How do you diffuse anger when it seems as though your partner is escalating on their own?
The other day, my husband had had what seemed to be an ‘edgy’ morning.
A few problems unrelated to me had come up first thing that seemed to put him off in a way that was a bit out of proportion given the nature of the issues.
I could tell he was a little off so, although we had a loose plan for the day, I gave him the option of opting out. I offered to run the errands without him and to assist with some of the things he had hoped to accomplish so that he could stay home and work. We own a business together and he gets stressed when he feels like he is falling behind. I thought he might just need some time to focus and catch up.
The following account may seem tedious, but this is what happened after that:
He decided he’d like to come and run errands, I started making a coffee before heading out, he noticed I was not doing it the way he thought it should be done and made an off-handed negative comment. I responded defensively (probably should not have - but, it was my coffee and I was making the way I wanted to make it).
He then just started in on how I am unable to take any criticism, how this is the problem with me, how this is what is causing his frustration with our marriage… I let him continue for a period of time because when he is interrupted, it just adds fuel to the fire. But, some of comments were really pretty negative and he was not leaving room for any rational conversation about the issue, or way for me to respond.
I could see him getting angrier and angrier. Building up a defense for his anger with every sentence. I tried to apologize to de-escalate, but that just made him angrier. He then said he didn’t want an apology, he just wanted me to understand. WhenI responded that I would try to understand, he responded with - Will you? Will you try? in a very antagonizing way. All of this while physically getting more and more worked up, raised voice, no eye contact, etc…
We have been together for over twenty years, we run a business together as well. This anger piece has become an issue more recently. In the past two years or so… As our relationship ages, we both seem to be falling into bad habits and this is one that feels more intense now than it did in the past.
Anyway, I used to push and fight against it and that led to very intense interactions that were extremely unhealthy.
I have been trying to avoid it and remove myself. Now instead of fighting I tried to de-escate by apologizing but that seemed to anger him more. At that point, I start to panic. I can see whats happening, Im trying to stop it, I start to feel lightheaded, I start to shake and my chest tightens, I cry…
In this instance, I could feel all of this happening. I gathered my things as quickly as possible to leave the house… I apologized once more and told him I was listening and would try to understand better what he was trying to say. I ran out of the house and left completely distraught.
A whole day has been ruined and likely he will not even apologize. I know he will recount the interaction in a totally different way. Likely he will rationalize the anger by blaming me for not understanding him.
He is a very thoughtful and loving man. He is so incredibly smart and in so many ways he takes responsibility for his actions and his reactions.
This is something that seems out of his wheelhouse and I’m so afraid of rocking the boat or saying the wrong thing about it that I don’t feel comfortable addressing it with him.
I guess I just want to know what I can do differently? If I challenge him or try to defend my actions he escalates, if I apologize he escalates, if I walk away, he escalates. In every case, our day, or even days, thereafter are thrown into disarray. He likely will not talk to me…
I just feel so powerless and discouraged.