Advice: My Angry Husband

Q: I have been married for 10 years and have two great kids, a flexible job I enjoy, good friends and a good relationship with my family. My problem is my husband. We have just recently separated. He doesn't do household chores, either inside or out, unless he feels like it. He likes to spend money: he has two cars, enjoys massages, always asks for the best hotel room, which doesn’t bother me so much now that we both earn a comfortable living. What’s not acceptable is his anger. I've been the subject of verbal abuse, spitting, choking and cursing. These are not daily or weekly events but are really awful when they do occur. At his worst five years ago, he hit me once and was arrested and charged. He used to drink and stopped, went into counseling and did make some changes in his life. One very heated subject is his teenage son from an earlier marriage. My husband wants this boy to move in with us, but five years ago he did live with us and I believe he takes my husband over the edge, and then I become the subject of his abuse. At his best, my husband is charming, smart and fun, and he overcame a difficult childhood to become a successful partner at his law firm. My kids adore him. But I can't take the ruined holidays, anger and fear any more. I think he brings out the worst in me. Should I give this man another chance?

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A: If you want to save your marriage, yes—but with plenty of ground rules. You and your husband need to renegotiate the terms under which you conduct your lives together.

Your husband has obviously made some progress, but he still has some mistaken ideas about what is acceptable behavior at home. It’s very likely that he doesn’t choke, curse or take swings at his law partners or the firm’s support staff. If he can restrain himself in the office, he can do it at home. Also, somewhere he got the idea that he’s entitled to sit out chores if he feels like it while indulging his own wishes. Regardless of the cause of his neediness, it is so blinding that he can’t see that his feelings of entitlement only breed resentment and corrode his relationship with you.

It sounds as if your husband wants to be a good father to his teenage son but, without your support, does not know how; after all, he doesn’t have a good model from his own life to go on. You could choose to be of help. But first you need to talk to your husband and find out what his concerns are with regard to the boy, and together set up some ground rules and goals for his return. Since the boy is your husband’s son and not yours, most of the disciplining, at least at first, is going to have to come from the biological parent. Delegating it all to a stepparent is a recipe for disaster and typically sparks resistance or rebellion in a child. It would be wise to get information on stepparenting, and there are many excellent books on the subject.

It’s time for you and your husband to sit down and talk—calmly and kindly. Why don’t you tell him what you like about the changes he has made in his behavior, recognize how hard it must be for him to make the struggle, and ask him what it would take on your part to consistently bring out the best in him? At the same time, it’s your obligation to inform him what you would like him to do to bring out the best in you.

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