My Husband’s Anger Issues are Affecting Our Family

Q: My husband has anger issues, and these have been having more of an effect on my children in recent weeks. It’s hard to know why he has been acting this way recently. It could be something work-related that he doesn’t want to talk about. If I keep asking what’s bothering him, he’ll just get more annoyed. All I know is that he is very impatient with our children (and with me, as well), and it is affecting our daily routine. It is hard to continue to be positive in the morning while getting the kids ready for school when one parent is continually focusing on what’s missing in our house — be it someone’s homework or an errant shoe. A joking reaction to his comments will cause him to be even more annoyed.

Our oldest daughter, 15, has been having head-on collisions with him. My husband yells at her and imposes severe punishments (no going out for a week) over small things that she does. Not responding with enough respect can be seen as severe chutzpah. She feels that my husband likes her the least of all her siblings — and truthfully, although I would never tell her this, I think she is right. She recently commented to her younger sister on how her father rewards the younger girl for hundreds on her tests, but barely speaks to her, the older one.

Even though my husband agrees that he has an anger problem, he has no Rav or baal eitzah with whom he feels comfortable enough to discuss this issue. He is not interested in going to therapy.

He does well in his business and is beloved by many in our shul and neighborhood.

As you might guess, he is frequently involved in machlokes with family members, and sometimes years can pass without him speaking to certain relatives.

He doesn’t seem to want to change his behavior towards our daughter, as he feels she deserves what he dishes out. Any ideas?

A: Anger issues are clearly the source of the most stress in our homes on any given day. Once a family member shows anger towards another (or even against oneself, for one’s own mistakes), the general atmosphere takes a turn for the worse.

It is close to impossible to control all the interpersonal familial interactions that exist within a family. Disappointments and resentments occur (which parents cannot always mend), and when a spouse holds on to anger against a child, marital issues often become entangled with the issue, only complicating matters. “It’s your fault — you spoil our daughter” is a typical form of blame.

If your husband presently does not desire to change his behavior, putting much effort in this direction may be fruitless and frustrating.

Various factors can motivate a spouse to change. Since your husband is generally satisfied with his view of himself and his standing in the community, he can easily blame others and feel justified. Your attempt to criticize his behavior for the hundredth time will probably yield no discernible difference in his actions.

Clearly, if your husband’s angry responses are excessive on a more continual basis (you mention that the situation has recently escalated), you need to consult daas Torah to see what behavior is acceptable and where to go with this matter. A spouse with severe issues has to answer to Hashem for his/her problematic behavior. No spouse is doing the other a favor by sweeping things under the rug. Unregulated anger does not disappear on its own. Some type of system to change one’s gut reactions to stress needs to be implemented in order to make a long-lasting impact.

One’s family need not bear the brunt of unbridled anger. Responding to teenage children with ultimatums is usually not the way to communicate effectively.

A wife’s admiringly stressing the instances her husband responds with patience toward his “annoying” teenage daughter can only be helpful. Are any of us at all times a paradigm of patience toward our children — who seem to always know which buttons to push?

Sometimes being empathetic towards the struggles all parents share creates less of a sense of being the “good” or “bad” parent, and spouses become less defensive. Again, one’s words need to be carefully weighed when dealing with the topic of one’s middos. An angry spouse can one day use those words against you: “Doesn’t she also drive you crazy? You said so yourself.”

Sometimes being aware of conversation patterns helps us plan our responses in advance . Anticipating a child’s typical retort can help us prepare alternative ways to respond.

Finally, brainstorming together with your spouse during a calm time about how to respond to your child can be effective as you reach conclusions as a team.

Hatzlachah in this most sensitive and important endeavor!