Is a marriage counselor the answer?

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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: My husband is wonderful, supportive, kind. He truly is. We have been together a long time and love each other dearly.

We do have one recurring issue. When he gets angry, he yells. This is not necessarily at me; for example, the IRS messed up our taxes and he started yelling about how horrible they were.

But I often cringe at his yelling — which is sometimes directed at me — and, honestly, I cringe at his anger in general. I came from a home where yelling was the precursor to something worse, which he knows and is very supportive about.

So he yells, I get upset and (often) defensive, we fight.

He says he feels like he can’t express anger around me, which I can see is totally unfair. I feel like he gets so angry, so quickly, over so many things that it makes me reluctant to tell him things that are negative, which is obviously not fair either. I know we are both at fault: He needs to control his temper and I need to be less sensitive.

Any ideas? We have considered seeing a marriage counselor, but it has never gotten that bad.

— Oversensitive Wife of Angry Husband

DEAR OVERSENSITIVE WIFE OF ANGRY HUSBAND: What’s your definition of “that bad”? Cringing once daily, versus once weekly? Holding back information all the time versus most of the time?

Please just talk to someone. It’s not an admission of defeat and not a source of shame. It’s relationship health care.

You might want to go solo first though. You make so many hedges and excuses for your husband in one paragraph that I don’t feel confident in your ability to speak freely in a joint session.

You’re not happy with things this way. You are not each other’s sanctuary. Please trust your gut.

Re: Angry Husband: Speaking from experience: The husband’s yelling makes the wife anxious. Does NOT matter who he is angry at — she is on the receiving end.

We were there, I almost left. We saw marriage counselor together and each have a therapist. Mine helped me recognize it wasn’t all my fault or responsibility to calm him, or to mitigate things so he wouldn’t get angry. The marriage counselor actually had to point out my body language to him to show what his anger was doing to me.

He is now on meds to control the PTSD and anger.

What a wonderful change for the positive! There’s hope, but it takes both of you working on it.

— Hope

Re: Yelling: I used to be a yeller and thought it was no big deal, even telling friends they need to just accept me that way. I thought I was just expressive.

Then I spent an extended time with family and witnessed how caustic and toxic yelling and anger can be. The cost to the people I love is just too much.

I’ve spent several years actively dismantling that anger reflex and practicing gentle responses. The difference in MY life, let alone in my relationships, is priceless. I hope they can both stop excusing it as remotely OK.

— Used to Be a Yeller

DEAR USED TO BE A YELLER: Excellent, thank you. And yay for you, not just for the courage to admit fault, but also the dedication to change.