My Transgender Boyfriend Has Anger Issues

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Reader’s Question

I’m a 20-year-old woman dating a 22-year-old pre-op transman. My boyfriend was born female, but rejected his gender identity of ‘woman’ four years ago and is now scheduled for transformative surgery soon.

At the beginning of our relationship we never fought. Every day was an adventure, and I was so thrilled to have found a relationship where I finally felt I was in love.

My problem is that he has anger management issues. I’m sad for him because I know about his past and I couldn’t imagine going through what he did as a child. His father was an abusive drunk, beating his mother almost to death, and his presence made the rest of the family live in constant fear. The worst thing though, is that he touched my boyfriend sexually. It seems like my love’s childhood was the perfect stereotypical breeding ground for repressed anger and emotion.

But his history does not make it acceptable for me to constantly walk on eggshells around him when I realize he is in a bad mood. Any attempts to verbally defend myself only make him angrier, so I spend most of my efforts trying to make him laugh and to calm him down. He gets furious out of nowhere.

The other night I said “I love you” at the kitchen table and he angrily retorted that he didn’t love me anymore, that I never do anything for him and that I’m a terrible person. The argument escalated that night and ended with me going to a friend’s house, and him getting drunk with a friend. The reason he acted so harshly? I answered a call from a friend, made plans and didn’t bother to invite him the second after I hung up.

In previous fights, he’s restrained and choked me a little and gripped my wrists so tightly I can’t get free, and he’s called me “stupid”, plus names like “****ing b**ch”. Even as little as thirty minutes afterwards, I receive apologies and “I didn’t mean it” messages. He says he doesn’t know how to control his anger, but he’s willing to try, as he doesn’t want to lose me. He also says that if he ever got seriously violent, he’d want me to leave, for my safety. He has bought self help books, taken up meditation, and made slight improvements, but always relapses in a bad fight.

I know my situation is not the worst in the world, but I still deserve to be in a loving relationship where my partner would die rather than harm me. I know my boyfriend recognizes his problem, but he needs professional help or else, if it gets worse, I’ll leave.

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If I could have suggestions for diverting his attention from his anger before it gets uncontrollable, that would be great. Also, resource suggestions for him that are, ideally, free to attend would be wonderful. And also, advice would be welcome.

Psychologist’s Reply

I am very, very sorry to hear that your boyfriend had such a difficult, violent, abusive childhood. That must have been very hard for him, and your desire to support him is admirable in many ways. However, I cannot offer you any helpful suggestions for what YOU can do to control HIS anger.

You must recognize that, from what you describe, it sounds like you are involved in a violent, abusive relationship yourself. The physical force and intimidation and verbal degradation you describe are all signs of abuse. What is happening in your relationship is not okay and ANY violence in a relationship is serious.

You are not responsible for your boyfriend’s behavior and the onus of changing that behavior is not on you. You can’t change your boyfriend no matter how hard you try; HE must make the choice to stop being abusive by making the decision to seek professional help for his issues.

I understand that you love your boyfriend and that you recognize how his own physically and sexually abusive past has contributed to his anger, however, as you seem to be realizing, that does not make his violence toward you acceptable and is all the more reason why he needs to seek professional help to work on these issues and change his behavior.

While you are correct in stating that your boyfriend needs professional help, I also urge you to seek your own therapy for support and to help you understand the cycle of violence in domestic abuse. A good resource for domestic violence help and support in the US is The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or visit the International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for worldwide resources.

It also sounds like your boyfriend is dealing with a series of complex and challenging issues. Issues associated with being a transgender individual (e.g., stigma, lack of social support, discrimination, internal conflict, etc.) might also be contributing to and/or exacerbating your boyfriend’s mental health and emotional symptoms. The American Psychological Association offers information and resources for transgender individuals. Also, The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network might be a good resource for your boyfriend as he seeks professional help to manage his anger and work on healing from his own abusive past. Both offer information on finding qualified mental health professionals, including free and low cost options.

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