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What should I do about my husband’s tantrums? Add to ...

The question

I recently married again after being separated from the father of my daughters for 12 years. My daughters are in their late 20s and I have a great relationship with both of them. They seemed to like my husband as well, but recently he’s shown a side of himself I was not aware of and, frankly, don’t like. My daughters think I should leave him, as he is not “the good man” we all thought he was. The incidents are not pleasant: He loses his temper and yells over minor things. But he is never violent and he gets over his tantrums after time alone, then apologizes to all concerned. We have fun together otherwise and apart from this I do love him. I feel that at his age, he is unlikely to change. What should I do? It has caused a rift between me and my girls.

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The answer

Let’s talk, first, about your husband’s anger-management issues.

I’m not a fan of men yelling at women. This may come off as too politically correct, but a larger, stronger creature yelling at a smaller creature is intimidating and definitely in the bullying spectrum.

Not that I haven’t been guilty myself. I’ve yelled at my wife, Pam, plenty, over the years. I’ve also thrown things – not at her, but at the wall or the floor, so they break – and pounded on horizontal surfaces (e.g. the kitchen island) with my fist, so the objects on them rattle.

(I should say she always gives as good as she gets, is not frightened of me at all and as a fitness freak could probably kick my ass if it came to that.)

But a few years ago I asked the man in the mirror: “Why would you ever yell at Pam? She’s the best thing that ever happened to you and the best person we know. We should be thanking God every day for the blessing bestowed upon us.”

So I quit throwing, pounding and yelling, cold turkey – well, almost. I’ve had a couple slip-ups but, over all, made a conscious effort to be extremely chill, whatever happens. And lo and behold a harmonious vibe has descended upon our domicile ever since.

So there. If I can do it, your husband can too. You say, “at his age, he is unlikely to change.” Nonsense. The time to stop evolving, growing, learning and improving oneself is never.

Now, we can surmise he may not come to the conclusion he needs to change on his own. So sit him down in a quiet moment. Tell him you love him, you enjoy his company, but if he cares for you he’s got put the brakes on his tendency to throw hissy fits over minor matters.

This may be a difficult conversation. You may cry. Go ahead. It’ll help drive home the seriousness of the situation. When Pam sits me down and starts tearing up, I always know what’s coming next: a “home truth” that may be tough to hear, but for the best in the end.

Ideally, he will go off and think about it, and things will improve. You say after flipping his wig he calms down, reflects and apologizes. That’s a good sign. He’s sufficiently sentient and self-aware to know when he’s wrong. He just needs to work on not freaking out in the first place.

A tall order, I know. Get him to promise to try – that’s the first step. Expect some slippage, some recidivism. If he yells, remind him of his commitment.

The main thing is that he cares enough to make an effort. If he doesn’t, if nothing changes – well, I never say this and consider it an advice-column cop-out, but maybe try couples counselling.

If that doesn’t work, the next step is up to you. But I think you have the right not be to yelled at and freaked out upon over minor things. Maybe he'd benefit from individual counselling. And if his anger ever tips over into the physical realm, obviously get the heck out of there.

In regards to your daughters, this may seem contradictory, but short of actual domestic abuse, they should support whatever decision you make. Talk to them. Remember: They want to have your back and are acting in your best interests, but can’t see the whole picture.

If you stay with Old Yeller, I assume you will have your reasons: that you decided the good outweighs the bad, that you can put up with his occasional tantrums because he’s a good lover or handy around the house or makes you laugh or whatever it is.

So lay out your reasons to your daughters. Explain to them that everyone is, after all, a package deal, and you’ve decided not to stamp this package “Return to Sender” – at least not yet.

What am I supposed to do now?

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

 

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