Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Yes, getting fighting mad over spilled water is huge red flag
Anonymous: (About the guy in yesterday's column who got fighting mad over spilled water:)
Please help me understand why this isn't a HUGE red flag. What an inappropriate reaction! This guy sounds a little scary.
Carolyn: It is a red flag, and I didn't say otherwise; my counseling suggestions are usually conditional, but yesterday's wasn't.
I just want the wife to broaden her focus from the incident to the whole picture. There's more here, a lot more, and where is it? If she missed the lead-up to this incident, then that is significant information about her state of mind and emotional health.
She needs to look at the pile of evidence, methodically, now that the dropped-glass incident has awakened her. Another reader said he needs anger-management counseling; yes, but she needs counseling, too. There was no background, no list of similar blowups — and as you all surely know, it's rare to see just one example. And, they're talking about having kids. Those are the high stakes I flagged.
Anonymous: Re: Spill guy: "Aren't I allowed to react in the way that I feel?" Ummm, no. You are allowed to FEEL the way you feel. But you are not allowed to take that out on other people. Part of being a grownup is stifling the urge to throw a tantrum every time some little thing doesn't go your way.
Carolyn: Well said. Another part is addressing the urges, if they become routine. Thanks.
No city, no state again: Thanks for taking my question. While my husband has a temper (and so do I; we argue more than either of us likes), this incident seemed kind of out of left field. And yes, as you guessed, he was raised in what you might call a tight ship, and has a history of abusive romantic relationships behind him.
I was pretty sure you would recommend counseling, and I'm glad for the affirmation. Just to be clear, did you mean joint counseling?
Carolyn: I would suggest individual as well as joint, because you might hold back in joint counseling since anger (or control) is involved — even if it's just out of habit. And, your temper means this isn't all about him.
I'm glad this incident was unusual, but his relationship history is disturbing — especially since you don't make clear whether he was the abuser or the abused. Significant omission.
Anonymous 2: Re: Spilling: My friend's ex-husband was verbally abusive to her and the kids. One day the boys were visiting me and one spilled his glass of milk. No big deal. He burst into tears and begged me not to be mad. I told him it was an accident and that I was not mad. It took him five minutes to stop crying, and believe me, even if someday this dad apologizes to his kids, the damage could be done if his first reaction is to go ballistic.
Carolyn: I got a few responses like this, as well as a few defending some anger as normal. Kids can thrive in expressive homes, certainly — but not in volatile ones.