Healthy Interactions (finally) with a typically distant, angry Spouse


A year or 2 ago, (wow time flies) I realized my husband was verbally and emotionally abusive to me, and that I had never known it was abuse, and had accepted it all. Once I realized, I approached husband and told him it was unacceptable. (I’ll write about how that conversation finally happened one day, as it was very scary, and a major life-defining moment) That he would need to change, or he could not be around me and the kids any more. He hadn’t realized how angry, negative and predictable our interactions had become either. He wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, but after 17 years of marriage, we had developed the hurtful patterns and habits. He would snap and yell, and I would retreat. He never knew how I felt because I never told him.So over the last year, we have been practicing more effective communication, active listening, I statements-not you statements. I’ve been stronger, more willing to listen to him. All kinds of healthy ways to reform communication.  Now, nothing is going to remove the temper from this guy, it is just how he is wired. But, I have learned that not all of his yelling should be taken personally. I’m also learning to listen to what he says while he yells, rather than just shut down, freeze up, or cry. He is learning not to yell and run. He used to lash out, then immediately leave the room, not leaving any chance for a response. He never knew those attacks left me in tears, because he never waited to see it. Now he does.

We had a long weekend together, he had lots of rest, got to go fishing, slept in, and seemed to be very low on the stress scale.  So I thought it might be a good time for us to complete our taxes together. I have been doing the taxes myself for many years, and I told him it would mean a lot to me if we could do it together, so it didn’t feel like such a huge task, and so I felt more supported.

Now, neither of us are organized people, so gathering documents, receipts, and forms is not easy. I have learned to rely mostly on electronic statements now, which helps quite a bit. We both have main jobs, and secondary home-based jobs that require some tricky tax calculations, and they seem to always be changing the allowable exemptions or whatevers for these jobs. Every year I feel unsure of what I am doing, but somehow muddle through it.

Husband starts working on the city tax form, and happily declares that they owe us hundreds of dollars. I want to believe this, but I’ve done this many years and we always owe them, because no tax is withheld from our home businesses. So my mind starts whirling, how do I bring this up? How do I ask him about his numbers without blaming him? So I thanked him for getting it started, and recommended we go over it together to double-check. I start punching in the numbers. I saw him tense up, and knew he was about to yell.

“Why the hell did you want me to do this if you’re just going to do it yourself anyway?” he says this loud, but not red zone. I explain that I always redo my figures several times for taxes, since it is so confusing and each line asks for a different box number. Last year I would have just said “Fine, I’ll do it myself then” and resented him. This year I said, “I usually do this on  my own and get very worried that I might make a mistake and really appreciate having you here to talk it over and check it with me. So let me check your numbers, and we’ll see if we come up with the same thing, ok?”

He said, “Oh, that sounds like a good idea” And that is what we did.

Capoeira cartwheel Français : Roue de capoeira

I felt like doing cartwheels, but I couldn’t show too much surprise at his calm response.  I have no idea if he felt good about the day either, or if he just thought he got roped in to doing a task I usually took care of. I’m not asking. From my view, it seemed like great teamwork, and I was proud of both of us. Notice the cartwheels here though are not unbridled joy, they are controlled, and return to protective stance at the end. I will still be on guard.

We completed the rest of the taxes together, each of us figuring small parts, passing off to each other to re-check – it was awesome. No yelling, pouting or running off – from either of us. We both faced it together and completed an unpleasant task without making it more unpleasant. This was another huge step in the right direction, and why I haven’t given up on this guy of mine. We’re both learning, and both trying.