Patricia Redlich

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Husband Has Explosive Temper

21st February, 2010


I have been married for 20 years, have wonderful children and am generally very happy with my life. In fact, sometimes I feel guilty that my life is almost too perfect!

Then my husband has one of his 'turns'. He is prone to explosive angry outbursts. These can occur at any time. If we are in company, he just goes quite, or rudely leaves early, and then explodes as soon as we are outside the door. At times he can stay aggressive for an hour or more. In between these outbursts, we are very happy together. We have a lot of fun doing simple things, and both of us absolutely adore our children - although my husband usually finds family outings stressful as he cannot stand children bickering, or getting over-excited. He's improved considerably over the years, but when the children were babies, he found it almost impossible to cope.

All his family say that they sympathise with my situation, and that they know he is very difficult to live with. Recently one of them asked me why I put up with his behaviour. The truth is that I've issued all sorts of ultimatums, and he is always really repentant after he calms down, but he does not seem to be able to control himself when he oversteps a certain mark. Some years ago he attended counselling, but said that he was told after a few sessions that he didn't need to go anymore.

I have no intention of leaving him, but for days after a bad outburst I feel so distant from him that I might as well be single. At the moment I'm facing the fact that a few hours ago he threw my mobile across the floor and smashed it. I feel extremely angry, but also dejected and miserable.

What can I do to highlight the effect his behaviour has on me and the children? How can I convince him to seek help again? I have offered to go with him, or to let him go alone, but he says he'll never go again and that there is no point in my pushing it. I feel like my whole life has to be worked around his sensitivities and foibles. Now that the children are getting older, at least I have more freedom and I try to make a life of my own as much as possible. At the same time I don't want a cold and distant and empty nest when they eventually leave home.

The problem with explosive anger in adults is that it creates fear. Deep down you never know what's going to happen next - the mobile phone to-day, my face to-morrow perhaps? Yes, I know you may well be rushing to say that your husband would never hurt you, or the kids, and that I've got it all wrong. Perhaps. But why then do you pussy-foot around his sensitivities. If you're not afraid for your own personal safety, what drives you to appease him?

Let me ask you a question. Who picked up the pieces of your mobile phone? Who went into town and bought you another one? Who went through the time-consuming process of replacing the numbers on a new sim card if it was damaged? The point is, adults who lose the head seldom face the consequences. An angry but distressed wife usually cleans up the crime scene. Why? Because the angry outburst intimidates them, even if they don't feel personally in danger.

Let me ask you another question. If your husband rudely leaves the company you're in when his temper is rising, why do you go with him? Why would you choose to witness his temper outside, rather than be inside with friends or family, having a laugh? Is it, perhaps, because you're scared he'd turn on you if you weren't seen to be siding with him? Or is social embarrassment a big thing with you?

There is no point in issuing an ultimatum. Nobody listens because they know you don't mean it. The task is to stop appeasing, stop picking up the pieces, stop covering up. I must, however, hesitate to put this to you, since your personal safety is of paramount importance. Handling someone with an explosive temper is fine, providing you are sure you'll come to no harm. From this distance I can't judge that. In fact, from any distance I can't. It's down to your instincts.

If you feel you can leave the phone on the living room floor, do so. And that's just a metaphor for leaving the consequences of angry outbursts to your husband to handle. When he says he's sorry, quietly make it clear that you don't want to hear it. Because it's not true. If he was sorry he'd go to anger-management classes, or joint counselling sessions to hear how this impacts on you, or family therapy to find out how the kids feel. Your husband has angry outbursts because they work for him. Inappropriate as they are, it's his way of asserting himself, or discharging his frustration, or whatever. And they work for him partially because he blinds himself to their impact on others. Which is where you come in. You cultivate this blindness of his by pussy-footing around him, including picking up the pieces, in every sense of the word. Do you see? The fear he engenders allows him to continue. It's bullying by any other name. Think about it.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design