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Dh and I seem to have hit a brick wall and I don't know how to solve this one

(20 Posts)
fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 18:28:31

Name changer ... blah blah ... Boden, 4, mad tablecloth lady ... you get the picture.

Dh is a lovely guy and I love him to pieces. But we have this one sticking point and it's causing us more and more problems. Basically, if we have an argument about something, he gets really angry and shouty and very personal. Consequently, instead of just accepting whatever criticism was there (and to be fair, he is always right to be critical of me in these situations), I get annoyed and either try to justify myself or simply withdraw (which of course comes across as me sulking). I will usually apologise, much later, for that. However this is not good enough for dh who is by this time furious that I've not communicated with him about it (usually overnight and I apologise next day once I've calmed down).

I know that I am wrong for not discussing it calmly at the time, taking the criticism on the chin and moving on. But he does not see (or to be fair, does not care) that his attitude towards me creates most of the problem. He thinks I'm just turning the whole thing round to being his fault. When I say how much it upsets me that he is so personal and vitriolic with his attitude he just says "tough - live with it". However I am not allowed to say that to him about me "sulking"!

And the ultimate irony - he is now not speaking to me, as a result of an argument we had last night (apart from snapping when I try to bring it up). So who is sulking? If I try to talk to him he says he's not interested in an apology, but then I really don't know what he doess want (except for me to be different and not get upset and sulk in the first place I guess).

I don't really want sympathy over this; I know I am as much to blame for this one as he is. But I think we are both handling it wrongly whereas he thinks the fault is all mine, and therefore any attempt by me to talk about this in a wider sense is met with fury that I am trying to put the whole blame on him.

Any pointers on how to deal with this much appreciated. It's driving us apart and I'm really worried that it might cause a huge rift in our (otherwise great) relationship.

Podrick Fri 25-Jul-08 18:31:56

Seems like you have formulaeic arguments! If you change how you behave in an argument the argument will go differently next time. You could calmly ask if he could keep his comments about the issue you are arguing about and not about the people involved?

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 18:44:45

You are right podrick, they are fairly formulaic (although often about different things).

I think part of the problem is he is a lot more "quick-witted" than me (not that I'm thick, but I'm crap in a argument) - so I often don't think of something appropriate to say in response until hours later. And I often get bogged down by what he is saying and just respond instinctively (and my instinct is to withdraw and lick my wounds).

Last night's argument was to do with the fact that a professional project I am working on has gone wrong, because I didn't take enough care in the planning stage. I asked for his advice on one point and my error became apparent during this discussion. It's not insurmountable, but does mean I will have to amend the original design to make the finished product work properly (sorry if this all sounds a bit cryptic, but I don't want to out myself).

Obviously this is totally my fault, and we discussed how to put it right. Fine, fair enough. I acknowledged I had made a mistake. I feel bad about it. It's my professional integrity on the line. But dh wouldn't leave it at that and raised his voice, called me stupid, said "I'm really angry, I can't believe you've done this". I can't see how this is helping at all, it's eating away at my confidence and therefore will affect my ability to complete the project properly (in my view). He started criticising other things I had done with the project, and pointed out another (minor) mistake I had made, and suggested I had made two others. I explained why these things were a perfectly acceptable way to approach the issues, therefore not mistakes. So then he accuses me of arguing with him hmm.

This is what I mean by he makes it personal.

Sorry this is probably very boring to read but very cathartic to write down and is helping me.

Podrick Fri 25-Jul-08 19:14:00

It is out of order to call your partner stupid! If you are talking about a work project, I would try to insist that all comments are about the project and are made constructively and calmly. If dh starts to criticise you, point out to him that he is criticising you, but actually you want to talk about the project. You might need a bit of practice to change how you discuss this sort of thing. Dh is pressing some emotional buttons for you here, perhaps try to work out what they are?

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 19:19:31

Yes Podrick, in fact I was just thinking that - at first during last night's discussion I was taking the criticism on the chin, but then he started to get angry with me, and in retrospect it really felt like he was trying to provoke me into my usual reaction (which of course he got in the end).

I do try to say "don't be so personal" but his attitude is just "tough - it's the way I am". It just seems so one-sided.

Any tips on how to talk rationally and calmly much appreciated. I just tend to hole up and not say anything which drives him demented (understandably). We are a bit role-reversal here - he takes the female "I want to talk about it" stance while I tend to be more of the male "bury my head in the sand and hope it goes away" type.

Podrick Fri 25-Jul-08 19:28:01

You can wait until you are both in a happy positive mood and then talk about this argument again. You could explain what happens when he says personal things like "stupid" and how it impacts negatively on you for some time afterwards - and show him how it is actually not in his interest to say this. However, I think this approach is less powerful than just changing your own behaviour. So if you start to get upset, just walk away and go and think about what upset you.

Or, it might be that dh is not the right person for you to discuss your work projects with. If the relationship works in all other ways perhaps there is no real need to sort this out - just talk to someone else about it instead? I suspect your dh hates these arguments as much as you do.

What I find odd is that they sound like they should be discussions but yet they mutate into arguments?

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 19:40:37

I agree about talking about it whilst we are in a positive mood - I'm just always so afraid of starting an argument I can never bring myself to do it!

I know I need to change my behaviour, if only because he won't change his, sadly. However I did just what you said last night and walked away because he was upsetting me - hence why he is still not talking to me today and why he wouldn't accept my apology this morning. Walking away just seems to up the ante as far as he is concerned. And yes, he definitely hates the arguments just as much as I do, they upset him greatly and make him very frustrated and angry, and I feel so sad that I've made him feel like that ... sad

It's not just work projects that we argue over, though - it could be money, kids, free time etc. The last big argument before this one was to do with looking after the kids when we were both ill. So it is something that I need to sort.

Mmm, yes they should be discussions. They tend to start because dh criticises me and I don't take it well. I know I don't. Then that's like a red rag to a bull and he's almost into a tailspin (scuse the mixed metaphors). I guess the arguments start sooner and last longer now because of the past history. It really worries me.

missingtheaction Fri 25-Jul-08 19:42:24

I think he's being horrid. Like you I find arguments horrible - turn into a gibbering wreck incapable of making

So let's get this straight:
- you ask for his advice on something to do with your work
- he gives his advice, it becomes apparent that you made some mistakes
- he then raises his voice, calls you stupid, says he is really angry, and criticises some more
- when you try to justify your position he gets angry because you are arguing your case

He is not being reasonable. Podric is absolutely right, most of us develop arguing habits and a lot of us don't learn how to resolve an argument. I have a friend who went to relate just to do this - learn how to argue to a satisfactory resolution. Worked for him. Good luck.

It SOUNDS as though he gets angry with you for making mistakes, angry with you for justifying your actions (ie disagreeing with him) and then punishes you by not speaking to you and not accepting an apology.

There could be lots of reasons for this - he is scared for you in your work (when we are scared we shout - eg kid running into the road); he puts himself in parent mode when you acknowledge you have made a mistake (did his parents talk to him like this?).

You can learn how to argue effectively - ie have the argument then get over it. Like Podrig says, break the habit. As soon as he gets personal say 'I deserve your respect. Unless you can discuss the real issue calmly this conversation is over'. And stop talking. Also, don't reward his sulks. One way or another he is getting something out of them (repeated apologies? parent status in your relationship?). Try to stop giving it to him.

skidoodle Fri 25-Jul-08 19:47:46

Hmmm, I have a tendency to behave like your DH in arguments, so I'm going to tell you he's being a prick.

As you've already figured out for yourself, he's holding you to a massive double standard - you have to accept his (not insignificant) shortcomings but are expected to change your own to suit how he prefers to deal with conflict. No fair.

Somehow you seem to have accepted that you must never criticise him. Why ever not? If he acts like a prick, you, as his wife, have to be able to call him on that.

Let him get cross or sulk and ignore you, but stand your ground - he must not call you stupid and you are allowed to be upset if he is rude to you. Although you can accept that he has a bad temper and will forgive him the things he says to you in anger, he must actually be sorry and apologise before you will do that.

It sounds to me like he is using his dominance in arguments to bully you. You don't have to take equal responsibility for every argument you guys have. Blame is not always equally shared.

GoodnightKiss Fri 25-Jul-08 19:48:47

Mmm. I know these type of arguments very well. I agree, they are formulaic and therein lies the way to solve the problem - but it needs a commitment from BOTH of you to understand what is happening and how to try and resolve the problem.

Firstly, have you ever heard of The Racket System? (Erskine and Zalcman). You can find stuff about it on the internet. It might help you understand what is going on when you both argue. This is all only a guess by the way - I might be wrong of course!

Rough explanation is this: when he shouts and thunders at you, it could be because his defining internal "script" or belief is one based on fear - say, fear of you mucking up work and therefore putting money/future/his own stability at risk. His way of dealing with this is to put on (invisible) boxing gloves and come out fighting (yelling, getting personal, etc. Did one of his parents argue like this?) to kind of get you to change.

But your own internal "script" might be to shrink away from a scene or conflict, to lose confidence, to feel in the wrong (these are all learned behaviours from our childhood) and not be able to find the words to argue back and hence "sulk".

Instead you would both need to recognise that this way of arguing - one fighting, one retreating - could knacker your relationship, and learn a different way of communicating in a dispute.

If you KNOW what is going on when these arguments happen then you could well change their eventual outcome iyswim.

You could need the help of a therapist who is good at transactional analysis. Dont think - oh its all psychobabble and we don't need THERAPY!!! It is sometimes BECAUSE people don't seek the right help to understand their childhood "scripts" that their relationships keep running into trouble.

There endeth the essay. grin

On the other hand.....

Only trying to help. x

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 19:51:20

God yes missingtheaction, it's definitely a parent/child dynamic in these situations. And I know I'm probably to blame for that in a large part.

His dad was definitely a shouter/ranter - and he hates that he is doing what his dad did, I know.

I wonder about whether he is genuinely scared/worried - I'm not sure. I think it's more the principle that I made a silly mistake that was easily avoidable if I had done more preparation. He hates stupid mistakes, and unfortunately I am queen of them. Then we descend into parent/child thing again ...

I definitely need to learn how to deal with this better (argue effectively is a good way of putting it) - I'm really not sure what he wants though. Well actually I am; he wants me not to do the stupid things in the first place! It really doesn't help that he is pretty faultless (no, really - he almost never does stupid things).

And the lack of respect thing hits a nerve - he argues that I don't deserve it when I act so childishly. As you can see, we just go round in vicious circles!

phatcat Fri 25-Jul-08 19:54:09

I can really identify with this fluffy but from the opposite way round. I have a tendency to be like your dh (extrapolate the original problem and bring in unwarranted personal comments) and when I do my dh just clams up and walks away, rightly so, I now feel. I'm much better than I used to be at not doing it, but it's taken a while and I can still revert to type if my dander is up. It's a cheap way of piling on the hurt when you feel angry. Your dh needs to face up to the idea that it is not on and it's wrong. I've always known it, it was when I realised I had a tendency to do this with ds1 that I really forced myself to address it. Not sure what to suggest, but does he read much? I got a lot out of the Faber & Mazlish book How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so kids will Talk - valuable advice for communication in general, not just parents and kids. I think it's an anger management issue actually. If I can manage to take a deep breath and count to 3 instead of flying off the handle it does help to avoid getting into the usual dynamic. HTH. Good luck. Hope you can sort this. You are in the right.

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 19:55:26

x-post goodnight kiss. I so know where you are coming from. Dh is from a family of shouters. I am from a family of sulkers. It's a very bad combination.

skidoodle, I don't really think he's being a prick. I do think he is not handling it well and neither am I. But the blame thing is a big problem - he thinks that I try to put all the blame on him.

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 19:58:37

Thank you phatcat. Not sure whether he would read a book - as I say, he doesn't see that he contributes anything to the problem!

Have you asked your dh to do things differently? Has he changed his approach to your arguments? What can diffuse the situation for you if you have already reached the point of hurling personal insults?

Apologies now if I suddenly disappear, dh will be home in the next ten mins.

skidoodle Fri 25-Jul-08 19:59:58

He is absolutely not faultless. Getting hypercritical of people is childish. Sulking and refusing to accept your apology because you had the temerity to have the maturity to walk away from him while he was having a tantrum is extremely childish.

His behaviour in this arguments is appalling, and he knows it. But instead of being an adult and admitting it and apologising for it he is trying to pass the responsibility for his behaviour onto you. Like a child.

As for you not "deserving" his respect? Please! He's a grown man. That argument does not wash. He must treat his wife with respect at all times.

If his personality flaws mean that he makes silly mistakes and fails to live up to what he should, then he must make amends for that.

He is setting the rules of engagement so you don't have a chance. There is no need to accept his terms.

Podrick Fri 25-Jul-08 20:06:21

It is unacceptable for your dh to call you stupid. You are not stupid but you say he is quicker witted than you and doesn't make "stupid mistakes" like you do so it seems as though you might be worried that he might be right when he says this? And is this why you have a very emotional response? Who else has called you stupid? It is a powerful word from childhood for many people.

It is very disrespectful to call your dw stupid for any reason. We are all allowed to make multiple mistakes and this doesn't make us stupid.

If he calls you stupid you could calmly and firmly say "I would like to feel that there is repect on both sides when I talk to you, and "stupid" is not a respectful word. Then refuse to continue talking unless he apologises.

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 20:08:52

But skidoodle, I don't have that option. For my sins, I love him dearly and he is a good, kind man. But we are having major problems in this area and he is not prepared to acknowledge any fault here. I could dig my heels in and say "well you are wrong", but then he might walk out on me ... so I would lose, wouldn't I?

In an ideal world he would acknowledge some responsibility for the way our discussions deteriorate into arguments. But this isn't an ideal world. He is the way he is. I'm really wanting advice on how I can accommodate this to prevent arguments becoming all-out war.

fluffybiscuit Fri 25-Jul-08 20:09:50

sorry, have to go now. Back later. Thanks for all your help, it's been a very useful discussion.

skidoodle Fri 25-Jul-08 20:18:10

So he thinks you unfairly try to put all the blame on him?

But thinks that he doesn't contribute to the problem, i.e. he puts all the blame on you?

Trying to defuse the situation is what you've always been trying to do, isn't it? You want to walk away and lick your wounds.

The reason people like us don't like it when people like you do this, is because we see it as a (very valid) criticism of our behaviour.

He is simultaneously hypercritical and hypersensitive to criticism.

Even you seem to have bought into the idea that he is somehow perfect and doesn't make mistakes. It seems to me that life will be easier for both of you when his fallibility can be made into an accepted fact in your relationship.

Always having to be right can be exhausting.

This might be the brick wall - if one of you (him, in this case) must not be criticised or expected to accept any responsibility for your arguments, then there is nowhere for either of you to go.

You keep apologising for everything even when you're not in the wrong and he feels increasingly isolated in his rightness, while he knows that his behaviour is not really OK.

The age old battle between the shouter and the sulker can only be resolved when both shouter and sulker understand how their behaviour is destructive and hurtful and start trying to amend it.

Failure is guaranteed but apologies and understanding go a long way.

skidoodle Fri 25-Jul-08 20:52:19


I know you're gone, but I'm not sure when I'll have another chance to get on here.

I'm also not sure what option you don't think you have, as I haven't actually suggested anything useful you can do

Sorry, I'm just trying to reframe the argument slightly for you because you will always lose while you allow him to frame it for you. If you think about this issue differently then you might be able to approach it differently.

I don't doubt that he is a good and kind man. But he is a flawed man. Just like all men people ;). Loving him, flaws and all, is not a weakness, and I would never suggest that it was.

"But we are having major problems in this area and he is not prepared to acknowledge any fault here. I could dig my heels in and say "well you are wrong", but then he might walk out on me ... so I would lose, wouldn't I?"

Whoa, whoa, whoa! You think he would walk out on your marriage if you stick up for yourself?

Is that how a lovely guy behaves?

Don't you think he's a big enough guy to take the criticism and learn how to be a better version of him?

Because it doesn't sound like he thinks that, and from the sounds of it, you agree with him.

Both of you seem to be outwardly saying that he is perfect while acting as if he is a childish bully that can't be reasoned with.

How can you change that pattern? How can you let him know that you love him despite his flaws? But that even though you love him there is certain behaviour that you will not accept?

"In an ideal world he would acknowledge some responsibility for the way our discussions deteriorate into arguments. But this isn't an ideal world. He is the way he is. I'm really wanting advice on how I can accommodate this to prevent arguments becoming all-out war."

In a fair and equal relationship he would acknowledge some responsibility for the way your discussions deteriorate. We're not talking Utopia here, just basic respect and adult behaviour.

If all you want is to prevent your arguments becoming all-out war you could keep deferring to him. However, I suspect that if you do that his spiral of self-justification is going to lead you somewhere pretty nasty. You're in what could be quite a destructive pattern of behaviour that has the potential to become abusive.

If you are terrified of him leaving but not prepared to ever go no matter what he does then the power in your relationship is all with him and your problem is much bigger than who shouts and who sulks.

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