Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Stand your ground with hurtful husband
Va.: My husband has terrible mood swings: Sometimes we go to bed cuddly, and then he'll wake up lashing out at me for being unsupportive, not understanding enough, and not being loving enough toward him. He's in a stressful job situation and we're in the middle of some home renovations that are more difficult than we thought they'd be. I do my best to take care of him and his needs, but nothing I do is sufficient. I often will come to work in tears because he will berate me on my way to work for not being supportive, then he'll apologize at night. I don't know what to do.
Carolyn: Has he always been this way, or is this a change of behavior? If he has always been this way, has it gotten worse? If it has gotten worse, did it get worse gradually, or can you peg it to the external stresses? Or did you notice a change even before the stress — say, after you got married?
Essentially, I'm trying to find out whether your husband needs a doctor or you need a lawyer.
Va. Again: My husband (of a few years) has always had anger control problems, but it's gotten much worse in the past year as we've gone through the never-ending renovations and he was laid off/started a new job.
While I wasn't the one who was laid off, I was there for his job search and have had to deal with the same renovations while dealing with my own stressful job, but I deal. Life could be worse. I think he needs to see someone about the anger issues, but he won't do it.
Carolyn: Then what are you prepared to do about it? He may have the last word on whether he seeks or refuses care, but you can urge that he at least get a full physical. You can also say, plainly: "If you won't get help, then I will." You can get yourself to a reputable therapist, to help you gauge how bad (or not-bad) the situation really is.
You certainly have the last word on whether you stay in the marriage on these painful terms.
The boiling-frog legend always comes to mind with stories like this — the one that says a frog dropped in hot water will hop right out, but if you put a frog in cold water and heat it slowly enough, the frog will sit there till it dies. It's sick (and debatable), but it's so apt here. If your husband treated you this way on your first date, there wouldn't have been a second. Yet what's the justification for treating you worse, now that you're his wife?
Let's say it's a medical issue. If he apologizes every time, then he still knows he's doing something wrong, and if he does it again the next day, then he knows being sorry isn't enough to stop the verbal abuse.
He is hurting someone he loves. When he refuses to get help, he says to you: "I am okay with hurting you." Is that position acceptable to you? Because not calling him on his refusal to get help, his refusal to stop hurting you, is the same as accepting it.