Daily Press (Sunday)

Spouse needs to manage anger

- Email tellme@washpost. com or write “Tell Me About It” c/o The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My spouse manages anger poorly, often lashing out in unkind ways, retreating into sullen withdrawal or making sharp passive-aggressive digs at me. I have tried to explain to him that these behaviors erode my sense of emotional safety and make emotional and sexual intimacy feel impossible. His retort is that the vast majority of the time, he is an amazing partner — loving, attentive, thoughtful and loyal. He points to his generosity with gifts and the constant favors he does for me.

This response confuses me, because it’s absolutely true; he is usually awesome. So … why does my heart feel so bad? I’m left calculatin­g how much hurt is worth enduring for a partner who can be pretty great, and somehow 90% amazing, 10% terrible doesn’t feel like love. He says the very fact that I make such a calculatio­n reflects a lack of appreciati­on for the thoughtful, loving person he usually is. In fact, he says it leaves him feeling angry, resentful and taken advantage of. How do I untangle these knots? —Tangled

Dear Tangled: Gifts and favors are classic displays of “love” that also exert control, to keep someone from leaving after an emotionall­y abusive incident. “Gosh, I’m so sweet to you, and yeah, I get angry sometimes, doesn’t everybody? You want me to be perfect? You don’t appreciate me”: That is highly manipulati­ve.

Something else: If someone told me they didn’t feel emotionall­y safe around me, then I would feel terrible and try to fix it. I would not blame the other person and dig in on doing the same things I always did before. Because who would do that? If I 100% disagreed with the person’s reasoning or view of my behavior, then I’d see that as grounds to leave the relationsh­ip entirely — an irreconcil­able difference.

It’s the idea of choosing to stay on terms I know make the other person unhappy that I can’t get my mind around.

If that is indeed what’s going on here — it appears so — then trust it and get yourself some support and counseling toward your own safety. 1-800799-SAFE, thehotline.org. Even if you’re not sure, call anyway to get more thorough feedback on what you’ve experience­d.

Healthy love does not involve targeted emotional attacks. Full stop.

Readers’ thoughts:

“Why does my heart feel so bad?” Listen to your heart, Boo.

Gifts and unaskedfor favors are emotional loan-sharking — they’re low-effort, low-cost things to do, and they aren’t advance payments against being cruel and selfish to a partner.

Poor anger management can include lashing out and true contrition. It can include being open to ways to manage anger better. It might include attempts to do better, even if they fail. But if his response is, “Yeah, but look at all the good stuff I do,” he is refusing to hear you and not remorseful at all. If he doesn’t care that his partner doesn’t feel emotionall­y safe, then that’s 100% terrible, in my opinion.

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