Does My Husband Have an Anger Management Problem?

Reader’s Question

My husband has outbursts of intense anger over stupid, little things, and I don’t understand why. I never know just what is going to set him off! He calls me a stupid idiot in front of our children. He yelled and screamed at me because he saw me putting a spoonful of baked beans down the garbage disposal. He can blow up over anything that has been accidentally spilled out on the floor, a spot that I could not get out of his shirt, or wearing one of his T-shirts that he didn’t want me to wear because he had not worn it yet.

We have been married for almost 16 years, and he has never been physically abusive — it has been emotional and verbal abuse, which started about 2 years after we were married. I came from a loving, quiet family. My parents never raised their voices, never said unkind words (at least not in front of us). I think his dad was verbally abusive to him and his sisters and left their mom when he was 18. I know his problems come from his childhood, but I don’t know how to deal with this. I left him 5 years ago, and we were separated for 4 months and got back together. He still brings up the fact that I left him. Things were better as he promised for a long time, but now we are going back down the same road, and he says he does not have a problem and will not consider any medication or therapy. I don’t want our sons to grow up and treat their wives this way, and I have tried to talk to them and tell them this is not right behavior. They are now 12 and 13 years old. I try not to yell back at him; sometimes I do, but sometimes I just cry and go into another room. Later when I try to talk to him about it he usually tries to turn it into my fault, or just doesn’t want to talk about and acts like nothing is wrong. Sometimes when he gets mad, I think he’s going to have a stroke or an aneurism or something. If I go anywhere, I’m always asked: “Did anybody make a pass at you?”

Psychologist’s Reply

You state that you know your husband’s problems stem from his childhood and that you’ve tried very hard to understand them. Making assumptions about the root causes of unacceptable behavior and taking undue responsibility for trying to understanding them often serves only to enable the problem to continue. Trivializing the significance of emotional and verbal abuse because there’s been no overt or severe physical abuse is another way such behavior patterns get enabled. Whether your husband has problems with anger management, impulse control, or other problems, the most important fact is that they are his problems, and therefore problems for which he must be responsible to seek appropriate guidance, counseling, and treatment — and for which he is eventually responsible, of course, for correcting.

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Apparently his motivation to take a look at himself was enhanced for a period when you left, but it’s understandable that he lost that motivation once you resumed your former tolerance. Insist that he take responsibility for himself and his actions, to seek the help he needs, and to abide by any treatment recommendations. In such cases, it’s not uncommon for the entire family to eventually be involved in therapy, but it’s absolutely essential before that takes place for your husband to take the lead in getting himself help.

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