Coping with Husband’s Quick Temper

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have a wonderful husband who I know loves me and is fully committed to me and our new son. We work pretty well together 95% of the time. I know relationships take constant work and there will be conflicts. I’m hoping to find a way to work through our recurring conflict better.

The recurring pattern goes something like this: I will calmly express my dissapointment in a choice my husband makes. He will get mad at me for “hurting him” by bringing this up. He gets more and more upset about it no matter how calm I remain and even if I try to let it go. It feels as though his only defense mechanism to any small conflict is to lash out at me. Needless to say, we both end up feeling hurt. Often times, my husband goes out of his way to change whatever it was that I initially brought up. But I’d rather he just acknowledge my feelings without lashing out at me.

For example, a friend of mine brought me a gift of unique chocolates (quite a lot) all the way from Europe and a specific thank you for something I’d done for her. My husband ate all the chocolate before I’d even opened it. I said to him that I’d really wished I could have enjoyed some of the gift she had brought for me (being very conscious of how I spoke to not sound angry because I know that triggers an angry reaction in him as well). He immediately starting yelling at me that how dare I get mad at him and I’m not perfect and he can never live up to my expectations… etc. This argument went on for 3 hours and I couldn’t comprehend how he was mad at me for him eating all of my gift… All I was hoping for was for him to say “oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to eat all of your special chocolate”… I didn’t care that much about the chocolate, just that she went so far out of her way to get it for me. The next day he bought me a huge assortment of chocolate (crappy american kind :)

Another example: A friend of mine died in an accident recently. My husband did not know him but we have many mutual friends who will be at the funeral. I told my husband that I was going to the funeral (with our baby) and I hoped he would go with us. A week goes by, two days before the funeral (which is on his day off, Saturday) my husband says to me “I’m going to work Saturday”. My reaction is, “you’re not going to the funeral with us?” He tries to say we need the money, which we don’t (and he later admits that). He says he doesn’t feel the need to go. I tell him I’m disappointed because I had assumed he would want to go with us to be with us. I also tell him I feel hurt because he made this decision to work without even discussing it with me. He gets upset saying things to me like how I’m not perfect and I don’t see things the way he does and how I hurt him… Ultimately, he’ll come to the funeral with me.

There are many more examples, but they all follow the same pattern. These arguments are over trivial matters. Do I not even bring up anything to avoid the potential conflict? Is there any way to still communicate and work through the conflict while avoiding the 3 hours of his anger at me before any progress is made? My husband is a smart, loving and reasonable man. I don’t understand this recurring anger reaction. I would like to think we are mature enough to discuss anything and compromise. I would also like us to be able to model good communication and conflict resolution for our children. Once the episode begins, it follows the same pattern. I wonder if it’s just a way of his relieving stress. I feel we have a strong marriage otherwise and are both good parents. I don’t want to hurt him and I know he doesn’t want to hurt me. How can we put an end to this recurring pattern?
Thank you.

A: He may be loving but he isn’t reasonable — at least when he feels in any way caught being less than wonderful. Something in his history probably makes this make sense but knowing that won’t help you in the moment. It also doesn’t help him to be so easily triggered whenever someone points out that he has done something wrong or less than admirable. This will undoubtedly get in his way professionally as well as personally. So – no. You shouldn’t walk around on eggshells in order to avoid setting him off. For one thing, you’ll never be good enough at it. Avoiding the pattern isn’t healthy for you or, for that matter, for him.

Since your marriage is so strong in other respects, I suggest you ask him to join you in couples therapy to get to the bottom of this pattern. Sometimes the best time to go into counseling is when things are mostly okay. It gives you a foundation of strength to work from while confronting a difficult aspect of your relationship. Do be sure to tell him that you only want to improve what is already strong. My guess is his first reaction will be more of the same — defensiveness and shifting of blame. But once he simmers down, he may see the sense in it.

Resolving this is important for the sake of your relationship and for the sake of providing a positive role model for your children.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Aug 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Coping with Husband’s Quick Temper. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/08/10/coping-with-husbands-quick-temper/

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