Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Husband's reflexive anger makes her question having kids
No city, no state: My husband and I had a huge fight that started when I accidentally dropped a full glass of water on the living room carpet. Husband's initial reaction was to get mad — not at me, he kept insisting, but at the situation. I didn't handle it well and started crying, which at first upset him more (he said, "Aren't I allowed to react in the way that I feel?").
Eventually, he started to calm down, I was able to explain my feelings, and he started to feel really rotten. This led to a discussion of what if we had a kid who spilled? I could see him struggling to understand my view — that reacting that way to a kid would not be right — while remembering his natural reaction.
After several days I can see him still struggling with this. We saw a commercial in which a kid spilled juice and the dad's reaction was to spill a little, too, and my husband started crying, saying he wished he'd reacted that way to me.
We've just been starting to talk about having kids, something we both want, but this experience has terrified me. He seems to hear and understand my feelings, yet at one point he admitted, "I don't know if my first reaction could have been anything but angry." Is there any hope for us? I feel really lost and would appreciate any counsel or perspective you could offer.
Carolyn: There's a lot here to suggest you have a real concern about his ability to be a loving and flexible parent versus a knee-jerk-punitive one. But I'm not going to tell you that someone can't be a good father based on one spilled glass of water. It's one piece of damning evidence, not an open-and-shut case.
Because you're married to him, and so presumably have witnessed his day-to-day behavior in many different settings and under different levels of pressure, you have a whole pile of evidence to work with that I don't. I doubt you'd be so freaked if this were his first-ever, disproportionately angry response. At the same time, the TV-commercial crying jag suggests he's in pain and wants not to be.
You also have some idea, I hope, of his background — for example, whether he came from a home environment without pity, where the slightest crumb on his mother's white carpet meant the silent treatment all week.
This context will tell you what his emotional foundation is; his disposition and attitude will tell you how willing (and to some extent how able) he is to address any problems in that foundation. With that information and some time, your gut will tell you whether you have any business raising kids with this man.
If you struggle to make out what any of these is really telling you, then please have a professional take a look at the situation. In fact, given the sky-high stakes (reflexive anger plus babies) I feel I have to recommend counseling no matter what. Take the time to find someone good, and start digging.
Tomorrow: Readers weigh in, and "No city" responds.