My boyfriend has an anger management problem and he acknowledges it but we are informally engaged and I don't know how to make sure his anger doesn't get worse. He is very resistant to seeing a therapist, is it a bad idea to make a long term commitment? He lives in Wisconsin, I live in Arkansas, and we are planning to move to Washington together. Should I be seeing other people instead?
I have talked to him about it but he is very sensitive and gets defensive. I have reassured him that I will always love him but I won't let myself be mistreated or mistreat him. I don't want to give him an ultimatum but I don't know what else to do.
Hello! Please remember that my responses are informational only, we are not establishing a therapeutic relationship.
I'd like to ask you a few questions in order to give you a better answer:
How does his anger manifest itself?
How long have you known him and have you lived near each other before?
What kinds of things trigger his anger?
He usually just raises his voice, sometimes swears, but gets too worked up to listen to me. I don't remain passive and so this upsets him further at times. For example, he is very ADHD in a way and was not respecting my need to sleep one night, so I got up to sleep on the couch and he demanded I go back to bed with him. I said it was fine, but I really needed to sleep and I couldn't keep letting him distract me because he was having fun (listening to music, watching movies on his kindle, etc). He ended up punching the futon in the living room where I was laying, not far from my head. I told him that was totally unacceptable behavior and that he should realize it will only be harder for me to trust him if he does something like that. It was beyond him that I could sleep in the other room without being extremely upset with him (I just needed to take care of my own needs and couldn't expect him to do that for me). He wanted it "fixed" by me going back in by him. He left, went for a drive, to clear his head and then I just waited in bed. When I told him about punching the futon and how messed up that is, and could easily escalate further in the future, he denied that he did it. A few days later though he admitted he did do it, though not sure if he really was unaware of doing it originally (like in a blind rage).
We have known each other for four years, lived near each other for 2 years I believe. We dated for less than 6 months when I lived in Wisconsin, but we basically lived together for 3 of those. In the sense that we both had our own places but usually stayed together at one or the others house. We have been close friends since I moved away. Not that this excuses it but he is one of 5 boys, so grew up in a house with 6 men and 1 woman. I don't know if this is part of why physical displays of anger don't seem like a big deal to him.
He gets angry for feeling misunderstood, judged, or taken for granted. He has issues with his brothers and feels like he works harder yet gets less rewards. He is the shortest of his brothers and he is introspective to a fault. He has horrible self esteem and that is why he jumps to conclusions, thinking he is misunderstood when certain things others say or do don't necessarily have anything to do with him. For example he takes things I might say about a guy or guys I have had trouble with in the past personally, it makes him mad that guys act in a way that give other guys, himself included, a bad name. He starts defending all guys while he doesn't consider himself typical and I even point out my appreciation for his not being that way. I explained that I am not lumping him in and that defending males just feels invalidating to me.
I hope that clarifies something for you.
It is kind of an odd arrangement and the most typical type of anger issue.
Thank you for your description, that really paints a good picture of what's going on.
It's not uncommon for people who have ADHD or ADHD -like symptoms to have difficulty controlling their anger and their demands in a relationship. That in and of itself does not mean that they cannot have a successful relationship, however, what does make it a "deal breaker" in my mind is if the person is unwilling to work on or diligently address their issues. I see both promising and concerning issues in what you described:
On the Positive Side:
1. He drove away during the incident --so he was willing to retreat, clear his head rather than escalate the situation. That's good
2. You are willing to set boundaries with him and are ready to leave if necessary. I get concerned when a woman starts excusing behavior or is not aware that it could escalate, or makes herself trapped in the relationship.
On the Negative Side:
1. All of the outburst, of course, but especially the hitting the futon near your head, the concern with this behavior is that he will either escalate in the future, or even "miss" at some point and actually hit you
2. The initial denial --I'd put the later admission on the positive side, but it concerns me that he jumps to denial immediately. My concern is will he eventually deny all behavior and stop admitting it? That sort of thing.
3. HIs resistance to getting help --This might be the biggest one for me. He can learn to address his negative self-esteem, his anger, control his behavior if he becomes committed to working on it. However, if he doesn't, then the probability that the relationship will improve goes way, way down. The concern that his behavior will worsen goes up.
So what should you do?
1. When you talk to him about needing help, make sure you don't do it while emotions are high, he will NOT hear you then. You want to do it when things are calm and you're feeling connected.
2. The boundary setting is also good and should be discussed at a calm time. "I feel scared when you are yelling. I need to walk away when you feel angry like that. I appreciate when you take a time out to clear your head." Or "I understand that it's hard for you to hear that I need to sleep and leave the room, but I need you to respect what I need and let me do it."
3. Be cautious about getting more "tied" to him (such as living together) while you are unsure if he will get help --it makes things more complicated if you need to break up. Also, consider the big move and how that would impact you emotionally, financially, etc, if you need to break up.
I hope this helps...please feel free to follow up.
20+ years of counseling experience, Wife & Mother