does disengagement from irrational anger work?

DH and I have been having conflict about getting out of the house in the morning--2 small kids, lots of stuff, etc. DH is also very, very contentious in general. We had a fight about mornings yesterday but this morning I thought things were okay, but he seemed to be really anxious and jumpy even though we were both running on time. He was showered and dressed, I was not, but was getting toddler's breakfast ready. Usually I also get the baby at the same time, but hadn't yet. so he says he'll get the baby. He proceeds to and then  DH stomps downstairs with baby, saying "There are no wipes upstairs!! there were no wipes in [baby's] room or in [toddler's] room!" and proceeds to put her on the table downstairs, where we do have wipes and where I change her (95 percent of the time I get her in the morning and change her downstairs). Ithought about apologizing, but why--its not my fault exclusively that there are no wipes, and in fact since I never change the baby upstairs, haven't needed or missed them." So I just said "I tend to change the baby downstairs"----this set him off, and he responded "oh yeah, since you do EVERYTHING, ALL the work for the kids" with an eye roll (eg, putting a passive aggressive phrase in my mouth). I just looked at him and said calmly "that was uncalled for." he muttered sorry, but then 3 minutes later orders me into the room and says "So,"do you have any objection to me putting wipes upstairs? I'm just curious if that's a problem?" in a tone which I knew meant....trouble coming. And I just collapsed inside, thinking oh no, not again. Not another ridiculous debate. I responded quietly "I don't care" [in retrospect, i should have really practiced disengagement and said "no, its not a problem' but I didn't and that's my mistake--but I felt like, why do I have to humor his bizarre anger?).  And then he goes off, "you don't care? are you saying it doesn't matter to you whether there are wipes or not? or are you saing it doesn't matter if I put them up there? which is it? Dont you think we should have wipes up tehre? Im just trying to understand what you are saying here...." Complete badgering which is typical when he's spoiling for a fight. It took a lot of self control, but  I refused to take the bait, practiced disengagement, said its fine with me if you put wipes upstairs, it doesn't matter to me one way or another, but I'm not going to talk furher about this, I don't want to engage." This just made him angrier, and he started following me up the stairs yelling while holding the baby and leaving our toddler upset downstairs. I told him this isn't normal conversation and I won't engage with him when he's like this. He came up 20 minutes later to tell him again that the fight was my fault. I asked him what it was he wanted from me, what I *should* have said instead and he said that I should have offered to help him,  instead of saying something passive aggressive about how I always change the baby downstairs. That he wanted my help (even though he didn't ask for it, and his behavior had already put me on red alert) was totally unclear, as he was already with baby on changing table and as I approached with her bottle he said "I've got it.". Honestly, I don't think he actually wanted my help. He was anxious and angry about the morning not going the way he wanted it and thus he wanted to fight, to place his anger somewhere. I tried to find a neutral, non confrontational response, but according to him, I was being confrontational. These fights are frequently, and I really feel confused and upset--like no matter what I say, and even trying not to engage, we end up fighting. Inwardly I collape and cry, then my toddler comes upstairs and asks me "mommy are you crying? did you get hurt? do you need to see the doctor?". all worried and confused....

DH is willing to go to counseling, so we can deal with our problems, but when I suggested that we see someone who specializes in ADHD or is familiar he basically said that if I am blaming him and adhd for our problems and refusing to take responsibiity for my role in the collapse of our marriage, counseling is pointless. So, he sort of acknowledges that he has ADHD, but refuses to deal with it or acknowledge that some of our problems are related to it. and my suggestion that he gets help is seen as me shifting all the blame onto him. at this rate, any counseling is better than nothing, but I'm wondering about spending all this time and money on a counselor to help us with 'communication' if there's a medical issue that must be addressed, but that I cannot bring up, because it means that I am blaming him, etc. It is a vicious, vicious cycle.

 

Kinda ... but only after a conversation about why.

My husband tends to be the same way. He gets frustrated with himself and his inability to cope with life/circumstance/distraction/whatever. So then he wants to project that frustration on others in the form of "it's you not me". His mother does this a lot as well. It's there main cause of conflict with others. He will even become short with the children because they can't read his mind to do what he wants or they don't just obey him like robots all the time. (they are children, I remind him)

So we had a conversation in a calm medicated moment when he was receptive to the idea that he likes to bicker and initiates it a lot and that it doesn't actually help the house run or even make him feel better because in the end he ends up making the situation worse and eventually may appologize. So I explain to him how it's not anyone elses fault if he can't cope with something and what he really needs is to calm/slow down and get control of himself instead of picking a fight.

Now that we had that conversation and he agrees that he does this I say to him. "Please don't take your frustration with yourself out on the rest of us or attempt to hold the children to the standard that you are frustrated you can't live at. They are children, you are an adult. It's reasonable for them to be incapable of an adult level of responsibility, so yes they get latitude you don't get."

We've also had a lot of conversations about the topic of shared responsibility versus an insanely detailed list of responsabilities so score keeping can happen for the purpose of engaging in bickering matches. Shared responsibility means that the one who realized there were no wipes first had a responsibility to fill them. If that was him it's not your fault. It also means that it's not exclusively one person's fault something might not be done right. I used to get blamed for dropping a ball because he would say "that's your responsibility and you didn't do it" without any reflection on the fact that of course I drop balls... he doesn't have any responsibilites except the six chores he doesn't do so I end up doing them myself. I'm doing the work of two people. I ask for help and don't necessarily get it so ... things happen. So when he confronts me on something I say... It's not my responsibility it's our responsibility. Did you do anything to intervene and prevent the situation? Did you check the wipes at all?

He has to be at least reasonably cooperative for any of that to work though and if sometime's he's not and then when he want's to fight I simply say nothing at all. I continue with what I'm doing in total silence as he has his childish temper tantrum.

We've also had a lot of

We've also had a lot of conversations about the topic of shared responsibility versus an insanely detailed list of responsabilities so score keeping can happen for the purpose of engaging in bickering matches

I think this is key. We have the typical discussions where I get overwhelmed and upset because he hasn't done what I have asked him to do a million times (easy stuff, for a non adhd person, like call the insurance company so I can have a copy of the card in my wallet in case, oh, I don't know, I have an emergency and need to go t the hospital, or take the kids there, etc. Been 3 months and he hasn't done it and I can't call for him because I am not the primary holder).

Then, after these discussions he then starts keeping score, writing down if he washed the dishes, or gave one of the kids a bath, etc. Its ridiculous. But the bigger issue I face is that he is making me responsible for his anger. No matter how much I disengaged today (not perfectly, but I'd give myself a solid B) he continued to get angry and blamed ME for it --my carefully neutral comment was the instigator, apparently, of his anger and badgering.

I try doing the 'silence' thing while he has his tantrum, but it doesn't work because he is looking for a response and keeps picking at me and accuses me of withdrawing and not discussing anything with him. When I tell him that I'd prefer to discuss it when we're calm he yells that he is calm and that I'm just avoiding the discussion, etc and still blames me for the problems.

The good news is that now he is insisting we see a counselor so that I can "take responsibility" for my role in our fights. I'm like "Yes! yes!" even if right now he is blaming me for everything, at least he is willing to go to a counselor, even if it is simply to have someone else to prosecute me, at least we are getting outside help and if taking responsiblity for my responses is going to help us I am happy to. I never claimed perfection.... I also managed to find a couples counselor who happens to also have a fair experience in adhd, so while it is not the primary focus of the counselor's work with us, he will be familiar with the dynamic. I hope DH will agree to see him.

now we just have to make it through the weekend without further disaster.

I started to "disengage" from

I started to "disengage" from the rage attacks within the last several months. The thing is not to be mentally or even physically present or available for your spouse to target you. You can bury your head in a book or face the computer monitor (which is what I did). He would carry on but I would behave not as I'm ignoring him (anger) but with absolutely no reaction to him standing there. Sort of like he's not getting to me. Oh, you're here. OK.  But I never walked on pins and needles with my spouse. As soon as I felt my blood pressure rise, or feeling anxious, I would leave the room. I even shook things up a little, like watching TV right before he came home. He came home one day and I just sat there watching TV. He was so freaked I wasn't available for yelling, he just left me alone and was super nice to me. I think there's so much reverse psychology can do,  it's not easy but done the right way, it can give you some semblance of control.

Don't give in with an open-ended "I don't care." Just say "OK" but keep your attention focused elsewhere other than the rage. That's the reaction they want. As soon as they think they've gotten to you, then they feel even angrier that you even have a right to show "attitude". I had to really take out my ego, part of the equation that set him off, before he realized he wasn't getting a rise out of me anymore. I'm not saying my dh was like this all the time, only when the ADHD was sooo bad at work, he'd raced to come home so he could blow up at me.

In the meantime, I'd leave a package of wipes and diapers in every room to cut down on his finger pointing. I notice putting up a sign when things are less fired up with something like where wipes are might work. Like, literally, on the changing table! Next time he blows up, express it as a flat out statement, "changing table, downstairs!"

The keeping score is weird, it sounds like he's got himself stuck in a loop without understanding there is no benefit to that.

 

 

Be careful with disengaging this way

When I became exhausted with my ex's rages and finally decided I could just ignore them, disengaging as you described, things escalated. He came up behind me on my computer, grabbed my head and tried to pull me toward him for a forced kiss, and when I resisted he punched me in the face twice. Just saying, rage is about control. If you don't allow yourself to be controlled by the raging, things may escalate.

Would you say this was the

Would you say this was the ADHD, or a domestic violence issue? I find your ex's actions extreme, if he was angry was the kiss one of domination (vs ADHD)? I'm so sorry this happened to you... your ex was really abusive to you :(   My dh isn't physically abusive because it is not in his nature, his problem is the goading/accusing words out of his mouth when he's had a bad day with the racing ADHD.

The disengaging is NOT to ignore or taunt the ADHD spouse, it is to remove my own emotional ingredient (ego) from the brew. I'd answer "OK" but without inciting dh further. Every time I'd turn to him and make eye contact and/or answer differently, the conversation always escalated because he felt I was being defensive thru my words and eye contact, and for him, he was just trying to make a point, and vice versa. Very frustrating because that's when the cycle starts all over again... for us.

In my own circumstance, I didn't look down in a submissive way, nor was I scared because I wasn't in a spousal abuse situation. My mother does that with my father, who suffers a personality disorder so she keeps a neutral stance when he turns on her at a moment's notice (having learned the hard way if she speaks up, she pays for it with him ranting for days).

 

a few things

Just a few things from my experience (and I am so sorry you are going through this. It is not fun, I know): 

-Many have posited that folks with ADHD find it stimulating to argue. Strange, I know, because you probably don't:-). Many I have read about with ADHD have anger management issues. Mine (STBX) to this day blames me for his anger, no matter what. He actually said, "You are the only person that I get mad at like this!" Hm, I think it was because if he did it at work he'd be fired, and if he did it with one of his friends, they'd stop being friends with him. 

-You shouldn't have to put up with this. Seriously. Of course you can work on it and develop strategies, but your DH is being verbally and emotinally abusive to you (look it up and you'll see--he is!), and if he is doing it in front of your children, he is harming them and you. Wait until he is calm or you are at the counselor and let him know. I am not saying that this will happen to you, but like lynnie below, I let mine go on like this for years without handling it well and his escalated into some horrible stuff. I had to leave him. I know having and managing ADHD must be very, very hard, but it does not give him the right to use you as a verbal punching bag. Mine got so stressful after a while. I would be at work, and suddenly well up and start shaking, realizing that I had spent the morning with my spouse screaming at me, while everyone around me probably hadn't, and I was hiding it. 

-It is great that your DH wants to see a counselor. And remember, his perception of your encounters is going to be very different than yours--again, I think it's the ADHD. To this day, my STBX thinks I am a cruel, evil person who was "mean" to him and did things to "provoke" him, even though we had scenes like the wipes one on a daily basis. I was astounded that he saw it that way, like I was on another planet. I am guessing yours is keeping score because he is PISSED and being defensive. Do you have issues with him not carrying his weight around the house or with your children? Or he perceives that you think so? Mine did the same thing. He felt defensive and could recite "lists" of all of the things he did. 

-Disengagement: if you focus on doing it for yourself, and keeping yourself calm, and not getting "sucked in," vs. doing it to try to deal with or avoid "provoking," it goes better, in my opinion. Toward the end I did much better. I asked myself what kind of person I wanted to be. I did it for my children, so if there was a tough moment, at least they had one parent who seemed calm and ok with the world. I would quietly say, "I am sorry, I can't talk to you when you are yelling at me. Let's talk later," and just walk out of the room. Right away. Or, "You sound very upset, let's talk later," and walk away. Period. Trying to reason with him at that moment just. does. not. work. 

Best to you. If the counseling for him falls through, give yourself a gift and go yourself. Peace. 

 

similar but better now

My spouse has anger management problems though it's better now (thanks to medication and some therapy, though honestly I think it's mostly the meds).  I've been where you are though, endless circles of frustration dealing with someone who seems to go blind when they get mad.  And denial that they have a problem related to ADHD.  You did really well in staying as noble as possible in the argument, that's extremely patient.  I can't say that's easy.

At first, I was very confused when my spouse acted out.  In my case she would get emotionally abusive.  At first, I tried to reason with her.  Eventually, I learned that didn't work because I was dealing with her when her ADHD had taken over and she was being irrational and out of control, and completely unconscious.  In other words, when ADHD takes over her brain, I can't talk to HER.  I'm talking to the ADHD.  And ADHD can't hear me, it doesn't listen, it can't even comprehend intellectually or emotionally what I'm saying.  It's nit-picky about words (this is an actual symptom - telling me what I should've said etc.) and blames, it's self-centered.  I eventually spelled out to my spouse (when she was capable of hearing me, you gotta pick a right time and place for that) how irrational she was when she was mad.  And I also told her, if she didn't understand that, then she has to understand THIS:  If she acts that way when she's angry, she is not allowed near me. PERIOD.  I told her I would refuse to continue conversations with her when ADHD anger takes over.

All that to say, I spelled out my boundaries to her on no uncertain terms.  Even if she didn't understand what was happening to her (seeing red), she knew that I would draw my own line, and if she didn't respect it, I would leave the relationship (and I meant it then and I still mean it now).  Since then, she's only had two blind spells and I disengaged in one (told her, not asked, told her, I was ending the conversation and we would continue another time) and the second time, I told her she was having a blind spell and to her credit, she actually stopped acting out all on her own (though it took a few minutes).   She recognizes my signal and the consequences if she doesn't respect me (she has to sleep on the coach or whatever, knowing that she's hitting a bottom-line for me and I'm already planning for her to pack her bags).

I don't know what will work for you, but I think it's important to spell out for yourself what you need in order to make things better, and assert it.   Disengaging is a form of assertion too.  Then reassess the situation from there.  I also think some counseling is better then none.  Even if your DH doesn't want to acknowledge or take responsibility for his ADHD yet (or ever), at least you can address it with a mediator/witness in the room.  He might be more apt to listen to a counselor than someone he feels close to.  They don't need to be a specialist to know that ADHD is an issue.  Unless you are going to a real quack!