset and storm out or raise their voices, but what you've described is emotional and verbal abuse.

This is not your problem to solve, it's his. He's not solving it.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:41 PM on July 20 [6 favorites]

he seems to lose any sense that I am a person he cares about, so it is not helpful to ask him not to be cruel - he wants to hurt me

Nope. There's a huge difference between someone who, in anger, expresses themselves badly or carelessly and says things that hurt their partner, and someone who tries, wants, and works to hurt their partner. The former is a thing that can be addressed by sitting down with a counselor and working out argument ground rules, establishing cool-down periods, I-statements and stuff.

The latter is an abuser.

He may truly love you, he may have any number of good points, he may be doing this because of a mental illness that he didn't cause and doesn't deserve. But he is abusing you.

Obviously this all depends on us both doing some work, but we need to keep shit together while we get there.

This literally cannot get better if you are keeping shit together. It gets better when you leave him and maybe -- MAYBE -- that prompts him to hit bottom and get himself significant help, on his own (couples counseling is not effective in abuse dynamics) and returns to you with concrete evidence of long-term change.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:52 PM on July 20 [20 favorites]

No amount of a "good thing" is worth sacrificing your mental, emotional, and (possibly, eventually) physical safety. Being a great partner between bouts of abuse is how abusers keep you available for their next round of abuse. It's PART of the abuse. Don't fall for it.

There are no books for this. There's no program that will fix him. The threat to break up with you is a test he's giving you, to see if you're willing to endure abuse to keep the relationship intact. If you pass that test and allow the abuse, the abuse will escalate to something worse. Abuse almost always does. You may not be able to envision him ever physically hurting you because he never has in the past, but you are on a path that leads directly there.

I would suggest that you signal to him right now that you won't endure abuse to keep the relationship intact, by breaking up with him for your own safety.
posted by invincible summer at 1:04 PM on July 20 [37 favorites]

he wants to hurt me

You cannot have a good, happy life with a partner about whom this is true. I'm sorry.

People lose their tempers and say things they shouldn't (though you'd hope that would be more under control by age 40). There's a real difference between that and sustained torrents of verbal abuse that last more than a day (?). And no partner should be using foul names to you, ever. That's not temper, that's cruelty.
posted by praemunire at 1:26 PM on July 20 [17 favorites]

Has he ever acknowledged that he is verbally abusing you and taken responsibility for it? Since he's never been in therapy and is not planning to go to therapy by himself, I'm going to guess he hasn't. That's step 1. If he can't even get there, then nothing you do matters. The best way to de-escalate is to remove yourself from the situation. You should do that permanently. If you won't break up with him, the next time he abuses you, end the conversation, walk out, hang up, mute him. See what happens. I bet he escalates. Be careful.
posted by Mavri at 1:31 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

A helpful visual often used by DV support service providers is the Power and Control Wheel. A key here is that it applies even in situations where there has been no physical violence.

(Side note: unfortunately, this particular graphic only uses she/her pronouns to refer to someone who has been the target of this type of behavior from a partner. However, the information applies regardless of the genders of the individuals involved.)

Additional resources listed on the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 1:32 PM on July 20 [5 favorites]

I encourage you to end the relationship as well. But if you choose to stay, please line up your own individual therapy and ask him to do the same. Couples therapy is not the right move for an abusive relationship and right now that’s what you have.

If you choose to stay, I strongly encourage you to get your own individual counselor and encourage him to do the same. And for look at DV resources and start developing a safety plan in case this continues to escalate while you are deciding on your next steps.

I am so sorry this is happening to you. You do not deserve it.
posted by Stacey at 1:35 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I am frankly surprised that more people are not jumping on the DTMF train for this one. I was in a relationship which sounds very similar to this one. It was emotional Buse. Took me a long time to see it that way, and my partner was not happy when I use those words with him. But that’s what it was. It had reached a point where my own behaviour was escalating because I realized that the only way to snap him out of it was to actually escalate the response myself so that he could see how seriously it was affecting me. So I wound up getting into a really bad dynamic over that one. I am afraid that there is just no fixing it. We were doing therapy, and he had done anger management classes, and it just was not fixable.
posted by ficbot at 1:39 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

You are under no obligation to stay with anyone who treats you cruelly. It's time to nope on out of there for your own safety and sanity.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 1:43 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

Speaking from personal experience - no amount of work on your part will fix this. You can try 1,000 strategies and ultimately you'll become a person you don't recognize. You'll tie yourself into knots, do everything you can to not trigger the explosion, attempt to eliminate possible triggers...and suddenly look around and wonder how you got into this nightmarish rabbit hole. You can love someone and 100% still need to leave them cold turkey. I'm sorry I don't have better news. Your partner needs to get therapy and you need to let him find that healing path on his own.
posted by victoriab at 1:47 PM on July 20 [16 favorites]

Also, often the emotional abuse is just the start of an increasing dysfunctional and dangerous dynamic. He's not physically abusive now...but many stories start like the one you've told end in physical abuse.
posted by victoriab at 1:50 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

Make a safety plan. You can call the domestic violence hotline or your local dv shelter and they will help you come up with one. This will help keep you safe even if you don't leave right away (I suspect you won't).

All I'll say is that my abusive partner was just like this before he started hitting me. Not incidentally, he started hitting me after I began to say things like "we can talk about this when you are less angry" and "I can't have this discussion when you're calling me names." I didn't leave until he almost murdered me. Even though it's been almost ten years I hate myself still for staying until I nearly lost my life. I never fully recovered (working on it, still) but I know I would have had a chance at recovering fully if I'd left at the stage when he was "only" sending me torrents of abusive words via text and using me as his punching bag because he had no place to put his anger but on me. Your partner is escalating with those texts. Get out while you can.

You're probably saying "that would never happen to me" but it's already happening to you and it will keep happening. The very sad truth is that the only way to stop the abuse is to leave. Leaving is very dangerous, so again -- put together a safety plan before you do anything else.
posted by twelve cent archie at 1:56 PM on July 20 [37 favorites]

He has more control over his behavior than you are giving him credit for.
Yes, this. I have a similar impulse where if I feel attacked / abandoned / rejected, I want to lash out and make the other person hurt as much as I hurt. But I don’t, because I love them and I know this is cruel and all originates in my head. (I have gotten better at this with age, lots of therapy and with sobriety. But I was never as bad as your partner to start with.)

There is nothing you can do here. He needs to want to work on this. And he doesn’t sound like he does.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:12 PM on July 20 [5 favorites]

Two things of great concern in your post. First is that you're not calling him an abuser and this an abusive relationship. He is an abuser and he's emotionally abusing you. This is not acceptable behavior by him and you're still doing gymnastics to rationalize why he's making huge efforts to hurt you repeatedly. There are lots of people who have had very traumatic histories and who suffer from PTSD who aren't abusive toward their partners.

The second thing that is glaring for me is that there's no part of the post where you talk about his deep awareness and concern about his abusive behavior. Does he recognize how unacceptably awful he's being to you? Does he take responsibility for his anger and cruelty? Is he actively working on it by implementing steps he's taking to change his abuser patterns? Is he reading books about his problems and is he taking responsibility for coordinating finding a therapist and starting individual counseling immediately?

Do not go to joint couples counseling with an abuser. It's not productive or effective and can lead to an escalation of abuse. There will be no fixing this if he's not taking full responsibility for his behavior and isn't working as hard or harder than you on this issue of his dysfunction. You cannot fix this for both of you. Reading "Why Does He Do That?" by Lundy Bancroft would be helpful for you. Also speaking to a domestic abuse hotline worker about resources can help.
posted by quince at 2:17 PM on July 20 [21 favorites]

I need practical advice (other than therapy, that is booked) about ways to deescalate these tantrums before they get out of hand

There's no way for you to de-escalate another person's angry outbursts. He's the only one who can do that.

If you accept that there's nothing you can do to alter this behavior, then what? It sounds to me like walking away from the behavior (either when it happens every time or once, but permanently) is your best available option to stop being exposed to this cruel and unacceptable behavior.
posted by shadygrove at 2:19 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

Your title says "can you help us salvage" but "us" doesn't want to salvage it. You're trying to figure out how to operate both sides of the relationship since he won't do his part.

People who are being abused spend a lot of time and energy figuring out ways to "make" their abuser not abuse them. There are tricks and manipulations and micromanagement of the environment that people do sometimes deploy to successfully not get themselves killed. That's not okay. That's not a thing a person should have to do, manipulate their partner to avoid being harmed. Children shouldn't have to do it to their parents. No healthy relationship can exist under those circumstances, and I do not believe it can ever be healthy again. The well is poisoned. Too much has been broken to put it back together. More care should have been taken for the relationship from the start; it is ruined now.

Do not go to therapy with your abuser. YOU go to a therapist of your own, HE lives somewhere else and engages in therapy and treatment. You will figure out what needs to happen next once you've engaged in your own treatment for trauma for a while.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:35 PM on July 20 [20 favorites]

His inability to control/manage his anger is on the path to abuse, if not already abusive; you love him, want to support him in change and growth, but I'd call does his best to hurt me with words and extremely irrational stream of text messages that were him calling me all sorts of names, demanding an apology, and threatening to break up with me abusive.

As long as the behavior is tolerated, it will continue, and likely get worse. If you choose to leave the home or relationship, the behavior may escalate. You may not perceive him as physically dangerous; I do think he's very likely to become physically or otherwise harmful. Can't repeat this enough: He has more control over his behavior than you are giving him credit for. his type of behavior is not an uncontrollable consequence of past trauma; it is a choice that he is making.

His anger and control issues will wear you down, and he won't change until he must. Therapy's nice, unlikely to be effective without a major and genuine commitment from him, and complete unwillingness to tolerate one bit of it from you. This isn't a sideways attempt to blame you; This Is Not Your Fault. Also, not something you can control. I've lived with angry men, and I will never choose to do that again. It's dangerous and spirit-crushing.
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on July 20 [7 favorites]

You can't de-escalate these tantrums. The way he deals with you is to give you no indication that he's going to fly off the handle and start being hurtful and verbally abusive, and then you have to figure out a way to work with him until he calms down. That doesn't sound like healthy fighting at all.

I think real boundaries need to be drawn around behavior, during a time when this isn't happening. Tell him you need to have a rational discussion about the ways in which you two fight, and let him know that yelling, name-calling, hurtful things being said will not be tolerated, and what the consequences will be for them continuing to happen. The first time he breaks this boundary, walk away, or hang up, or whatever, and tell him you're acting on the boundaries you set.

If it happens again, then whatever consequences you can handle need to be employed. I've been with verbally abusive guys before, and have always had to call it off with them, because part of their excitement in being in a relationship is having these very strong emotions set off where they can get their rage all vented out on a willing partner, which I dearly hope isn't the case for you, but it sure does sound like it to me.
posted by xingcat at 2:37 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

PS: good job for reaching out; seriously, it means he hasn't "gotten to you" so deeply that you feel undeserving of help & aren't fully blaming yourself (yet) for being in this situation. Keep reaching out to people even if you don't have it in you (yet) to leave him. (I think/jope you will eventually leave him.) Even if you have to use all of your Ask allotments for this, come back, again and again, to ask for insight or help or whatever, it's a really healthy and self-preserving instinct that I hope you will maintain. We'll be here. We aren't judging. We're here to listen & support.
posted by erattacorrige at 2:49 PM on July 20 [21 favorites]

I don't think anyone will be able to in good conscience recommend staying with an abuser or learning to fit yourself into a box where they won't abuse you. Which doesn't sound possible from the description.

My partner (41M) and I (38F) have a really good thing,

I don't think a really good thing ever has any of what you're describing. Ever. Not at all. Unless both partners are working mutually toward shared understanding, you cannot have a healthy, loving, trusting relationship. I do think you deserve someone who doesn't abuse you as I'm sure does everyone who has commented so far.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:50 PM on July 20 [6 favorites]

Your partner is emotionally abusive.

His own troubled past is not a license to abuse you. I don't care if all his stories about his exes are 100 percent true (and you know firsthand that he says mean, false things about people).

Being abused is not something you can outwit with a script, or with careful choreography. There's not "One Weird Trick."

You can cultivate bottomless reserves of patience. You can blame yourself for being thin-skinned or seek out ways to get numb. You can tie yourself in knots to reassure him that you are not all the bad things he says you are.

You can do like some victims I've known, and just decide that the mean things are true after all, and you must deserve them. You eventually start thinking you'll be treated with love and respect once you figure out how to earn it. You can do all the therapy-arranging and apologizing and relationship maintenance singlehandedly, and expect zero effort on his part.

You can give him all the love in the world and it will not be enough to offset the cruelty he's giving you.

Get out safely. Please.
posted by armeowda at 2:53 PM on July 20 [13 favorites]

Even if you aren't ready at this point to break up with him, I would strongly recommend using the time while he is away to organize your belongings in such a way so that it will be easy to move out quickly if you need to. Anything really irreplaceable should be packed and stored somewhere else. Have a plan for how to pick up and take with you all the things you need for day-to-day living, and have a plan for where you can go. Back up all your electronic devices. Sort your clothes so that all your favourites are in one place, easily moved into a nearby bag. The greatest power you have in a relationship is the ability to get up and walk out of it. Knowing that you don't have to put up with bad behaviour for a minute more may help you get a better sense of what you are willing to work on, and what is unacceptable. It may sound harsh, but you're just simplifying your own decision process, making your own way clearer if things don't get better.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:15 PM on July 20 [6 favorites]

Gently, you cannot fix this. All you can do is get yourself out of his way, safely, by breaking up.

You know the metaphor about the frog in the boiling water? Abuse is like that. I spent too many precious years of my life trying to figure out how to manage my ex-boyfriend’s anger, how to help him emotionally regulate and stop trying to burn down our life and my self-esteem. It seems like something you can fix when you’re in the middle of it! After all, relationships take work, right?

I only realized how bad it was, how isolated he had made me, how much he’d made me doubt myself, when I finally walked away….after his non-physical abuse eventually, inevitably, turned physical. Please, please, walk away.
posted by stellaluna at 3:24 PM on July 20 [10 favorites]

Understandable behavior is not the same thing as acceptable behavior.
posted by Lil' Blue Goat at 3:24 PM on July 20 [10 favorites]

It's also worth stating here that lots of people have PTSD - sometimes not very well treated because of awful healthcare and lack of access - and do not act like you describe and it does not excuse that behavior. I know people who deal with serious disassociative, flashback, and other trigger events that are not currently fantastically manageable by the treatments available but can still recognize when a situation is escalating and remove themselves or use a safeword to end the escalation or employ some other strategy that they have themselves worked out in advance for safety because avoiding harm or distress to their partner or children is something they care about.

And if you are determined to keep the appointment you've made, please send the text messages you receive to this therapist you have an appointment with in advance. If this appointment is virtual, they still need to know what kind of situation they are walking into, and if it is in person (assuming he shows up, but also assuming he doesn't but knows you're going there and has the address) you cannot put this man in a room with a stranger under incredibly volatile circumstances without their explicit consent, knowing that he is irrational and escalates when he feels threatened.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:28 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

You cannot put this man in a room with a stranger under incredibly volatile circumstances without their explicit consent

OP is already taking on too much responsibility for her partner's actions and mental state. She doesn't also need to accept responsibility for what he may do during a therapy session. The therapist is presumably a professional and able to handle their sessions and ask any questions they may need to ask beforehand.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 3:41 PM on July 20 [14 favorites]

There's no reason for me to post what everyone else has already said, so let's try something different. First of all, you say you have a very good thing and I'm going to believe you (something no one else did) but I'd like to hear from you why you think so. In particular, you never say how long you've been together or how often these fights occur.

Also, you speak of HIS wringer but not of your own. Does it involve other angry partners? I'm going to guess that somewhere in your past you learned to suppress your emotions to talk someone else down. Did you have a parent who. needed this from you? Was this a feature of your other relationships?

You say that eventually you yell and cry too. Is that always the case with him? Does he need to see you vulnerable and not rational/distant before he can trust you/ Maybe he is actually angry about what he experiences as your aloofness. I'd like to hear how past arguments have resolved themselves. Do you always end up apologizing? Does he ever? Does he ever do so first? Does he ever do so for how he treated you during the argument? Is he aware he has a problem after the fact? By "problem" I don't mean a diagnosis. I mean does he know that he needs to make an effort to change his behavior in real time?

Does he know he is "unable to have a difficult conversation?" When did you find out and if you knew it, why did you attempt one? And how difficult are we talking about? Who will do the dishes? Or something harder? And how do you approach him to initiate these conversations?

I've asked a lot of questions because every problem is unique and the answer the the generic version was given above: DTMFA.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:47 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

“I need practical advice (other than therapy, that is booked) about ways to deescalate these tantrums before they get out of hand”

I am a domestic violence advocate, although IANYDVA.
This is domestic violence.
It is not your job to de-escalate. It is not your job to fix him.
Domestic violence agencies generally do not do couples counseling because it is not “both people’s fault.”
Domestic violence agencies generally do not teach anger management, because abusers are perfectly capable of managing their anger around other people. They give themselves permission to not manage it around their partner.

Please also see my next comment.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:06 PM on July 20 [44 favorites]

I’m not saying this as a DV advocate, but as a civilian: DTMFA. You deserve better.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:08 PM on July 20 [13 favorites]

avoid couples counseling; this is not a couples problem, it's a him problem

For what it's worth, this is good advice even if you do stay with him for whatever reason. (I get it. Leaving is hard.)

Couples counseling is for when you are miscommunicating or have conflicting priorities. Neither of those is going on here. He has shit he need to work on that is making him treat you poorly, he needs to work on it to be a decent person, and the way for him to work on it is with an individual therapist, ideally one who specializes in anger issues. That's not something you can work on "with him." He needs to do the work.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:11 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

Let me ask you a question: does he lose his calm and act as angry with people at work? Or is he able to rein in his temper? My abusive ex was known as calm and charming by everyone outside our home. A friend overheard him yelling at me on a phone call and said this is not safe, a turning point for my divorce.

Lundy is very helpful for getting insight. Memail me your email (if he has access to any of your accounts, set up a new gmail account of your own) and I’ll send you copies of his work and am happy to talk.

And know that it it takes an average of 7 attempts to leave domestic abuse. It is hard, and needs support, so don’t be discouraged if you feel like you can’t just leave. That’s depressingly normal. Just keep trying and reaching out for help, you will get somewhere better.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:22 PM on July 20 [15 favorites]

The workplace is a difficult setting for many of us, but I would be willing to bet that your partner is able to control his emotions and speak clearly, civilly and respectfully to his boss. If so, his failure to recognize that personal relationships need and deserve the same level of care as office ones says a lot to me.

I believe that you are at risk with this man. You don't have to take any immediate actions, but please starting thinking about a safety plan, as outlined in this comment. If you are still Canada, as per earlier comments and posts, so the Getting Help link at the Ending Violence Association of Canada will take you to resources in each province that could be helpful.

Finally, you may want to ask the mods to anonymize this question, depending on how closely your partner tracks your online presence.

Take care.
posted by virago at 4:27 PM on July 20 [4 favorites]

If you would like to talk to a domestic-violence-specific counselor: in the USA, go to and enter your zip code. Outside the USA, go to
You can speak to a counselor even if you don’t want to leave him. They won’t try to get you to leave, they’ll help you understand why you’re staying and how you can deal with it - how to set boundaries, etc. They’ll also explain to you how what he’s doing is classic domestic violence, and they’ll show you where it fits on the power and control wheel.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:30 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

A different perspective, I'm a person like your partner, I can share my partner's experience after 10 years of battle scars.

- No matter how much you care about him and how much he seems to care about you, there will come a point in which the right thing to do for yourself is to leave, and the question is whether you will have the means to, or whether you will be too enmeshed or dependent. It is important to stay connected and avoid isolation.
- The fact that he hurts you is the only issue that matters. The fact that he believes hurting you is okay, for any reason, is the only problem that matters. Any discussion which is not about that, e.g. things about his emotions or his trauma etc, is a distraction and a waste of your time and energy.
- He will do nearly anything to avoid the hard conversation about why he hurts you, and nearly anything to keep the conversation focused on his pain, his experience, his emotions. I've been doing this for 10 years. My dad has been doing it for 40 years and counting. It never stops. There's never a resolution.
- He doesn't really know you. He's largely relating to projections in his head. The love he seems to give you is illusory. He'll find ways not to be there for you when you need him. People like this don't have substance.
- His default state is hurting others. It's not something that happens when he's triggered. He actually instigates the fights so that he has an excuse to hurt you. Look for the patterns, I bet you see it.
- Read Why Does He Do That and connect with the radical feminist community.
- There isn't really a foolproof way to deescalate arguments. Things that have had some traction: threatening to call the cops, threatening to call my mother, screaming loud enough so others will hear, walking out, kicking me out and locking the door. Things that haven't worked - threatening to end the relationship, threatening self-harm, any kind of negotiation.
- You probably have the option of backing down and acting compliant and dropping the issue, to some degree. You can use that consciously when you don't have the energy for a fight.
- Appeals to my better nature, e.g. 'do you really want to be hurting me', sometimes get through,sometimes not.
- With that said, my partner says my behavior improves whenever I do these exercises: link. It needs to be a pretty much continuous practice to work. He'll probably find some reason not to do, but who know.s
- No, you don't get anything done. That's kind of the point. Consuming your time and energy and wasting it is the goal, it makes him feel important. Expect your life to come to a standstill as more and more of your energy is taken up in these fights.

Hope this is helpful. Good luck.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:51 PM on July 20 [13 favorites]

I have more questions than answers!

Are you saying his PTSD is related to abusive relationships?

Given his treatment of you, do you totally believe his narrative as victim in “several” prior relationships?

Is he maybe doing that thing where he thinks he can prevent cheating and strife by punishing you with explosive reactions when things don’t go his way?
posted by kapers at 6:05 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

Agreeing that you need therapy is not the same as getting therapy. The fact that he hasn’t immediately gone and booked an appointment teller me he has no intention of changing. This isn’t your problem to fix and he’s not doing it himself, so time to walk. No one should have to put up with this and by staying you’re just showing him that no matter what he does you’ll never leave so why bother changing?
posted by Jubey at 6:11 PM on July 20

Mod note: This is a response from an anonymous commenter:
Hello, I’m here to emphasize that it doesn’t have to be abuse. It doesn’t have to fit a particular definition. You only have to decide that the relationship is no longer beneficial to you—that it is actively harming you. Without going into details I left a situation last year which was causing me a lot of pain. When your partner is suffering from mental illness and doesn’t recognize that and does not wish to seek treatment, then you must take care of yourself. You can still care about this person, even love him or her, and do it from afar. The last year has been a difficult period but I am so grateful to have reprioritized my own well-being and am being kind to myself every day and better yet I am optimistic for my future. Please look after yourself. There will always be another relationship if you want one. ]

posted by cortex (staff) at 6:38 PM on July 20 [10 favorites]

"I am resentful that I am always the only one trying to calm down the situation. I would like tools or strategies (for both of us) that you've applied successfully to deescalate."

I think the fact that you (and not him) are posting this here is fundamentally at odds with this very understandable desire. Do you have a pattern of codependent behavior in close relationships in your life? Because this "troubleshooting" that you write about is something I recognize from my own and my close friends' relationships with codependent elements in them. I also agree with others that you definitely do not need couples therapy, though I acknowledge that in our culture that is often the "gateway" for men specifically entering individual therapy. But this is not a "couples" problem -- this is a "him" problem. Couples therapy is actually counter-indicated in situations of abuse, and this does sound like an abusive relationship. Does HE want to solve his anger problem?

Finally, I also obviously recognize the importance of the line between verbal/emotional and physical abuse, and I believe you that you don't feel in danger with him, but something about your framing feels like you are may be invested in minimizing how unsafe of a partner he is? Just food for thought.
posted by virve at 9:15 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

A lot of people have good advice about taking care of yourself - and I think it is SO important to set boundaries - but I want to answer the more practical question about how to engage in / deescalate these arguments. The book that's helped me most with this is Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. Doesn't matter if you're actually married or just partnered. It outlines different argument styles and how to stop cycles like the ones you describe. It helped me identify some of the things I was doing in arguments that would escalate the argument. Applying some of the steps he recommends really helped me. You don't have to read the whole book, you can skip the parts about other argument styles. I got it as a free library audiobook by the way.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:43 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]

I would like tools or strategies (for both of us)

I don't see him posting here about how not to be an abusive tool. I only see you wishing that he weren't an abusive tool, which isn't something you can change for him.

There is however an answer to "how can you avoid being yelled at by this abusive tool", which is to DTMFA.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:16 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]

Others have said it well, so I will not belabour the point, but the bottom line is that nothing will work to change his behaviour if he does not see it as a problem himself.

You are obviously a kind and compassionate person, and it is to your credit that you are trying to understand what might be behind this. Still, I dealing with his behaviour is his responsibility, even if you take his stories at face value and agree that his issues are not his “fault.”

Your responsibility is to take care of yourself, and I hope you will point some of your kindness and compassion in your own direction.
posted by rpfields at 9:49 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

It is not your job to manage or deescalate someone else's emotions. You can't stop someone from getting angry or lashing out.

The book Women Who Love Too Much could partially shed some light as to why you feel obligated to help manage someone else's emotions and also help you realise that it isn't your job.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:58 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

I went to bed last night right after reading this, and woke up with this immediately in the forefront of my mind. You could easily be describing my marriage in the first year or so. If you stay with this man, I'm very afraid that you could wind up experiencing what I experienced after the first year: intentionally cruel comments said in moments of (unpredictable, explosive) anger progressed to even more intentionally cruel comments and accusations levelled both at me and at my child, as well as intentional property damage. The night it finally ended is when he threw the coffee table across the room -- I suddenly saw in full detail that the next station on this ghastly train ride was him throwing me -- or worse, my precious child-- across the room. Please listen to what everyone here is telling you: this man is broken and this relationship is abusive. You are being emotionally abused, and there is every likelihood that it will escalate. Please do read the dated but extremely useful book Why Does He Do That?. I read it in one sitting and came away finally understanding how dire things were, that it was not my job to try to fix a broken person, and that fundamentally, he was chosing to engage in this behavior. It is intentional. Please leave this man, and be very careful when you do -- call a domestic violence hotline and get concrete advice on how to protect yourself. I somehow convinced myself that abuse and violence are things that happen to other people. I was wrong. If a good friend came to you and told you what you just told us, wouldn't you tell that friend what we all have been saying? Please, get out.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 12:35 PM on July 21 [9 favorites]

I forgot:
-- absolutely don't do couples counseling. Despite knowing the risks, I tried it with my abusive husband, and it made things worse.
-- YMMV, but while much of his behavior has to do with his own demons, it's also a lot about straight up misogyny and patriarchal entitlement. In my ongoing divorce negotiations with my (please God now ) soon-to-be-ex, I have made a conscious decision to stop doing the required female behavioral performances (no smiling; no polite chit chat; no asking about his mother; no making sympathetic clucking noises when he moans on and on about how rough his life is; etc.) His sputtering anger at my failure to do these expected soothing things speaks volumes to me about the entitlement that lies beneath his violence. My ex -- and your partner too -- are cruel and abusive because they think that is their just due.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 12:47 PM on July 21 [12 favorites]

If you want to have a good life, you have to go. This man will continue to harm you and drain you until you do. It will escalate. He has shown that he wants to harm you! That's all you need to know!

Even if you're not ready to leave yet, I will strongly recommend that you start a log (on your phone or somewhere safe, that you can access easily) of every insult, remark, harmful word or action, and tantrum that he throws your way. Just start documenting it.

Do organize your stuff, and maybe take a box of your most prized possessions/irreplaceable objects to a relative's house where it will be safe and you won't have to worry about it if you need to leave in a hurry.

It could be worthwhile to imagine ways to leave and make him think it's his idea. You may have an easier time if he believes he's still in charge and you're submissively obeying his instructions to move out. He's threatening to break up with you? Let him! That's your ticket to freedom!

Otherwise, just focus on laying the groundwork to get out. Save money, look for a place to live, let your friends and family know what's going on. Build a plan for safety if you need to leave in a hurry.
posted by knotty knots at 1:16 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]

I was your partner. (Although I am a woman and my parter was a man.) I behaved in much this way. I was deeply angry. It doesn't even matter about what. There were other issues, and he had faults too. It doesn't even matter. I loved my partner deeply and he loved me. Didn't matter. We wanted to be happy. Didn't matter. Nothing changed.

The only thing that worked to change my behavior was when my partner left me. It is now four years later. He is happily remarried. I have changed. Understanding my behavior was the hardest thing I have ever done and changing it was the second hardest. It is not something he could have helped me do in any other way.

We still love each other. I am happy for him, truly, to have found a healthy relationship. And I am happy for me to know what one is. I have had a lot of help, and I look forward to being a new person in a new relationship when the time is right.

Please leave this man you love. Walk out, do not look back.

My best to you.
posted by beanie at 8:49 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]

"My partner was abused, lied to, and cheated on in several previous relationships"

You're now being abused in this situation and his past doesn't justify that. The cycle has repeated. Put yourself first. Abuse is abuse without physical actions, and it may only be a matter of time before it turns physical.
posted by emotionalmotionsickness at 10:03 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]

My partner was abused, lied to, and cheated on in several previous relationships. He is a very sensitive person. I suspect that he is suffering from PTSD...

This is very dangerous ground here because you are giving "reason" for his unreasonable behaviour. This is what victims of domestic violence do. They tell you about his story and forget themselves. That grows bigger and bigger until they have no "self" left.

Be very, very careful and suspicious about how he frames his previous relationships too. You are only getting one side. Consider that they might have been reacting to his behaviour. This behaviour. That is not excusing them but he is drowning in victimhood and he will drag you under with him. A man like this who does not "own" his part (and he sounds abusive enough to have played a serious part in this) will always blame you. He is abusive. All I can say is listen to the people here. Please leave him.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:31 PM on July 22 [8 favorites]

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