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Dating Advice #39 - Coping With Anger

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

He's got a short fuse. What will it take to make this relationship work?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

My boyfriend has so much anger and seems to blame me much of the time, saying that I do not do all the things he wants me to do and do many other things wrong. He loses his temper at least once a day and yells at me.

Also, if I do not agree with a particular political or religious belief of his, even if I answer him respectfully, he yells at me and says I am "arguing just to argue." I tell him calmly that we can have a difference of opinion and still respect each other. Yet he still accuses me of loving to argue.

How can I make him see the light?


Dear Diane,

We don't think you should try to change the man you are dating. His anger and controlling tendencies have nothing to do with you. They are his problem, and it is something that he has to want to change. Without his own internal motivation and a concerted effort (including therapy) on his part, your efforts will be worthless.

There are certain personality traits that do not lend themselves to building and maintaining a stable, healthy relationship. Anger and the excessive need for control are two of these negative traits. Even if they never lead to physical or emotional abuse, they place a huge burden on the relationship. You will seldom be able to do anything right in his eyes, you will forever try to placate him (unsuccessfully), and you will stifle your own voice because he cannot tolerate your differing opinions and will accuse you of being disloyal to him.

If you stay with him long enough you will lose your personality and self esteem.

At times he appears to be a "nice guy." People who cannot appropriately channel their anger, or who act very controlling, can frequently function well in many environments, such as the workplace or in a social setting. But they release the pent-up anger or exert their need to control in front of the people they are closest to -- their friends, spouse and later, children. They may feel contrite after the anger is released, but the damage is already done. After a while, the cycle begins again of holding in anger at work and in public -- and then releasing it at home.

Most of the time, a person who releases anger in such a harmful way will have unresolved issues from the past that need to be addressed. (He also has to learn how to handle day-to-day frustrations in a healthy way.) He may not want to confront these unresolved issues because they are painful to face. Similarly, a person with controlling tendencies may be unwilling to get the help he needs to change his behavior. Control has become the way he copes with anxiety about a variety of issues, and it may prove very difficult for him to address the foundations of this anxiety.

Now that you understand how difficult it can be for this man to change the way he handles anger and displays an excessive need for control, you should understand why the desire for change must come from him, not from you.

We understand that you are dating him because he has certain appealing qualities. However, we can't imagine how these qualities can balance the severity of the difficulty you describe. Is he worth the grief you will continually encounter if you remain in such an unhealthy situation

Rosie & Sherry

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