Dear Dr. Yael,
I am in a relationship where my spouse must always have his way. It is MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY. I love him and am usually happy with him, but I am scared of disagreeing with him. If he does not get his way, he generally starts a fight and sometimes he can become angry and even break things. I try very hard to give into him and make him happy. Why does he need to be right all the time? Why can’t he be more flexible? I want to stay married as we have a good life together, but his need to always be right and his anger are really getting to me.
Thank you for your question and for feeling brave enough to share your story. What you are going through does not sound easy and I commend you for trying to make the best of a difficult situation. People who always have to be right often have fragile egos. They feel as if their self image has been threatened and they need to demonstrate pseudo-strength to get their way. Underneath that anger lies an insecure inner child. People who have fragile egos try to make themselves look better by blaming others, using terror, and using pseudo-strength. The worst thing that you can do in this situation is to challenge him. When you become argumentative, he will probably get more angry and out of control. I will try to give you some techniques to deal effectively with the situation. The most useful technique is to STAY CALM. Angry people get a particular satisfaction out of you answering with anger. They can then blame you as when you get angry, you may also do or say things you wouldn’t otherwise do or say.
My favorite saying connected to this from the Torah is “Maaneh rach yashiv chema.” This means that answering softly quells the anger. You can answer softly “I care about you, please tell me how you would like me to handle the situation.” This will hopefully lead to some reflection on the part of your husband. However, if he is too angry, and you feel that anything you say will escalate the situation, then it is best not to answer at all. In this case, it would be best to revisit the conflict when you are both calmer. Most importantly, do not respond in the heat of the anger.
When your husband is calm, ask him when it would be a good time to talk about something important. When you have this conversation, start with telling your husband that you love him and that you want to have a mutually respectful relationship. Explain to him that you feel scared when he gets angry and want to try to find a way to help you both navigate these situations. If he is amenable to working on this, you may be able to come up with a special code word together that you can use when you feel he is getting angry to help him calm down. Of course, this will only work if your husband is on board. It would be a good idea to seek professional help. If your husband refuses to go for help, it would still be helpful for you to seek your own professional help to assist you in navigating your husband’s anger. In this case, it is imperative that you see a therapist that knows that you want help dealing with your husband’s anger, and that you want to stay married.
There are some countermoves that you can use in these situations that may be helpful. Countermoves are what you do in response to your husband’s actions. For instance, if your husband generally gets angry and you generally get upset and cry in response, we will want to work on changing that response. Perhaps if you stay calm, do not cry, and answer in a pleasant and calm way, your husband will become aware that he is behaving crazily. Countermoves takes some trial and error, but the point is that you need to change the dance you’re in and see if it can change your husband’s way of responding and his actions. Your husband can change with some motivation and hard work!
Hatzlocha in whatever you decide to do and stay strong.