Question: I have noticed over the last year, and each month this continues to get worse, that my husband is always angry. I seem to be his “punching bag.” We have tried several courses of therapy over the years, yet we are still in the most difficult part of our 10 year marriage. He will rarely talk to me. When he does, it is about one of our 3 young boys or something like bills that we need to discuss. I had our 3rd child in July. When I approached him about having sex again (because he didn't want to engage in this while I was pregnant), he said “We need to talk about some things first”. When I asked him what that meant, he said things like I need to get our home cleaner. He was using it against me, and doesn't show any affection towards me. This has gone on for about a year now. It tears me apart inside. Can you give me some advice on how to approach these issues? Susan from MN
Answer: It’s hard to answer your question wisely without having the opportunity to ask you several more questions. You say that your husband’s anger is recent, over the past year you’re really noticing it getting worse and worse. Before that what was he like? Was he passive? Accommodating? Funny?
If his anger is not typical over your 10 year marriage, I’d encourage you to try once again to talk about what’s eating him. Don’t focus right now on how you are hurt or offended by his anger, but rather what’s underneath his anger. You might want to say something like this.
“Honey, I can see that you’re very angry lately and any little thing sets you off. But you never used to be like this? What’s bugging you so much? The house has always been kind of a mess, it never bothered you before. What’s really wrong? I’d really like to hear your thoughts and feelings about what’s really upsetting you?”
Now, the hard part for you is if he starts telling you, don’t get defensive or argue with him. That will shut him down again and he will just feel angrier. Just listen.
Sometimes the more passive or quiet or accommodating partner in a marriage has not been honest with his or her feelings for quite a long time. Anger, bitterness and resentment builds and finally it just spills out all over the partner who had no clue such resentment was brewing. Anger is a warning that something is wrong. Either something is wrong in the marriage (from his perspective) or something is wrong in him.
Something that might be causing his anger is depression. When men get depessed, they sometimes get much angrier and grouchier than usual. Do you notice that he's been discouraged or feeling hopeless lately? Is he sleeping well? Does he enjoy his normal activities? If not, perhaps he needs to be seen by his doctor.
Another problem in him might be guilt over something he’s doing that he knows is not right. Women have often told me that the year prior to discovering their husband involved with another woman or using internet pornography, there was a lot of anger and explosive outbursts going on, when that was not typical previously in their relationship.
You mention that he did not want to be intimate with you during your last pregnancy. Was that different than with your other two pregnancies? Did he want this child? Is he spending long hours on the computer? Have you checked his history?
What are the issues are that you’ve worked on in therapy? Have you mentioned his anger to the counselor so that you can explore what’s bothering him in a safe environment for you and a constructive way for him?
Finally, if all else fails, you may need to set some boundaries for yourself. That means that you will not allow yourself to be his punching bag in his fit of anger. Here’s something that you might want to say.
“I’ve invited you several times to tell me what’s really bothering you but you’ve refused. Again, I am willing to work on things and listen to what is upsetting you but I will not allow myself to be disrespected or yelled at anymore. When you start to do that, I am going to walk away. When you want to have a constructive conversation about what is bothering you, I’m all ears. But I will not be your punching bag anymore.”
Then you HAVE to follow through or he will not take you seriously.
For more information on how to have a constructive confrontation with someone, go to http://www.leslievernick.com/ for a free resource on How to Initiate a Difficult Discussion as well as my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It! Stopping It! Surviving It!