Carolyn Hax: Advice

Carolyn Hax: Husband barks at his wife

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: When my husband is in a bad mood, he becomes very short and snippy to me. He sometimes specifically tells me that he’s not annoyed at me, just generally, so it’s clear that there’s nothing I can really do. Regardless, it makes me feel upset and uncomfortable and continues to affect me for some time after I talk to him. It feels personal even though it’s not. I need to work on my own reactions here, right? Because I can’t change his? How do I do that?

Upset

It doesn’t sound as if you’ve gotten all the way to the I-can’t-change-him-I-can-only-change-me wall. Have you said to him, for example, that intellectually you know it’s not about you when he’s snippy to you, but it still affects you emotionally? Have you said to him – assuming you believe this – that you get that his snippiness isn’t about you, but you think you deserve a better effort on his part to manage his bad moods?

Taking moods out on other people occasionally is inevitable, but if it’s just his way of being in a bad mood and happens regularly, then that’s pretty adolescent behavior. If you pose this to him not as a matter of your sensitivity, but instead as a “There’s got to be a better way” entreaty, then maybe he'll be willing to take a look at his actions.

It’s also possible that you can implement a strategy or even a code – when he’s this way, he says to you outright that it’s one of those times, and then you both default to a prepared bad-mood ritual: He goes for a long walk, or you leave him alone for 30 minutes to decompress. Having a set role to play can take a lot of pressure off both of you, ideally feeding you fewer opportunities to take things personally.

If he’s being a weenie to you regularly and refuses even to tweak his behavior, then going into this in depth with a therapist, just for you, might help you figure out where and how to draw the line for your own health.

Re: Snippy husband: My husband was like this, too, but he would also shout at me and then get confused as to why I was taking it personally. So we came to the agreement that he could shout as much as he wanted so long as the first thing was, “I'M NOT SHOUTING AT YOU OR UPSET WITH YOU I JUST NEED TO GET THIS OUT.”

Now I feel better, he feels better, and it doesn’t end in tears and a fight. It usually ends in ice cream and a few episodes of our favorite TV show. It also reduces the time he spends upset because he was able to just get it all out.

Anonymous

Hard to argue with success, thanks.

For those who get treated to a yeller’s “I can’t help it – it’s just the way I am” justification, please don’t forget: Being upset by yelling is just the way you are, too. That means a solution that both of you help develop is in both of your interests, unless driving each other nuts is the outcome you had in mind.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

  Comments