Stress and frustration in a relationship

Draw a boundary as soon as you see signs that his temper is ready to erupt.

If you can change how you react to a man’s temper outburst, you can actually change the dynamic in the relationship. In relationships with a bad-temper abuser, here’s how the process often unfolds: Man blows up; woman tries to soothe him and make him happier, or she moves away from him physically in the house or apartment as if to hide. If you are on the receiving end of his nasty temper, understand that the man is 100 percent focused on his own feelings—and herein lies the problem. The next time he loses his temper, be clear and tell him how you feel with a neutral facial expression and speaking tone. Say, “You need to take your bad temper and go outside or go somewhere else because your temper makes me feel extremely uncomfortable.” If he refuses to leave, you should step out for a bit if you can. The clincher: When you return, don’t feel pressure to emotionally reunite with him. The greatest mistake couples make in a situation like this is to attempt to reconnect through sex. Instead, detach a bit from him for a day or two.

Don’t swallow your feelings—express them.

If you poll a group of women who live with a man with a bad temper, you’ll often discover that isolation is a major factor. In relationships with someone who doesn’t play by the rules and who can fly off the handle, the woman often isolates herself from friends and family because she is conflicted about telling people close to her the truth. Consider the fact that she is already stressed in her home situation, so who would want to add to the stress by listening to a chorus of friends or family members telling her to pack her bags and end the relationship? The key for women is to ask themselves what they’re feeling emotionally and to find two or three people to confide in—otherwise, these women will go deeper into a state of isolation. If you’re worried about getting a lot of unsolicited advice, put that out there. Tell your friend, “I just need to vent for a few minutes, but I don’t think I’m ready yet for actual advice.”

Decide how much time you’ll give your partner to change.

It would be a mistake to expect a major change in behavior overnight, but it can happen in a matter of weeks or months if you’re consistent and vigilant in how you respond to his temper outbursts. If you’ve been putting up with your partner’s abusive temper for a while, you’re probably ready to put the problem to bed for good. Ask yourself how much (more) time you are willing to give him to change his specific problem behavior, and giving him a month or two to work seriously on his issues is a good amount of time. Explain to him that you can’t be in a relationship where you get mistreated and that you will give him some time to change the behavior. You don’t have to tell him the amount of time you decided to let him have to change; that information you can keep to yourself. If a few months come and go and he still has the occasional moment where he loses his temper and goes off on you, you may want to consider ending the relationship.

He has a lot of (mental) work to do.

A man with a bad temper can change—but only if he is willing to do the work. To change, he would need to understand what precipitates his outbursts, decide which new ways of coping he’s open to trying and practice responding in a new way. Sure, I’m biased, but I think the wisest choice is for the angry abuser to seek out a mental health therapist. Please note that it is not the woman’s job or responsibility to play therapist and link him with services—you know, to research clinics or contact therapists for him. If you’re dealing with a man like this, tell him you think he should talk to a counselor, join an anger management group, or read a book on the subject. Simply remind him that there are resources to help people deal with anger issues, and tell him that you hope—for the sake of your future relationship—that he cares enough to change his nasty behavior.

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