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Should I be concerned re: anger?

(26 Posts)
RadicalRachel Tue 18-Aug-15 13:26:48

Name changed for this...

My boyfriend and I have been together for 2.5 years. We get along very well, and this is definitely the best relationship I've had - we're warm, affectionate, on the same wavelength and have great discussions.

The one thing that concerns me is his occasional anger. When we first started dating, we had an argument (about economics - just to see it wasn't a personal argument) which culminated in him calling me "stupid". I got very annoyed and told him that name calling was totally unacceptable, that he should attack my argument & not me. He understood why I was upset and apologised. A couple of months after that, we had another argument, about films, where he called me a "fucking philistine" and stormed off to our room. I followed and told him his behaviour was completely unacceptable. He was immediately contrite and apologised, and said he knew that his behaviour was unacceptable. I told him that actions speak louder than words and he should never speak to me like that ever again. And he never has, although he still gets very angry he never uses personal insults.

However, even more occasionally he has angry outbursts involving inanimate objects. Both times happened on holiday. In the first, he lost a museum ticket, resulting in him swearing extremely loudly in public, kicking a bin and tearing up our map. He didn't understand why I was upset, and thought this was a totally normal reaction to have. I told him that it was embarrassing, and that it was like being with a giant toddler who couldn't control their emotions. I don't really think he took my concerns on board, and as it had only happened once I thought it might be a one-off and not happen again, so didn't push anything.

However the second incident happened last week. Again, we were on holiday. We were running for a bus, and my boyfriend dropped his bag. Again, he swore extremely loudly, and kicked the bag that I was holding, after I'd picked it up. This time he was immediately apologetic, and although initially he was a bit dismissive, saying he didn't think his behaviour was that bad, he took my point that it was embarrassing, humiliating and unacceptable public (or private for that matter!) behaviour. I told him it made me feel unsafe & concerned about our future - if missing a bus makes him act like this, how will a crying baby make him act?

He took this point on board and has agreed to anger management counselling. I feel reassured that he admits he has a problem, acknowledges my concerns and is willing to do something about it - but am I wrong and is this something which can't be fixed, or that I should be very wary of? Or am I making a big deal out of nothing?

Hassled Tue 18-Aug-15 13:34:59

You've listed 4 examples over a 2.5 year relationship - are there more? It's good that he's contrite and is prepared to do something about it - I suppose it all depends on what your threshold for putting up with the odd tantrum is. My DH is a calm, placid, reliable sort of chap but is prone to the most childish, embarrassing tantrums once in a while - most recently kicking the car after he'd reversed into a wall (but once that car was kicked, he was over the whole thing - just moved on). It doesn't make him a bad man - it just makes him a man who acts like a prat once in a while, and I tolerate it; others maybe just wouldn't be able to.

RadicalRachel Tue 18-Aug-15 13:39:53

Hi Hassled - you're right, the examples are few but really shook me. I think it was because they were in public...

He's a great guy and I do sometimes worry I am overreacting. TBH I think it's fine & I'm happy he's going to do something about it because it upsets me and he loves me, and doesn't want me to be upset smile I trust the Mumsnet hivemind so want to make sure people agree!

I definitely have a low tolerance of angry outbursts. In fact we had a discussion in which my BF told me that he felt he was walking on eggshells around me because he can't think of a way to express anger in a way that won't upset me, so I have some work to do as well. I find the way he expresses anger to be very personal (probably something that looks quite small but he says things like "it's disgusting when you do x", which I find hurtful - it's like he's saying that I am a disgusting person.)

SwearyGodmother Tue 18-Aug-15 13:40:59

do you know how his parents are with anger? I used to lose the plot on every minor thing and be horribly nasty as that was the example set to me by my toxic family. Now things wash over me to a great extent - not to say I don't get cross but I save it for worthwhile things and don't resort to name calling or flouncing.

I think it can be changed, that he wants to change is encouraging and you need to keep an open mind if he does indeed seek help. If it doesn't change after counselling then it's time to reassess, but for now I think it looks positive.

I'll give a huge caveat though - does/did he smoke a lot of weed? In my experience people who have smoked a lot in their teens and twenties have huge anger issues that seem resistant to rewiring.

Saltedcaramel2014 Tue 18-Aug-15 13:49:05

I think you are right to trust your gut on these things. What seems key in terms of the treatment working is that he acknowledges that his behaviour isn't ok and is contrite. I think that's very positive. I'm not shocked at these examples at the moment as, as pp says, they are not currently frequent. But I also don't think you are overreacting and think you handled them very well in taking your feelings seriously.

My ex had anger management issues but not an iota of the willingness to self-examine that your partner seems to have. I remember two months into our relationship a bus door closing on us (as we missed it). He kicked it and yelled abuse at the driver. I was mortified. Three months later he was yelling at me instead and I looked back at that incident with the bus and thought - if only if trusted my gut feeling then. Two years wasted in EA hell but could've been far worse.

Anyway I'm not saying that things would progress that way with your partner - but we have to heed signs, they are all we have to work on in predicting future behaviour.

Handywoman Tue 18-Aug-15 13:57:48

You are right to be wary of all of this. It's not unimaginable that eventually, once you're vulnerable (ie pregnant then after the birth..... and in all the years after) the anger will eventually be turned towards you.

My ex started out like this. It didn't end well. He was an emotionally damaged man who didn't have what it takes to bring up kids and be a responsible, supportive parent. After putting me through hell he is now my ex and is a pretty crap dad.

What I wish I'd done back then was look at the parents and run a mile. It was all written in the family history: staring me in the face.

I would carefully look at the dynamic in his family of origin. If there is anger/abuse of any sort I'd say it's fundamentally hardwired and likely to get worse with kids, not better.

Tread VERY carefully, OP. Knowing what I now know, I'd split while he really examines this and moves forward (if indeed it's possible).

Saltedcaramel2014 Tue 18-Aug-15 13:58:00

Also. I spent a lot of time thinking (after discussions with him) how can I become more resilient, chill out if he uses a word in an argument like fucking, idiot, liar, disgusting and doesn't really mean it to impact on me like it does. You know what - you are you, and if that hurts or offends you, or if you have a 'low tolerance for anger' that is not something you necessarily can change (or that you would even want to. I'm glad I'm sensitive, as it's what makes me sensitive to other people's feelings, after all).
One thing in all the analysing that I did find useful was understanding that I can be passive aggressive - that just because I didn't express anger in the same way as him, I did experience it, and my way of expressing it in sulking/walking out wasn't healthy either.
I think a good indicator can be looking at past relationships. Most of mine had been loving - his were all destructive. Also - echoing previous poster on family. When I went to counselling after 18 months to talk about 'my issues with taking things too personally' the first question she asked was about my partner's family.

sanityforlunch Tue 18-Aug-15 14:06:16

If I saw someone kicking a bin in the street in anger I would be very concerned for their partner.

Most people can control their anger in public.

Jollyphonics Tue 18-Aug-15 14:11:17

My ex was like this. Not the name calling, but the violence against inanimate objects. When our mortgage was frustratingly delayed he threw a glass against the wall. When I suggested using Sellotape to protect the gloss work when painting the living room he lost his temper and punched a hole in the wall. I remember him kicking (and breaking) the kitchen bin, although I can't remember why.

He was never violent towards me and had no history of getting into fights, but his aggression towards objects was still quite frightening.

I found myself dreading things going wrong - computer playing up, bad traffic on road, bike getting a flat tyre etc - as I was worried he'd freak out. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't, I just never knew which way it was going to go.

It wasn't until after we spilt up (for different reasons) that I realised how tense I'd been, and how I'd been walking on eggshells the whole time.

Of course this is nowhere near as bad as someone who actually assaults their partner, but there were some definite similarities in the pattern. Afterwards he'd be very apologetic, promise it wouldn't happen again, that he'd get a grip on his temper. And I would quietly, without making a drama of it, get whatever he'd broken fixed. I'd do it as quickly as I could because otherwise it would be a constant reminder, and might provoke another outburst.

It's no way to live.

CloserToFiftyThanTwenty Tue 18-Aug-15 14:16:06

My DH used to be like this. Now he very very rarely is (once every few years). As Hassled said, it doesn't necessarily make your DP a bad person, just someone who occasionally does silly things. And who doesn't?

The fact that he is contrite and gets your unhappiness is a good thing, I think? Do you have other concerns?

Saltedcaramel2014 Tue 18-Aug-15 14:16:15

Agree with the post above. An act of aggression is an act of aggression. Even if a bin/wall is on the receiving end we - the partner - are being shown what someone is capable of. This is why it scares us, and in time, it can even cause us to modify our behaviour. Whether the person intends it to be or not, it is a threat.

Jollyphonics Tue 18-Aug-15 14:24:06

I've remembered why he broke the kitchen bin.

He'd been having a really tough time at work, being overloaded with responsibilities, cost cutting, the usual thing. It was a daily moan that had been going on for ages.

One day he came home and said, quite happily, that he'd been asked to take on another huge role in addition to his existing one. He was flattered to have been asked. I said it was flattering but was he sure he could cope with the extra work. He totally freaked - picked up the bin and threw it so it broke, the stormed out.

I was left feeling terribly guilty that I'd rained on his parade. And of course, after that, I felt I couldn't ever comment on anything related to his work ever again. I just had to nod and agree, and hope I was pitching my response correctly.

In between these episodes he was calm, chilled out, placid, funny, kind, tolerant - I could hardly believe the difference each time he flipped.

RadicalRachel Tue 18-Aug-15 14:27:54

Sweary - I've never seen his parents angry, actually. They are seem to be a very nice family, perhaps a little bit overbearing, but I've never seen anything concerning there. They're Irish. He's never smoked Weed afaik.

Handy - that is exactly what I am worried about. As it's so infrequent, I am not hugely worried. But he needs to learn how to control it. His family are also v. nice so there isn't a history far as I know!

Sanity - exactly my point to him! I would be worried if I saw it in the street too. It looks like I'm an abused woman - I think he understood this. He's looking up NHS anger management resources & I will suggest he gets a GP appt to get a referral (maybe privately) for some help.

Salted - exactly, this is what I told him. How do I know it won't be me next time? I know he wouldn't - but do I actually know that?

Jolly - I'm not usually tense as it is very random. He's only got that angry twice, both at relatively small things.

Closer - no other concerns. His anger really upsets me, that's the only fly in the ointment. And as it's so infrequent it's too easy to ignore.

pocketsaviour Tue 18-Aug-15 14:36:45

But unless you see his parents very regularly, or on stressful occasions, you wouldn't probably see any outbursts, would you?

He has learned his angry expression from somewhere, and it's most likely to be from his dad (most people tend to model the parent of the same sex.)

He will probably need to pay privately to see someone, the NHS resources for MH are being cut further every day.

It is a good sign that he recognizes that he's upset you and it's not appropriate, and is willing to change things.

RadicalRachel Tue 18-Aug-15 14:39:23

Thanks Pocket. Does anyone have any recommendations? We've been googling but don't know if there is an accepted "best practice" method.

I will ask him about his dad.

pocketsaviour Tue 18-Aug-15 14:55:33

BACP website

At that link you can enter your postcode or city and get a list of therapists. Select "Anger Management" from the first dropdown list and you'll find everyone who's listed it as a specialty.

NHS don't suggest CBT for anger management. I think general talk therapy along with practising strategies for managing anger when it arises is generally best practise.

My son had major problems with his anger after his dad died - flipping tables at school, throwing things, punching walls, etc. Never directed violence at people but it was really frightening to watch. He worked one-on-one with a counsellor and they came up with a lot of strategies for him to employ. A few years later he is a lot better at controlling himself although he will still have episodes from time to time - last time was when he saw a woman punch and kick her dog; he ran inside and punched the door. Triggers for him are seeing people bullying or picking on the defenseless (whether an animal or person.) If your guy can identify his triggers, this will help.

Good luck flowers

Smilingforth Tue 18-Aug-15 19:06:16

Great advice from pocket saviour

SolidGoldBrass Tue 18-Aug-15 20:31:39

I don't think it's entirely unreasonable for a person to express anger by kicking objects, as long as it doesn't happen very often.

Also (and I am aware that most of MN wouldn't agree) I think it's a bit precious to object to an exasperated person calling you a fucking idiot occasionally, during an argument. Maybe you were being a fucking idiot.

However, one thing to consider is: have you ever seen him become angry with anyone else, or call any other people wankers or morons or shitbags or whatever. If his anger is only ever directed at you then he has more control over it than he has led you to believe and, on some level, he thinks he's entitled to be a bit aggressive in your presence because that's the way to make you obey him in future.

Offred Tue 18-Aug-15 21:07:16

I get your point SGB but for you I guess it's not so much of an issue not believing in monogamy and not living with long term partners etc you would be protected a bit from an angry partner.

What you describe is a really good distinction between a person who doesn't have control over their temper and someone who has abusive tendencies/beliefs but don't underestimate how difficult and wearing it is to live with someone who simply has angry outbursts. Not everyone can cope with it and I think tbh it is pretty miserable to be around someone like that for almost anyone.

CloserToFiftyThanTwenty Tue 18-Aug-15 22:58:34

Everyone has different limits and tolerances, though, don't they? For me, DH's v v v occasional anger (which he undoubtedly learnt from his dad, BTW) is offset by being downright amazing in practically every other way. I expect he would say the same about me, substituting anger for obstinacy wink

Offred Wed 19-Aug-15 07:24:55

Yeah, I guess it depends also on frequency. My dad's angry outbursts will happen several times a day.

DoreenLethal Wed 19-Aug-15 07:31:25

In fact we had a discussion in which my BF told me that he felt he was walking on eggshells around me because he can't think of a way to express anger in a way that won't upset me, so I have some work to do as well.

Making you out to be the controlling one. Nice.

I don't know about you - but I actually don't like angry people. Hence I don't hang around them.

RadicalRachel Wed 19-Aug-15 10:50:21

SGB - I think my position is that I don't like it, it's a problem for me and makes me upset, so therefore he should take steps to address it. Of course if he doesn't want to change his behaviour he's welcome to do that too (but I will probably rethink the relationship). I would never call him an idiot, or get so angry I kick something. And it's not as though I was arguing that 2+2 = 5; one time I was arguing that there is no such thing as an objectively good film, the other that stock markets are not ruled by rational actors.

He does get angry at his friends, I haven't heard him call them idiots but I know he called one of his friends a "bastard" in an argument as it's now a joke amongst his friends. He's also got really angry in front of a friend before who found it funny (so he says).

Offred - I hate him getting angry once every six months - year - couldn't cope if it was several times a month let alone a day!!

Doreen - you know I think he actually understands that now. I was thinking about it last night and told him that the way he expresses his anger is hurtful to me. He is always personal/extreme (i.e. "it's disgusting you left your hairbrush on the kitchen table" which I think is OTT. I don't call him disgusting when he leaves poo on the toilet or doesn't clear up crumbs. I just ask him nicely to no longer do the thing that annoys me) with criticism. I know I am probably more sensitive than most but I also think it's not too much to ask someone to ask you to do something in a way that isn't hurtful. Especially someone with whom you have a very close and loving relationship.

He's taken this on board as well. I think counselling will be useful for him in that hopefully he will learn socially appropriate ways to express frustration at work, and also learn how to express frustration to me without being OTT (as I said, just say "I find it a bit gross when you leave your hairbrush on the kitchen table, please stop doing it" and there's no problem).

Closer - ha you sound like me!! He is pretty awesome in almost every other way. His commitment to change shows me how sincere he is about our relationship.

DoreenLethal Wed 19-Aug-15 15:05:09

I just ask him nicely to no longer do the thing that annoys me

Hows about telling him clear his own poo up?

DoreenLethal Wed 19-Aug-15 15:06:00

Poo left on seats is not annoying. In an adult it is disgusting. He needs to sort it, not you.

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