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My wife and I have been together around 20 years, and for the most part, we have an excellent relationship. However ...

Like anyone else (I suppose) I get tired, depressed, gloomy every once in a while. When this happens, I'm not nice to be around -- I don't yell or get violent, but I'm impatient, irritable, snippy, rude, dismissive. In short, I'm an a#$-hole (temporarily).

Typically, my wife notices and asks "what's wrong". Sometimes I'm reluctant to say "I'm tired" because it makes me feel like a decrepit slothful loser. I have to accept that I'm getting old and don't have as much strength/energy as before. My problem, obviously. Sometimes I just don't know what's bothering me, so I answer (truthfully), "I don't know". This sounds like a lie, of course, so the downward spiral begins.

She typically accuses me of "ruining the mood" of an event or some other planned good time. She often assumes that she has done something "wrong" to make me "mad" (her words).

If she yells at me, I try to explain myself quietly and calmly. If she's yelling, and I'm not, it seems to make her even more angry. Occasionally, she will fly into a violent rage, and physically attack me. I defend myself, and try to stop her from doing any bodily damage. I think it's just venting, because I'm sure she could injure me if she really wanted to. If things go on too long, I sometimes get to feel that I've taken enough abuse, and can't control myself any longer, so I yell back. Bad to worse.

Playing at amateur psychologists, we think that the behavior stems from her relationship with her father. He was violent and abusive with her entire family, and everyone had to be very careful whenever it looked like he was in a bad mood and might explode. When I'm in a funk, we think it brings back memories of these terrible times, and the emotional damage he has done to her. The attacks on me are (maybe, in some sense) what she wanted to do to her father, but couldn't??

Her father was a monster (from what I hear), and it pains me greatly that I sometimes remind her of him. But I can't be happy and cheerful all the time. Some of my ideas for handling the situation are ...

  1. Get better at faking happiness? I hope I don't have to do this. I hope that I can show my true feelings to my wife, if no-one else.
  2. Help her understand that my happiness is not her responsibility, and my gloominess is not her fault. I've tried this, but it doesn't seem to work. Inside her, there is a voice more powerful than mine that tells her that she has done something wrong.
  3. Somehow distinguish myself from her father. He's dead, and I'm not him. But we're both men, so (to my dismay and disgust) we apparently have something in common. How do I convince her that I'm different?
  4. Try to be nicer. I can't avoid getting stressed or tired or gloomy, occasionally, but maybe I can somehow prevent this from leading to rudeness and conflict. I've tried. It's very hard, and I fear that I might be too old to change.

I understand that no-one here can tell me what I should do. I'm just looking for thoughts or additional approaches that I might consider, or better ways to communicate the ideas outlined above. All four ideas involve some interpersonal skill (faking happiness, assuaging guilt, showing that I'm different, or being nicer when under stress). Apparently my skills are lacking, so looking for ways to do better.

My question: how can I better express the four ideas listed above (or some alternative ones), so that we can eliminate the downward spirals into violence (verbal or physical).

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    Welcome to IPS, I'm sorry you are in this difficult situation. Unfortunately, we can't answer "what should I do" question here. We can only help you if you want to communicate something to someone. However, I strongly suggest that you and your wife seek medical, professional help. This is a difficult situation and it will likely not be resolved overnight. – Ælis Jan 2 at 10:46
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    Hi bubba! Interpersonal Skills are the behaviours you use to interact well with other people (in this case, your wife). Now, what part of your behaviours would you like to change, to interact better with your wife? Your question would go a lot better if it had a goal, some desired outcome, like described here. Please take a few minutes to the entire how to write a good question post, hopefully it'll make thing a bit clearer. – Tinkeringbell Jan 2 at 11:24
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    Have you made any attempts at explaining this situation to her and if so, how did they go and what is keeping you two from remembering the discussed points? – AK_is_curious Jan 2 at 11:52
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    Okay. Then it would be really helpful if you could describe clearer what happens when your wife sees you being anything else but happy, and how that escalates towards 'violent rage'. If you could describe what you do in response to her in such situations, that would be really helpful, as that's the part of your behaviour that influences your interaction with her. – Tinkeringbell Jan 2 at 13:33
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    Have you two tried talking about this with a counselor or other mediation? Have you and your wife ruled out PTSD? Per my experience a defensive overreaction of rage when experiencing a relatively minor level of 'threat' - In this case your unkind but not actively aggressive behavior- screams PTSD trigger. – Meg Jan 2 at 20:38
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I've seen simular situations. Husband is uncommunicative, wife asks "What's wrong?", husband answers "Nothing's wrong" and then the wife starts with "There must be something wrong. You're acting strange. What's going on?" and so on and so forth. The mood keeps spiraling down.

The problem here is neither your bad mood nor her father. The problen is that neither of you can read each others thoughts. You need to communicate.

If your wife asks you about your day or mood or whether you're alright, don't lie. If you're tired, tell her honestly. If you're in a bad mood, tell her about what caused it. That might distinguish you from her father as well, especially if he always stayed silent until he exploded.

Make general plans for whenever a bad mood hits you again. What calms you down and makes you relax? Reading a book, listening to musik, punching a sandbag, jogging for an hour? Do you feel comfortable cuddling or sitting with your wife or do you need to be alone? Try different things and see what works for you.

If you notice yourself getting grumpy, tell your wife that you're going to do (relaxing activity alone) or that you'd rather do (relaxing activity with her). Don't just stay silent or retreat into solitude without saying a word. You need to communicate with your wife to stop her from assuming the worst.

What happens if you are uncommunicative is that you both assess the same situation completely different. You may stay silent simply because you're tired. Your wife notices you being silent and doesn't know whether you're tired or offended by something she did or angry at her or whether you don't love her anymore or or or... Saying something as simple as "I'm tired" or "Bob was an a*hole today" stops the spiral of thoughts immediately.

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    Thanks. Sounds like good advice. We had a long talk about the situation this morning. One problem is that sometimes I don't know why I'm down. Then my wife asks "what's wrong", and I answer (truthfully), "I don't know". This sounds like a lie, of course, so the downward spiral begins. Also, I'm sometimes reluctant to say "I'm tired" because it makes me feel like a decrepit slothful loser. I have to accept that I'm getting old and don't have as much strength/energy as before. My problem, obviously. – bubba Jan 3 at 3:26
  • Also, as I wrote, she often assumes that she has done something wrong to cause my bad mood. I try to tell her that she didn't, but somehow I can't convince her. Her inner voice is too strong for me to overcome. So, I'm trying to communicate, but it's not working. – bubba Jan 3 at 4:31
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    If she assumes she caused your bad mood, saying "it wasn't you" isn't helping much. Stating a reason that lies outside the influence of your wife is better, even if it's just "the rain makes me gloomy". I advice against making up white lies if you truely don't know. Proposing a relaxing activity with your wife could reasure her that she didn't cause the mood (like watching a film together, making hot cocoa for the both of you or lying on tge couch). – Elmy Jan 3 at 8:18
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    I would add to this - a change as simple as going from "I don't know" to "I'm not sure, I am in a funk." can mean a world of difference. "I don't know" often sounds like "I don't want to say" to people whereas "I'm not sure" sounds like a question that you're trying to answer. It's all about communicating something. – Ethan The Brave Jan 3 at 16:51
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    I agree with the general sentiment of this answer, but I think it falls short on the wife's part in this. After all, OP clearly stated: "If she's yelling, and I'm not, it seems to make her even more angry. [...] fly into a violent rage, and physically attack me.". This is serious. Additionally, some of his statements and general outlook, make me strongly suspect that she is dishing out psychological abuse as well. (see: "ruining the mood", "I am tired" is not ok to say, he thinks "faking happiness" is a valid way to go, he feels guilty for being the same gender as her father) – AK_is_curious Jan 4 at 10:12
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Me and my wife have a keyword to communicate to the other side that we are grumpy today/at the moment. Everybody is down sometimes or just edgy (out of hunger for example). The other one just knows to let its partner alone for a while, that it is nothing personal. He/she just needs a piece of quiet. Works like magic. The point is not to ask further as the person is already edgy.

  • Hi and welcome to IPS! Thanks for sharing your experience! One thing I'm curious about, how did you establish that practice of using a keyword? Did it just happen organically, or do you have some suggestions for introducing the idea to one's partner? – Em C Jan 8 at 2:48
  • Actually, there is a theatre play from which was the inspiration. One character there, a husband, used to relax after work by "studying" exchange rate of japanese currency ('yen'). For the wife it did not any sense. He wouldnt ever travel to Japanese. But for him it was not Yen, only peace and quiet for a while. We use this "I have a yen" to express that we need the same. Peace and quiet for a while. No hard feelings. – Divisadero Jan 8 at 8:18
  • And how to introduce the idea? Maybe just tell her the same story about yen exchange rate. (And sorry for the english btw) – Divisadero Jan 8 at 8:21
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The proposed solution you provided above can work (maybe) in the short run; but that's about it. You can delve into the philosophy of 'why I'm like this' and 'how can I stress out that it's not about her' etc

I'm going to answer your question

"some alternative ones"

It's about you and no one else

When I'm confront with those down feelings (like most people on the planet) my strategy that works very well is to detach myself from everyone and do the things that I like. One thing that I know that doesn't help is to try to articulate my state 'why I'm like this'. I found out that delving into the complexity of the situation and try to articulate the problem for my 'state' simply promote antagonism by everyone around me.

So what do I do: Oh...this is where it gets really good: I wear my high-end sport clothes and I go to run for an hour or bike for 2 hours whatever the weather permits. I listen to my music and by the time I get back...I'm full of energy and ready to swallow the sweet world. Yes, it takes me one hour to get back on my feet from state 'grumpy' to 'full_energy'.

What works for me is to focus on me for 1 or 2 hours and then I'm back to family. BTW, my wife supports me 100% on this. When I tell her I'm going to run she knows that when I'm back we can talk about the next vacation :-)

Approaches

One approach is to tell your wife that you need to detach yourself from everyone else and focus on yourself and one hour to yourself will fix it.

Another valid approach is to ask your wife to join you for a jugging and after 30 minute of walk you can discuss the reasons for which led you to this ‘state’. You will be amazed to see that when engaged in phaical activity the brain both perceive and transmit different vibes into the conversation.

Expectations You wrote

Wife wants me to be happy (or act happy) all the time

Everyone would love to be happy at all time but that's impossible - we're human and we're wired this way. Just make sure you set a clear expectations with your wife from the beginning that there would be moments where you will not be yourself per se. Where you will be 'off' just like her and that's ok but you will seek constant solution to solve it.

  • Thanks very much. In ancient times, running or biking or swimming worked for me, too. But nowadays, the funks are often associated with physical tiredness, so exercising is a step in the wrong direction. Music still works, though. – bubba Jan 6 at 9:09
  • There's a timing issue, though: I'd have to get out of the house before the trouble started. Once it starts, I like to stick around to make sure my wife doesn't do any physical damage to herself. I sometimes have to block the door to prevent her from driving off in the car, for example. – bubba Jan 6 at 9:12
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    @bubba "Physical damage to herself" is a tidbit of information you left out of your original question (or I didn't interpret it correctly). This sounds like your wife really needs the help of a professional psychologist or therapist to work through her issues. Every couple has some arguments, but there shouldn't be physical violence involved. Therapy would make your wife's live easier and happier as well as yours. – Elmy Jan 6 at 9:47
  • @Elmy : I didn't mean to imply that my wife would willfully injure herself. It's just that a person who is extremely angry should not be driving a car (in my opinion). – bubba Jan 7 at 0:16

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