Advice: My Angry Husband

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on whether a woman should reconcile with her husband who brings out the worst in her.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 1, 2004 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

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?

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

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.