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 ...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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).