He used to blow up. A lot.
And so would I.
For a long time…. Years, really… I thought it was just an inexorable part of our special brand of f#cked-up-ness.
That emotional hangovers would eviscerate the next day for me (unforeseeably, and regardless of what I needed to get done), always.
That I was powerless to control my reactivity.
That I was even more powerless to govern his.
And that I would have to leave to get out of this misery.
But I didn't have the guts to leave. (Oh, and I loved him. And wanted HIM. But not this. Not the drama. Not the toxic cloud that would descend on what I wanted to be my safe space, my home.)
So I rolled up my sleeves. I cleaned up my side of the fence. I learned how to stay grounded. How to convey anger in a voice of quiet thunder. How not to let MY moods cast black clouds over our house (even when I needed and asked for space to feel what I was feeling).
And then, when I had a leg to stand on, I began what I now call My Campaign.
I talked to him at a time when nobody was upset.
I said, "This hasn't been working. I feel insecure; NOT SECURE, and I need to feel secure and safe. I need to feel safe that the smoke-bomb of your anger, your mood, your resentment will not seep noxious fumes into every corner of our home without warning.
"I know you feel like your anger is justified and like I need to learn to not get so plugged in when it happens… But no. I've realized my feminine nervous system was coded to fear male anger. Your anger reeks of danger to me, even when you can't smell it. My anger doesn't hold the same danger for you - maybe no one's does. But I know now what I need: to live in a place where that intensity can't threaten me.
"I want so badly for us to be good together, I block out hard times as soon as we're past them. I think we both forget these blow-ups happen, until one happens again.
"I'm going to start to do things differently.
"I'm going to tell you when it - in my experience - is happening. I know you might not feel like it's toxic or over the top or like it SHOULD upset me, but I'm going to tell you when it does.
"If you'll reel it in at that point, we'll be golden.
"If you're still needing to emote in the ways that scare me and hurt me, I will warn you that I'm going to need to leave.
(See, I'd always wanted to WORK IT OUT. I'd never wanted to leave. To be apart. To give up on making it better in that moment. But I found my willingness. So we both could learn.)
"If after the warning, you still can't de-escalate, I will leave. For at least 3 hours. I won't come back before then, no matter what, so we both know Something Is Happening.
"I will mark on the calendar when these things happen and we'll see what patterns we can discern. We'll both work on ironing out the circumstances and patterns that drive these incidents.
"I love you. I can't live with this dynamic. I don't want to leave you. I won't live like this.
"I want you to let me know what I can do to help us change this."
I stuck with the message, and my own determination to do better, for as long as I needed to.
He really heard me. He got that I was getting wiped out and flattened with emotional hangovers after these blow-ups. And he didn't want that any more than I did. So he learned to soothe himself. To walk away for a moment and talk himself DOWN instead of talking himself UP, as he'd done in the past.
I followed through with what I'd said. I used Enforceable Statements: I talked about what I would do under particular conditions.
Here's how you make one: Think of what you are going to do differently that steps outside the drama cycle of him yelling and you being upset by it and him doing it more or him stopping, and him apologizing, but it not being any better later.
Start to have a natural consequence, a shift in the relationship for a time, so he can feel that "oh... my anger/outbursts/(I called Kurt's 'tantrums' because that's what they felt like) mess things up between us - not just her upset, but her GONE."
I had to follow through on those Enforceable Statements a number of times. I left the house for at least 3 hours.
he'd call, all recalcitrant, but then start yelling at me again... Or even if he didn't yell at me again, I'd say "I'm glad you're back... But I have to stay away to remind both of us that this pattern is OVER. We're DONE dancing that way."
A big part of my problem was that I so badly wanted to not be upset about it that I'd let go too easily and then when it happened again it would just blindside me. So I had to start erecting a tall fence when it happened. NOT in my heart - that's tantamount to divorce... really dangerous - but in my behavior. "I will remove myself from the situation when we're not able to communicate with care."
I used to despair: I'll have to leave him over this eventually... but between here and divorce, I have no fucking recourse!?!? But then I saw, "oh yes, I do!"
I took notes. Another big part of what made it better was putting it on a calendar.
I'd put one if an outburst happened. If after I named it, he continued, I'd cross it into an X... all in big black sharpie. We were both able to see the pattern in our lives. He was decompressing on Saturday morning... or it was after he'd had 2-3 beers... Or whatever... we saw what was happening and why because I got very black-and-white with it.
That said, I stayed open-hearted, loving... Told him I loved HIM and that I wasn't going to tolerate the temper stuff... Told him I knew I'd fed into it and that I was devoted to owning my part.... Told him I knew he wanted it better too, and that we might need to rearrange other things so his tank wasn't on fumes.
I got his attention, and then I worked WITH him, not AGAINST him to make it better for both of us.
He might get nasty with me (just that first level) every 3-6 months now. If I say "ouch! that's pretty intense!" he quiets down and grumbles and walks away for 5 minutes or so and he comes back and says, "I'm sorry I treated you like that, Missy. Here's what's going on with me…."
I never blamed/judged/got super-pissed at him, but I also didn't remotely let him off the hook. It worked. I wish the same for you.
By the way, I'm no saint: I get nasty once in a while, too. He almost always has to point it out; I don't realize how I sound till he tells me. I've learned, instead of defending my innocent intentions, to say, "Wow! I'm sorry. That's no fun to be on the receiving end of. Can I try again?"
And huge disclaimer: Please don't let anything I say (ever) override your own knowing about whether you're safe with someone or not. If your partner - of any gender - is physically abusive, digging in and working on it the way I do is not sufficient to keep you safe. I'm not the right advisor if your partner is violent, nor is any blog. Please seek help from http://www.thehotline.org/ the National Domestic Violence hotline, and/or local resources. And take care.