Background: my partner and I are in our late twenties. We have lived together for about a year. He does maybe 20% of the housework, arguing that I have more free time because I work fewer hours. When he is not working or sleeping, he plays a mobile game or watches YouTube videos.

I don't mind him being lazy. The problem are his childish temper tantrums. Some examples:

When I suggest going out, he will agree. However, when the time comes around, he will find something to criticize about me, for example, I look stressed or complain that we're late. He will either go home, or if we have tickets / can't back out, will sulk the whole time.

Another example is I'm lying on the couch reading a book. He will come to me whenever he likes and demand that I give him attention right then. If I don't submit to his requests, he'll be angry and I'll have to come to him and apologize. If I try to let him cuddle me and continue reading, he'll position himself in a way that blocks me from reading. If I'm on the pc he'll pull me away and whine until all my attention is on him. This does not happen all the time, he does allow me to do things alone. But it will happen on most days, unless he's already avoiding me as part of a tantrum.

He does not see this behavior as a problem. Predictably, when I try to talk to him about it in a calm moment, he'll have a tantrum right then and refuse to talk to me for some hours or days.

He's behaving like a two year old child. But techniques for dealing with child tantrums (distract him, pretend everything is fine, talk about the issue later when he's calmed down) don't work on him, because he recognizes what I'm doing and feels disrespected. How can I deal with these tantrums in the moment, and how can I make my partner understand that he needs to take some responsibility and learn to deal with minor disappointments without a huge overreaction?

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    Have you met his family/friends? Has he had one of these “tantrums” while with them? How did they react? – scohe001 Sep 15 at 14:51
  • If he wants to equalize time, will he also agree to equalize money? – phresnel Sep 17 at 13:41
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    While your partner's behavior is certainly problematic, I don't think you have quite described a tantrum (an uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration). Maybe moody or needy, but I suggest either rewording your question to use more accurate terms, or describing a situation where his anger has flared up without restraint. As it stands, the word tantrum is a bit misleading. – BlackThorn Sep 17 at 16:22

12 Answers 12

up vote 85 down vote accepted

There are two huge keys to toddler tantrums. The first is understanding what causes them, and preventing that (not the tantrum, the trigger.) For my kids that meant making sure they did not get hungry. For many kids it meant not letting them see things they weren't allowed to have, or not keeping them out past the time they needed to be asleep. The second is not letting the tantrum work.

You've described two different scenarios with your partner. The first is that he sometimes doesn't want to stick to plans to go out, and he tries upsetting you as a technique for not going out. My daughter used to upset me terribly on the way to skating competitions. Like telling me I was taking the wrong route to a place we had never been before, or criticizing my driving when she had not yet learned to drive. I came to understand this was born of her fear of the competition and not aimed at me personally. It's possible your partner is nervous about these events -- what to wear, what to say to people -- and that an open discussion about them would be very insightful for you both. (It's also possible he's a rude selfish jerk, I'm not saying there is only one explanation for what you see.) So when he starts insulting you right before it's time to go, you can ask something like "are you ok with going to this thing tonight?" and if he says no, ask "what is that, is it something I can help with?". You might then end up at "how about I go to represent us both and you don't have to?" (Introverts are often super happy with this solution.) You might end up at "would it make more sense to do this next week instead?" or who knows what, you can only find out by communicating. Here you are diverting the "tantrum" as you call it, (though I apply that to out of control screaming and physical movements, not considered insults followed by days of sulking) to a discussion of why he doesn't want to go after all, and what the two of you as a couple can do about that not-wanting right now.

The second scenario involves him coming into a room while you're occupied, and being rude until you pay attention to him. I think he feels ignored and rejected when you don't acknowledge he has come in, and don't appear to care whether he comes in or not, so I suggest preventing that emotion from rising in him. Let me suggest something to you that you probably feel is counter-intuitive, and that some commenters are going to say is pandering to an abuser or the like. Try it for a few days or a week. When he comes into a room, stop what you're doing. If you're reading, don't just lift your eyes from your book: put a bookmark in it and put it down. If you're doing something on the PC you can pause, pause it, take your hand off the mouse, and turn your back to the screen and look at him. You're in a relationship with this person. You love him, right? Smile. He has just come into the room. It's good to see him. You like him. Let him know. He may want to have a conversation, or ask you to do something with him, or he may just want to do something in the same room as you. You can go back to the book or the PC in a minute or two. If you routinely do this before he gets all crawly-on-you-put-himself-between-you-and-the-inanimate-object-he's-jealous-of, you'll have more control, so you'll be happier. You'll be reminded you actually care for this person, so you'll be happier. And he'll probably be happier too.

If you don't want to do that, because in fact your day does not get better when he comes into the room, then perhaps his fears (that you would be happier not living with him) are in fact correct, and you should look into what it will take to separate. But give it a try first and see if you both cheer up.

Does this sound like I'm apologizing for him or excusing horrible behaviour? I don't intend to. The behaviours you describe are not okay. But telling someone "if you keep treating me like that I will leave you" will not in fact stop them treating you like that. It's entirely possible that the horrible behavior is coming from fear, worry, stress, insecurity, and the like. And since you call this person your partner and are committed to them, one of the things you may be able to do is lessen those feelings and help them feel secure and cared for. This may improve their behaviours dramatically. Again, you're not causing the rudeness and sulking. You're not responsible for it. But there are things you can do that may, by changing the underlying emotions, fix the behaviours. May.

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    Excellent answer, I've tried to submit a minor edit, but sadly it's not large enough. I think instead of "what is that, is it something I can help with?", did you mean to say "why is that, is it something I can help with?" ? – Draken Sep 20 at 16:29

I think you have something else going on here. Reading through this: he agrees to go out, but then is angry about something small. He makes disrespectful demands on your time and then misbehaves when those demands are not met. He won't discuss issues because he "feels disrespected". He refuses to talk to you for days. He makes demands for affection and insists that they be met to the point of being (mildly) physical and demands that YOU apologize for not meeting his demands.

Those aren't symptoms of a childish tantrum. Childish tantrums are about one thing, rage for a few minutes to an hour, and then subside. Children as a whole don't rage for days. I don't think the issue is the tantrums as much as his behavior toward you as a whole.

I'm going to propose that you view this as something else. This is consistent with abusive behavior that I've seen toward abused women I've known. And if it's consistent with the behavior I've seen and heard of from these women, it's going to slowly get worse.

How to deal with this? You confront it and refuse to let it control you. Abusers rely on power to control, which he is trying to do with you. In the end, you absolutely have to recognize your own power in this relationship and exercise it as well. That doesn't mean "get caught in a power struggle" but "achieve balance".

Part of that balance is to not let this behavior control you, even if it is a tantrum. Keep this in mind: behaviors only continue if they achieve a goal. If a behavior is unproductive, it will eventually stop.

If he sulks when he's agreed to go out, don't let this affect you. "I see you're not happy; that's fine. We've purchased tickets and I'm going to go to the show. If you're not in the mood, you can stay home and I'll catch up with you when the show is over." You're not responding; you're not arguing. You're refusing to let this behavior control you. You're exercising your own power.

"I understand you're not talking to me; I'm sorry to see that. I'm going to go to the library to read; I'll be back in a couple hours." "I see you're angry about something and not talking to me. I'm going to have coffee with some friends. I'll be back around 2" Again, you're not making demands on him; you're not responding to the behavior - you're refusing to let it control you and being empowered.

You have already recognized that his behavior needs to change; one can't stay in this kind of relationship not based on mutual concern and respect. And he needs to see that you have options and will exercise them.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Em C Sep 16 at 19:35

You are in an abusive relationship; and you should leave your partner

What you describe is emotional abuse, and it is not okay. Particularly concerning signs are unreasonable demands, getting angry when these demands aren't met, and then punishing you for failing to meet his demands. This is abusively controlling behaviour.

His demands are unreasonable. He spends his time in solitary pursuits (YouTube, video games), but demands that you abandon your solitary pursuits (reading) at his whim. This is completely one-sided and a clear sign he is not treating you with respect. Agreeing to something and then not wanting to do it at the time is not great relationship behaviour, but using that as excuse to punish you by criticising you or sulking all evening is abusive. Withdrawing from you for days if he doesn't get what he want is abusive behaviour, it is making you (a) take responsibility, and (b) feel guilty about his bad behaviour.

It does not matter whether his abusive behaviour comes from an inability to control himself, or some childhood insecurities, or him just being a bad person; the fact is that they are abusive and you do not deserve to be treated like that. You should leave your relationship, and not tolerate such behaviour from future partners.

  • Why is it better to leave a partner all of sudden instead of try and fix things? – Cris Sep 23 at 9:29

Having often spent much of my marriage as the more childish partner, I'm going to suggest that helping both yourself and your partner in this situation is more complicated and more involved than you seem to appreciate at this moment.

At the core of it, your partner is "throwing temper-tantrums" because they lack basic relationship skills AND because of their incorrect worldview. You will not be successful in establishing a healthier relationship with your partner if you treat only the symptoms (the temper-tantrums) rather than addressing the deeper issues. And in order to address those deeper issues with your partner, you will need to first learn some things about yourself and improve your own communication skills to be able to help your partner.

One of the books that has really helped me, The Anatomy of Peace, teaches that as long as our primary goal is to change another person we will have limited success. To be successful at helping others change, it must come as a result of loving them and not a deliberate, scoped plan to change them. While I know that this does not technically answer your question, I would ask what your goal is with this relationship? The kind of growth that I know your partner needs is not going to come quickly or easily. Are you really committed to the level of effort to help your partner through this growth?

If the answer is yes, then I would suggest the following to begin from another book that's helped me a lot, Crucial Conversations.

In both scenarios, it sounds like your partner has needs / fears that they are not communicating correctly. It falls to you as the more mature partner then to create a safe space that invites them to begin to evaluate what they are feeling and express those feelings so you can talk through things.

For example, you get home from evening out where he sulked the whole time. When you get home, you could start with something like "It seemed like you didn't enjoy our evening out very much. Can you share why?" He might say, "I don't want to talk about it." At this point, you effectively have to hold a meta conversation where you ask, "Why don't you want to talk about it?" and he'll say, "Because we'll just fight and nothing will change.". At this point he's expressed a valid fear and in order to establish a safe space for him to open up, you need to validate that fear. You might say, "You are correct. In the past discussing these things has just resulted in us fighting. But because I love you and care about your happiness I would like to try again to talk times when you are unhappy and what we need to do to help with your unhappiness. Could we please try discussing what you were unhappy about tonight?" Then he might say, "What will be different this time?" And you might respond, "Because this time I will try to listen without getting angry."

I'd like to highlight a couple of techniques that have helped not only my wife and I to communicate but also to communicate better with our teenage daughter from the above example:

  • Asking "why" questions. Never ask yes/no questions. And every time they respond hone in on another "why" question that you can ask to get them to further open up.
  • You must be willing and able to listen to what they have to say without getting angry yourself. The moment you get angry, the whole thing will shut down. That said, when (note I said "when" and not "if") you do get angry you can help by saying to your partner as calmly as possible what you are also feeling.
  • Validation. When your partner is upset or angry you can begin to create a safe space for them to talk by validating their feelings. One thing that was very hard for me to learn was that even if a person's conclusions are incorrect (if their point of view is skewed or crooked to the rest of the world), their feelings are real and legitimate and come from a place that is real. As a result, it's always possible to validate what your partner is feeling even if you disagree with it.
  • Start with your goal in mind. What do you want from any particular crucial conversation? Is it convince your partner that you are correct? Is it to help one or both of you be happier? Is it to figure out how to have an evening out that you can both enjoy or to figure out boundaries for "me" time?

I'd like to echo what baldPrussian stated with a slightly more nuanced perspective. This behavior from your partner is definitively abusive and manipulative. I would suggest from what you've described that it comes more from his own ignorance and immaturity than from any real malice and he may be able to grow beyond it, if he wants to. There have been moments in my marriage where my spouse sat me down and said in no uncertain terms, 'You must change or we cannot stay married. What do you want?' Those moments were real wake up calls to me. Same thing happened with a job and a boss who cared enough for me as a person to say basically the same thing. One good thing he did was then give me reading assignments and ongoing coaching to help me to grow.

I would highly suggest that you take time to do some reading yourself. Two books that for me were transformative were the Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Group and Crucial Conversations. I would also suggest that you consider finding a good relationship counselor that you can meet with personally to provide ongoing coaching and teaching.

Walk away.

When I was a teen I met a Young Friend, who told me,

I'll 'discuss' anything with anyone. :-) But if it turns into an 'argument' I'll say, "You're right!", and walk away.

IMO it's not your job to control his behaviour, to evoke adult behaviour from him.

So far as I know, this ("walk away") may be good advice for "defusing or preventing" all forms of abuse in a relationship -- i.e. also violence, alcoholism, etc.

There may also be something odd or unhealthy about the relationship, or his view of it, that encourages or permits or reduces him to behave that way -- but I think it's impossible to say what that is given (based on) only your (one-sided) description of the relationship. So another possibility might be "therapy" or "couples' counselling", a.k.a. "marital counselling".


Based on this comment, perhaps too there's some emotional or relationship skill that he didn't learn from/with his parents -- unfortunately I don't know how to supply a lack like that ... except to model (i.e. demonstrate) appropriate adult behaviour yourself (loving behaviour, if it's that kind of relationship), and see whether he responds accordingly, and if not then "govern yourself accordingly".


At the risk of being off-topic, see this topic (about choosing a partner): including this answer and this comment (i.e. that a partner is not a child).


Since you ask it may be that he feels he's not getting enough affection from you (or as you said, "attention"). Meanwhile you're calling him lazy and childish, and complaining about the housework.

I guess this relationship isn't really going well for (doing good for) either of you.

Maybe you ought to split up, or get more in-depth relationship advice than can be managed on a Q+A site like this.


I also think that:

  • During a relationship breakdown, both parties (rightly or wrongly) blame the other, have their own grievances.
  • It would be unskilful for me to "take your side" (or to take his) in the argument, to blame him based on what you said -- e.g. to confirm your view ("yes you're right: he's lazy and childish") -- although even more wrong to deny what you said

    Assuming you're right (i.e. that your description is accurate), even so I'd expect that the behaviour you describe may be situational rather than inherent -- i.e. that it's a reaction to, a result of, this relationship -- not the behaviour which he produces in every relationship (I guess it's not how he behaves at work, for example). But I can't diagnose the relationship dynamic at this distance, based only on what you said (and, you imply, neither can you).

  • "Sulking" is a symptom or example of a communication breakdown

  • A couples' counsellor might, if you both consent, try to facilitate two-way communication -- not by taking sides especially ("yes he's lazy") but by "setting boundaries" -- or as a nerd might put it, by defining a "communications protocol", such as, "wait for your turn, you have to listen to her while she's talking", or, perhaps techniques like "I-messages" and so on ... but, I don't know, I think there are many schools (techniques, philosophies) of relationship counselling
  • If you can't agree on how to relate with each other, if you're unable to do that, then what might be better is a divorce lawyer or equivalent -- who again might (ideally) not take sides as to the cause of of the relationship's ending, but instead try to facilitate a no-fault divorce

Also I'm probably sounding kind of clinical but if I would diagnose something it's that there's maybe a lack of gentleness or affection, one-way or both ways -- not that you should have to (be required to) feel affectionate but, I don't know, you and/or he might want to in a relationship with your partner.

Even that (i.e. "affection") may vary somewhat though, e.g. Buddhism might recommend the Brahma-vihara attitudes as the right way to relate to people, rather than craving and attachment and aversion -- answers should be based on (my) personal experience but it's really hard to presume I know what you each give to, each expect from, this relationship -- hence, you know, I think you'd have to communicate with him about that.

I have been like your partner. It took me thirty years to overcome those issues.

What helped me was being left by my partners after I abused them emotionally in our relationships. Only being left taught me that I needed to change if I didn't want to be alone.

If you stay with your partner, he has no reason to change, because his behavior has no disadvantage for him.

I agree with other folks who've pointed out that your partner's behaviour is controlling and (emotionally) abusive. In my experience, some individuals with this behaviour pattern escalate into more extreme forms of abuse, and some do not. I don't know of any way to predict whether he's going to persist in behaving as he does, or if his behaviour is going to get worse over time. (Instances of true cognitive behavioural change are quite rare, statistically speaking; furthermore, successful changes only ever occur in people when the fear of change is outweighed by the suffering associated with staying the same. Call it "motivation," call it "bottoming out" -- any way you slice it, he won't change unless he wants to change.

It is very likely that he does not see his behaviour as abusive. Indeed, he might claim that he is being "victimized" by your refusal to drop everything and tend to him in seclusion on his timetable. It is very likely pointless to confront him about his behaviour verbally, esp. if you use language like "controlling" and "abusive".

Others in the thread have pointed out that you can't change his behaviour. They are quite right to do so.

So here is where the "real talk" starts: brace yourself, it might be hard to hear:

  • You can't change him, you can only change you.
  • He's probably going to stick with his behaviour. It might even get worse.
  • This relationship isn't 100% bad; if it were, you would have walked away part-way through the first date, amirite? So what was good about it at first? What (if anything) continues to be good about it? Does the good outweigh the bad? Will the good outweigh the bad in one year, in five, in ten?
  • Is there anything in your personal history that suggests you are repeating negative patterns? Is your relationship with your partner similar to the relationship your parents had? How's your self-esteem? Do you feel that you "need" a partner to be ok? Is there some part of you that enjoys "being the adult" while he "behaves childishly"? Do you fear being alone? Do you feel you need a partner in order to survive? My point here is that his "relationship velcro" is a match for yours, so what's that all about?

Here's how I'd proceed if I was now in your shoes (I was in a similar sitch before,tho' in my case my troubled ex-partner was a woman, not a man- I'm a woman too, btw):

  1. Put the focus on what you can control. Forget about trying to figure out why he behaves the way he does or what you can do different to make him do different. You are not the reason he does what he does. Put your energy into examining yourself, your history, your motivations, and how you want to live in the future
  2. Seek support from trusted family, friends, self-help or support groups, and/or a professional.
  3. Don't keep what you are going through a secret; secrets make things worse, not better
  4. Expect that the minute you put the focus on you instead of him, he's very likely gonna freak the eff out. It's called a "change-back!" reaction. If he's got the escalating pattern of problem behaviour, during a change -back reaction, his problem behaviours will increase in frequency and intensity. Keep yourself safe and ask for support from the folks I mentioned in #2.

Good luck in this journey, it's hard but it's worth it.

This might not be the advice you are looking for, but everything you describe are red flags and point to an unhealthy relation with a possibly mentally unstable person.

I would recommend seriously questioning this relationship. What you describe is not the behaviour of a healthy person.

You can probably curtail this particular behaviour using any of the hints given in other answers. However, I agree with many here that this behaviour is indicative of deeper issues, and they will just surface again through some other intolerable behaviour.

I think you first need to evaluate your relationship. Does he show signs of love and support? Are those signs more frequent than his “tantrums”? Does he show genuine happines for your personal achievments? Do you guys have the same future goals? Does he spend most of his time off work with you? Is he passionate and generous in bed? If when you argue, you end up crying, how does he react - does he drop arguments and try to confort you or he is annoyed even more?

If you feel the answers to the questions above are positive, and show that your relationship is otherwise healthy and happy, but feel that his “tantrums” will degrade it, you should solve this.

Can you identify the cause of his “tantrum” behavior? Was he an only child, was he spoiled when he was little or in previous relationships? Is this behavior permanent or occasional? If you find a reasonable cause, at least you have a clue that it is not because he started feeling uncomfortable with your relationship.

Regarding his tantrums, I would just not submit if I feel his behavior is totally injust. If you are both, heading somewhere and he leaves, just go alone. If you need time for yourself just tell him. If you want to spend time together and he has been playing games for hours, do something alone or with your friends. Tell him whenever he makes you feel sad or question the future of you being together. Don’t apologize if you really feel you are right, as this makes him think he is right to treat you like this.

If things don’t change, you may need to discuss plainly about the future of your relationship. When that happens, be prepared to remain strong on your position if he does not show signs of listening to you. Nobody is perfect and to make a relationship work, both have to let go sometimes.

Also, if he ever turns violent towards you, call the police, leave and never look back.

An adult behaving like this is not behaving like a two year old; it means something else when an adult does it. I would let go of comparing with a child and look instead for other words to describe the behaviour.

Predictably, when I try to talk to him about it in a calm moment, he'll have a tantrum right then and refuse to talk to me for some hours or days.

Trying to talk in a calm moment seems the obviously right thing to do. If that isn't possible, then that seems to be the first 'blocker' before you can talk about temper and behaviour.

It sounds like he won't, at the moment, listen to you. Is there someone else who you both trust and respect who he would listen to?

Having worked with elderly people who behave like this I can say that behavior will never change. Visitors would attest that they were always that way and perceive it as getting worse, due to the cognitive and motor issues that develop. These issues causes great frustration which lead to even more tantrums. Since these issues originate internally (faulty memory, tremors, confusion) they cannot be mitigated or controlled.

As others have said it is abusive and manipulative behavior. Ask yourself if you can handle this behavior indefinitely and with more intensity later in life, as it seems that's how it will go. That's my own anecdotal experience however.

Seeing how he seems to care about you, one way is to make him feel guilty. Make yourself look more disappointed by those, than you are. Maybe add some tears even. Passive all the way, that would make him want to protect you, from himself included.

You sound like you're emotionally stable and a strong person and thus serve as a support pillar for him, which is why he allows himself to relax completely around you.

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