Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My husband is angry at me for not treating him with respect. But as I really work on this, I am starting to realize he has a very skewed version of respect. Example: We were in a restaurant. He stepped out of the booth to speak to one of our boys. As he was speaking, a waitress tried to pass behind him and said, “Excuse me.” Husband didn’t hear her, so I told him, “Someone is trying to get past you.”
He then yelled at me for interrupting him when he’s dealing with a kiddo, and used this as an example of how I’m not changing my ways in showing him respect.
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It had never crossed my mind that telling him he was blocking the aisle was not respectful. I’m not sure this was a matter of respect. Yet he is now using this as an example of how I’m not changing my ways and justifying his anger against me.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: His yelling at you like this, for the sole crime of being your idea of helpful instead of his, is verbal abuse.
It is not your responsibility to be exactly who he wants you to be. Your responsibility is to be yourself, honestly, and his is to be himself. You both have the right to ask for judicious changes, and the right to stay or go once you see how the other person responds. That’s it. You don’t have the right to badger someone to change. Boundaries 101.
Whether someone “should” be willing or able to change or compromise is irrelevant; it’s whether they do or don’t change, and whether you can or can’t embrace the result.
Obviously you decided to spend your lives together and have built a family on that decision, but that doesn’t mean you signed up to be anyone’s personality-renovation project.
Please talk to a good, reputable therapist — alone. To find one, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to ask for a local referral: 800-799-SAFE (7233).
RE: ANONYMOUS: Later, when he’s calmer, she could ask her husband how he would like her to handle it the next time he is blocking a waitress with a tray. His answer might tell her everything she needs to know.
My guess is that he isn’t feeling respected at work but can’t tell off his boss for fear of losing his job, so he takes it out on his wife. He might also blame his wife and children for feeling stuck. I’ve seen it before.
— Anonymous 2
DEAR ANONYMOUS 2: Yes to asking when calm, thank you.
Your second paragraph is a PSA on emotional maturity, and the importance of both having it and marrying it.
Unfortunately, it takes maturity to recognize when you don’t have it, so the self-diagnostic system is all but useless here. However, immaturity is usually plainly visible in others. If you’re poised to marry/procreate/move in/settle down/jointly invest, and you notice your partner has a habit of diverting anger to the easiest target, then see the red flag and brake, hard — even if it costs you some lost deposits or tough explanations.