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Doc@DrIrene.com

Sheer Frustration-Interactive

 Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here Sheer Frustration!

December 1, 2004

Dear Dr. Irene,

I now believe that after Sunday night’s argument and pouring over your website these last 2 days that I am in a verbally abusive relationship. Ouchhh!

Let’s start with Nov. 14th and move backwards through 2 children and 12 years of marriage. The eye opening argument for me was Sunday night:

We had finished our dinner at a restaurant with our children (6 and 4) when my son asked my husband how big elves are. He said, “There are no such things as elves." It took my son asking again 2 more times and my husband replying in the same way 2 more times before I could react with a kick under the table in hopes my husband would see the correlation between elves and Santa. Too late. He's not a sensitive sort of guy.

He overcompensated by saying, “Of course Santa has elves.” He realized he messed up and tried to fix it - poorly. Another kick. My son then says, “I don’t think there is a Santa,” in a questioning sort of way. I reassured him with a smile and shrugged my shoulders saying, “I don’t know……” And then a “Lets go.”

We drove home in silence. I am angry fearing that the magic of Christmas is already over for my 6 and 4 year olds, but don’t say anything. Clearly you feel you have to protect your kids from your husband's insensitivity!!

To summarize the course of the evening: my husband made a parental blunder by putting his foot in his mouth about Santa. Yes. Rather than addressing it, apologizing and discussing possible “damage control” with me, instead he takes his anger out on my daughter by yelling and denying her her nightly neck rub (because she pushed her brother while brushing teeth). Yes. He was probably also angered by how you handled his blunders.

Then he comes downstairs to take his anger out on me by yelling at me for kicking him under the table, and that I could’ve done this or that instead. Well... He's right. You could have. handled it MUCH better, though I'm getting that you have many, many reasons for feeling this way. Nevertheless, had you handled him with less anger and with more understanding, you would likely feel better about you. (Because acting this way brings you down and messes with your self-esteem.)

According to your web-site, I set up a boundary. I said that I wasn’t going to do this - and I left the room. He gave a general apology 2 hours later with an, “It won’t happen again.” Well, I’ve heard that before, and often argue the same argument again and again. Well, it will happen again - because he's not the sensitive type of guy. What doesn't have to happen again is your treating him like an errant child and his acting out like an ogre.

Then he wanted me to console him by saying, “I hope I didn’t ruin Christmas." I also knew this console-him part was coming, but I respond with exactly how I felt, which was, “You did.” You were honest with him, but without any understanding (because you are FED UP!)

This is when he went berserk and said, "You’re my wife and you need to support me. You Fu?%ing Bi^ch! Fu?% you! Fu?% you!" Then he stormed downstairs. I sat up in bed thinking, “This is so not right.” So not right is right! SO NOT RIGHT!

He has since apologized, fully recognizing how he must have made me feel. He told me he went on line and knows that he doesn’t handle conflicts well. Yes. He feels that I am attacking him with my comments You are, but that does not give him license to rage., and he should learn to step away when he feels really angry. Yes. He needs some anger management skills, and you need to look at how terribly fed up you are with him. My last response was that right now I need actions and not just words to make this right. Right! (Part of me still thinks the problem is deeper and concerns him being able to admit mistakes.) You're probably right, and good anger management therapy will address that. If he joins an anger management group, which is great since he sees he's not alone, make sure he also works individually with a therapist.

Other situations over the years: Lying, sarcasm & manipulation (I have specifically asked that he stop.) This, no doubt, is the type of stuff that brought you to feeling so very fed up. If I do bring something up, it is met with him being defensive, there are excuses, or he brings up a problem about me. More yukky stuff that would bring any sane person to the edge! Unfortunately, this one is a common abuse tactic: bringing up a problem about you when you are complaining about him. It deflects from addressing the topic at hand - so you never get to talk about the problem you brought up: the issue. Often, I request that if he has a problem with me, that he should bring it up on his time, and not when I want to address something. Correct. Each issue should be addressed one at a time before going on to the next. He still does this so nothing that I bring up gets resolved. Right. It can be very difficult, especially if you react to his provocations by becoming defensive - instead of remaining on topic - despite what he is saying.

I feel that he doesn’t like to admit fault or that he could make a mistake. Admitting he is wrong is difficult for many people, especially for those who erect their sense of self around knowing it all, taking care of you and the family, etc.

I strongly feel that we learn when we admit our mistakes. Yes. We learn when we can honestly look at what past actions didn't work, so we can try a new strategy. We learn best when we can do this and not bash ourselves internally for having erred. Some people have a real hard time not hearing old "blame tapes" running in the background when examining their behavior. These people are generally too hard on others and too hard on themselves.

My 11 years in a professional career enforces this belief. (I quit when our 2nd was born but am planning to go back ASAP.) Never or rarely apologizes. Often times it includes a “BUT and an excuse” or “I’m sorry IF what I said made you feel that way.” Hehehe... I have given him an article of what an apology is, and yet I still hear myself telling him to refer to the article and that an apology shouldn’t come with a “but...” You are correct. Hubby has some real issues with not meeting his own (difficult) behavioral standards. Yet, each time you correct him, it feels like salt being poured into his open wounds. He needs to deal with these feelings he tries to deny. He needs to come to terms with his gentler side. But he's not going to do this while you are correcting him.

My feelings: Frustration of having to overcome all these hurdles during arguments often results in losing my self control and getting angry. Yeah. That part is not helping you. Tip: You don't have to lose control! Promise! Now I feel myself caring less and distancing. I did recognize before seeing your site that I did need better self control and to consistently set limits which I had been working on. As a result of your web site I now have a list of books on order. Excellent. An anger management workbook will certainly help. You don't need as much work here as hubby, but you do need some.

I also have been exercising to help with tension. Excellent! Exercise decreases depression, anxiety, anger, all those awful mood states. I am determined to keep moving forward. Good! My plan of action is focus on myself by getting the books, and exercising better self control and assertiveness. Sounds like a plan! And verbally set boundaries with him, along with sharing a copy of your “fighting rules” and “red flags” with him. Good! I will focus on my personal changes and with one or two reminders let him focus on making his own changes. I don’t know what to do with the intimate side of our relationship. My question to you is what else might you suggest that would be helpful to this game plan? Sincerely, Hopeful yet doubtful, Mindy.

Dear Mindy,

Good for you for starting to get a handle on a difficult situation! I hear how frustrated you are with him, and how ANGRY you feel! Loud and clear! And who can blame you? 12 years of having to put up with his acting out when he's angry is a lot for anybody to take. While you have a right to feel the way you feel, keep in mind that while your anger may keep your hubby in line, it's not likely to help him deal with his issues. He'll read your anger as rejection and shut himself off. I know you already know this, but I feel compelled to say this anyway. Ideally he would bring his thoughts and feelings to his own treatment so he could learn to work this stuff through. Your husband needs some professional help! (That gets you somewhat off the hook.)

Now you: You need to deal with your anger and frustration toward him! Please don't take this the wrong way, but when you were describing the opening episode about the elves and kicking him under the table, I was wondering what this man could have possibly done to you for so long that you would get sooooo upset over his insensitivity with your kids! That's all his silly answer was: insensitivity! Yet, you felt the need to protect your children's dreams from his heavy-handed blunder. That particular situation didn't warrant the frustration you evidenced over it. What brought it to a head was all your memories of what he's pulled over the years. See what I mean? 

Walking around so frustrated is not good for either of you guys! It raises the "bad chemicals" in your body and can make you physically and/or emotionally ill! Your hubby certainly needs to march himself into a therapist's office - a good therapist with an anger management specialty. 

Use your anger constructively: put your foot down and insist he obtain treatment!

You may need someone to talk with too, because there is no way he is going to get well enough quickly enough to please you. Perhaps some marital counseling will help when and if your husband has made inroads in his own treatment. But we're not there yet. 

I repeat: good for you for recognizing what's going on in your marriage, and good for you for taking action to do something about it! But, please recognize your own anger. It's toxic! And insist he get some professional help. He needs it.

For you, my favorite book. I suggest you read it: The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by Albert Ellis et al. 

Instead of making you even more angry - which some books will do, and which you need like you need a hole in the head - it will guide you in taking your personal power! You want to regain control over yourSelf so that you act assertively with your difficult husband, but in a way that enhances your integrity and raises your self-esteem.

So, think about what I'm saying and post your comments and questions. I'll be by next week to reply. Good luck to both of you! Dr. Irene

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