Dear Dr. Yael,
The other day my teenage daughter and I decided to go for a private lunch. I have a good marriage and a large family. Some of our children are married. I am the parent that all the children confide in. My husband is a great guy but tends to minimize people’s feelings and sometimes makes jokes when you are looking for a serious ear to listen to you. My daughter is trying to figure out what seminary to go to in a year from now. She is going into twelfth-grade, and she must figure out which seminary is best for her. She is also unsure which seminary will accept her even though she is an excellent student. The seminaries tend to take a certain amount of girls from each school, so it can get tricky.
We informed my husband about this lunch and asked him if he could care for the younger children at that time. The lunch date between my daughter and myself was to take place on a Sunday when she did not have school.
My husband became enraged and was very hurt and insulted. He was very upset that he was not include. He loves my daughter and is her father and felt he should be a part of this conversation. My daughter started crying and apologizing to her father and telling him that she needs time with me alone. He is a good father, very devoted to our children, and extremely hard working and generous to the whole family, but my daughter feels more comfortable talking to me.
Later, after my husband’s anger subsided, we spoke privately about his extreme reaction. He told me that this incident triggered his anger and he felt left out. He always seems to feel left out in life. He said that people like me better since I am more outgoing, friendly, and thoughtful. My husband is more quiet, so it is true that people tend to gravitate towards me more. My husband does not have many friends, but most of my friends’ husbands are friendly with him. Also, it seems like most men I know do not call their friends, so perhaps this is typical for men. However, my husband is overly sensitive and insecure, and things trigger him suddenly. I often try to be sensitive to him as he had a tough childhood, and I had loving, ego-building parents.
I never thought that my going out to lunch alone with our daughter would trigger him. He told me that he felt left out. It reminded him of his childhood when he felt excluded by his parents and his friends.
I love my husband, but he gets angry so easily. I never want to hurt him. This is only a recent example that happened before our daughter left to camp, but similar things happen all the time. Please help me.
A Frustrated Wife
Dear Frustrated Wife,
I understand your dilemma and will try to give you ideas on how to deal with these problems.
Emotional triggers are often reflective of different issues for different people. This can include a person’s childhood issues in their home, school, camp, or any past experiences as well as current anxiety, work issues, family difficulties, or feeling left out from friends. There are anxiety triggers, anger triggers, trauma triggers and all kinds of situations that can trigger people’s emotions. Sometimes meeting someone whom you are jealous of or something that reminds you of past trauma can lead a person to be angry.
It is challenging to write this column since I can give you ideas, but as a professional psychotherapist, I need to recommend that you seek professional help to resolve this issue.
Is it possible that your husband is jealous of your close relationship with your children? From your letter you share your children all confide in you and seem to value your opinion more than they value his opinion. This can be incredibly challenging to a parent who is very devoted to his family.
If your husband is insecure and he yearns to be part of his children’s lives, it can be painful to feel left out of making important decisions in his family’s life. Your husband needs to feel that you treasure his opinion. Can you attempt to include him more by asking each child when they share their issues with you if you can discuss these issues with their father as well and hear his opinions? This idea may not be appropriate for your husband if he will then use private, intimate feelings that your children have and minimize those feelings or make a joke out of those precise issues. Alternatively if he may jeopardize this private information, perhaps you can share issues with him on a more surface level, so he feels included in the family, but he doesn’t get the intimate details that can be used unintentionally to hurt someone else
It is important that you attempt to build your husband’s confidence by sharing personal issues that you have and asking his advice to help you. Your strong buoyant personality may intimidate your husband, and the fact that people gravitate to you may be part of the problem. You must however share, in a loving way, that creating a joke out of issues and feelings that you, as well as others, seek validation and understanding for can be passive-aggressive behavior.
I hope that you seek professional help as it is difficult to respond to this question in a column. I have so many questions that I cannot ask you, so my ideas may not be helpful to your situation. Unfortunately, my answer is based on conjectures that I am making in reaction to your question. Nevertheless, building your husband’s self -esteem is key. If you can be loving, sensitive, and positive towards your husband, you can hopefully build his self-esteem. Also, as mentioned above, it is important to make your husband feel special by coming to him for advice and sharing various things with him, so he feels included (even if done on a more superficial level). If your husband refuses to go for help, perhaps you can seek help as to how to help build him up and deal with his sensitivity and anger. Hatzlocha in getting the proper help and in raising your family successfully with your husband.