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What Can You Do to Help an Anger Junkie?
November 12, 2001 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I have been with my girlfriend for over 6 months. Our relationship has been a roller coaster ride. The problem is that she needs to get couseling for anger problems. She went from being abused as a child both sexually and physically, not to mention being abused from her two past realtionships. Since I met her I have told that I am the best thing that could have happened to her. Her two kids love me like a father, also she is expecting my child.
Things have been rocky from the start, but things just got bad ever since she got pregnant about 7 weeks ago. Her anger has gotten out of control to the point that she is now verbally abusing me. She tells me things that really hurt. I love her more than anything in this world. I worry about her and my unborn child. At this point we are separated and have been for 3 weeks now with no communication as of today.
I give her an ultimatium in which I regret now, but I can't continue living with someone who is always hurting me. I have tried numerous times to get her the help she needs but she tell me that I am the one who needs help and not her. I know she is still mad at me and probably hates me for all the wrong reasons. At this time I am severly hurting for her, my child and the kids involved.
All I want is to have a nice happy family. I don't want my child to grow up in a broken home. I miss her and want her back so much but not without getting help. I gave her everything a women could possibly want in life yet that wasn't good enough. I treated her with respect, lots of love and most of all treated her like she should have always been treated. Please help me. I don't want to lose her or her kids for the way she is acting. Everyone in her family is taking it hard except her.
Why is she like that? What is her problem? What can I do for her to help? Thank you for your advice.
You've heard the saying, 'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. . . ' The same holds true for people. You can't make your girlfriend get help. She has to be willing to admit her problem and get help. Why isn't she willing to face the truth about herself? This is because beneath the enraged and tough exterior is a very fragile person. Because it takes strength to admit a weakness, a weak person is unable to admit that he/she has a problem. This explains why she points the finger at you: she is too emotionally brittle to point the finger at herself and would literally crumble under the self-attack.
The problem that you are facing (on top of her out-of-control behavior) is that no relationship can endure, let alone thrive, unless both partners are willing to look at themselves and take responsibility for being part of the problem. Until she is willing to look at herself, you are nowhere. This being said, you can nudge her in a nonthreatening way in the right direction. The rest is up to her.
How to nudge her? The next time she says, 'It's all your fault. ' You can say to her, 'I am obviously saying or doing something to infuriate you. Please tell me what that is.' With this question, you are modeling for her a healthier way of communicating when she's angry. If she gets out of control and starts to abuse you, you then set the limit by saying, 'I am willing to listen to what I said or did and how that made you feel, but I won't allow you to verbally assault me (name calling, character insults). If you won't stop, I will leave until you are willing to speak to me in a constructive way. ' You might also try confronting her on her behavior. To do this you might say, 'Obviously someone verbally abused you when you were growing up which makes you think that this behavior is permitted. What you don't know is that they didn't have the right to abuse you, and you don't have the right to abuse me. ' You might also ask her, 'How did you feel when you were verbally abused? Is that how you want me to feel. . . so that I know how much you suffered?
Since she is so fragile, you stand a better chance of getting her to go with you into couples therapy rather than individual treatment. A good couples therapist should be able to address her issues in this forum. If she isn't able to work within these parameters, then you are dealing with a lost cause, I am sorry to say. I hope it doesn't come to that.
"If anger and fighting are ruining your dream of a happy marriage, Dr. Turndorf’s conflict resolution program is for you."
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Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
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Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
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