I often hear from people who are don’t know how to handle their spouse’s swinging emotions and behaviors. Often, it’s obvious that there are problems in the marriage, but because their spouse seems to constantly change his or her mind, it can be very hard to determine the true reality of the situation.
I heard from a wife who said: “lately, my husband is angry at me all of the time. We have hit a rough patch in our marriage. He got downsized from his job so that means that I am working extra hours. There is a lot more stress now and it seems that we snap at one another rather than coming together. He gets angry if I go out with friends after work just to blow off steam. He feels that I am immature and that we have different value systems. When we argue lately, my husband has been getting more angry than usual. Not only does he get mad and frustrated, but he insinuates that we are not compatible and shouldn’t be married. Then, he threatens to leave me. Sometimes, he even storms out for a little while. After a couple of days, he apologizes and asks to reconcile. I always agree to this because I am not the one who was so angry in the first place. I know that we need to work on our marriage, but it is very hard to take him seriously when I know the path that this is always going to take. I’m starting to become desensitized to his anger. It’s getting to a point where I just roll my eyes when he gets frustrated because what else is new? Where do we go from here?”
This is a very common situation but it is also a potentially problematic one. The issue of the increased stress can shake any marriage. But equally troubling was the fact that the wife was starting to zone out every time this cycle started up again. Eventually, the husband could feel that he needed to increase his threats in order to get her attention. This might entail him actually leaving her or initiating a separation. And I knew that this was not what she wanted. So I felt that it was very important for her to take this seriously and to try to break this cycle. I will discuss how to do that below.
Starting A Conversation Toward Change: I believe that the best thing to do here would to be to face the issue head on. The next time that the wife noticed her husband becoming frustrated and she knew where the whole thing was headed, she might say something like: “hang on for a second. Before we repeat the same old destructive patterns, I’d like to sit down and talk about this. Honey, I know that we are both stressed out right now. I know that we are doing the very best that we can. But clearly, this work situation is pulling us apart instead of bringing us closer together. Right now, we should be huddled together, trying to buffer each other from this stress. But instead, we are turning on one another and that is the last thing that I want. And I certainly don’t want for you to leave. Neither of us should be talking about leaving. Instead, we need to talk about how to fix this. I can share with you that your retreating and getting angry every time we disagree hurts me. I wish that you would tell me what is really bothering you instead so that I can fix it. I’m more than willing to hear about what can I do to help with your stress level. I think that if we try, we can pull together and get through this, but if we treat each other like the enemy, then we are only making it worse. Will you help me make this better?”
This may not be the only conversation that you need to have, but hopefully it will be the start of a more healthy process. Since this has become a cycle, you may need to continue to draw your husband’s attention to his negative behaviors. If he becomes angry again and talks about leaving, you might say something like: “I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t turn on one another and make threats. You know that I don’t want you to leave. And I don’t think that you want to leave either. So let’s sit down and talk about what is really wrong.”
Once your husband learns that you are no longer going to play along with this cycle, he will hopefully stop. Yes, you may have to draw his attention to his behaviors and you may have to redirect him several times. But that is so much better than engaging with him and making the whole thing worse. What you want to do is diffuse the problem and then reconnect. But the last thing that you want is for him to think that you aren’t taking him seriously so that he feels that he actually needs to leave in order to get your attention.