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I am becoming increasingly concerned by my wife's outbursts of anger. She has a very short fuse and very few coping strategies, so when something goes wrong (anything from a birthday party invite being declined, to a jar not opening first time, to being hungry), she is prone to rage, usually clenching fists, shouting and swearing and occasionally banging or throwing things. The anger is usually directed at the nearest person, regardless of whether that person has caused the issue. That person is usually me, but occasionally it's our two year old - and that is what is starting to concern me.

I don't want her to swear at our child, and even when the swearing is directed elsewhere I feel bad for our daughter who has to see this display of bad attitude. I confront my wife about it and she admits it's wrong and promises not to do it again - but she does. I genuinely don't think she has any control over it.

I know she would never be intentionally violent towards our child but I know she is right on the border of losing control of her own actions. It is rare that the anger escalates to that point but there have been times that I have just wanted to snatch our daughter away and stand between us, just in case.

I've asked her to see a doctor or other professional (maybe anger management?) but she won't engage in that conversation at all. She's always been a bit like this, but the stresses of parenthood seem to bring it out more and more.

She's otherwise a perfectly intelligent, reasonable and loving person so I'm not interested in any just-leave-her comments. I'm just out of ideas about how to deal with this happening in front of our daughter, because I'm sure if it continues it will harm her emotionally in some way.

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    I am going through same thing with my wife but she lies alot and always angry making my daughter cry by making out she is going to take her life. Today she started hitting me while i was driving and opened the car door while it was moving. My daughter got so scared and started crying. – user17668 Aug 19 '15 at 18:49
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    I think your wife is on the extreme end of anger, where professional help is needed. However, I am quick to anger, and dealing with my kids, this article was really, really helpful: ahaparenting.com/blog/… maybe it will be helpful to someone else looking at this question. – Ida Feb 4 '16 at 23:09
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You're right to be concerned with regard to your daughter's emotional well-being. She is in for a very rough life (it doesn't end when she leaves home) if something doesn't change. In 1986, Ney et al published a seminal study showing that of 5 kinds of abuse (physical, verbal, sexual, physical neglect and emotional neglect), verbally abused children were most negatively affected, with low self-esteem, self-directed anger, aggressive behavior and pessimism about their futures.

You're an adult, and you can handle your wife's unpredictable (or predictable) mood swings. One reason is that as an adult, you know how to keep yourself safe. You are in a situation of being equally as (or maybe even more) powerful as your wife. You have power over your physical self. You can probably also remove yourself physically from an alarming situation.

Your daughter, however, is completely helpless, and depends on her parents to keep her safe in a world that has more than enough challenges to deal with. To allow her to be subjected to a volatile and frightening parent will do a considerable amount of psychological damage.

Imagine, if you can, how you would feel about your wife's rages if you were in an accident and were consequently paraplegic with a limited ability to communicate. You are with her all day (no going off to work) and pretty much totally dependent on her. You have no way to help your wife calm down or to negotiate the situation. She's screaming down at you in your wheelchair, and you can't just roll yourself away. There's little you can do except endure her rage each time and hope she doesn't throw something at you or hit you this time. If you turn your back to her, will she get even angrier? If you can imagine that, you might have a window into your daughter's situation. Young children of emotionally labile parents are sometimes afraid their parent will kill them. Furthermore, your daughter has no recourse except to hope for your protection during these events, which are traumatic regardless of at whom the rage is directed.

Add to that the fact that young children think the world revolves around them. Your daughter will think it's her fault that mommy is so angry. She will grow up thinking she is a bad person who deserves to be emotionally abused.

You say that you don't want to leave your wife, and I want to respect that. But know that to stay, you are acting as if her raging is acceptable behavior (in action, not words).

You can't protect your daughter while her mother is a primary caretaker. As you said,

I confront my wife about it and she admits it's wrong and promises not to do it again - but she does. I genuinely don't think she has any control over it.

You may think she's unable to control it, she might think she's unable to control it, but the truth is, she has no valid reason - none whatsoever, really - to refuse to seek help for her mood disorder.

You don't have many options if you want to stay in this relationship. Some of them are

  • start therapy yourself to learn why your wife behaves the way she does and how you can set healthy boundaries‡
  • to convince her to go for professional counseling and to stay in counseling as long as this is a problem
  • remove your daughter from this situation (can she live with her grandmother?) until your wife learns to control herself permanently

Is the latter option legal? It is if your daughter is being abused (verbal abuse counts.) Start gathering proof with your smart phone, and store the evidence where she has no access to it. Likely she will rage at this as well, but it seems to me you need to start doing something radically different if you want her to get counseling.

What you can do for your daughter is limited, but every bit helps: love her, validate her, give her an emotional vocabulary so she can express herself ('scared/sad/mad/happy/etc.), make sure she knows that your wife's anger is not her fault, and protect her from your wife's rages. She needs you.

‡Your wife blame-shifts: when she's angry, she blames someone or something else for behavior she engages in. It is likely that initially when you stand up to her, she will become angrier and will blame you. You need to be prepared (this is where your therapy will help) to handle this. It is likely to get worse before it gets better.

There's more literature here than you can shake a stick at.
Childhood Adversities, Interpersonal Difficulties, and Risk for Suicide Attempts During Late Adolescence and Early Adulthood
Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment
Preliminary Evidence for White Matter Tract Abnormalities in Young Adults Exposed to Parental Verbal Abuse
Parental verbal abuse and the mediating role of self-criticism in adult internalizing disorders

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    +1 for "Start gathering proof with your smart phone, and store the evidence where she has no access to it" - many courts will side with the mother, and you'll likely need incontrovertible evidence to overcome this inherent bias. – Drew Feb 4 '16 at 3:10
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    On the contrary, the evidence is specifically for the benefit of mom. OP is not leaving his wife (so far). The (original) philosophical basis for psychotherapy is in the discovery of the unknown. When mom gets to the point where she's ready to change, she will need concrete examples of her behavior to show her therapist and herself. – Stu W Feb 4 '16 at 12:51
  • On the contrary contrary. The phone evidence will benefit her the most, directly. The first phase in any of these self-improvement stories starts with getting past denial. Since society in general tends to ignore or humorize female violence there is almost nothing that will force your wife to get therapy for her problem. I've read a few stores regarding a woman seeing herself in a video, or hearing herself in an accidental recording of her own, and has resolved to getting better. – Gorchestopher H Feb 4 '16 at 17:27
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I can't be more complete than @anongoodnurse, but I can say that you must treat this very seriously. You have to decide whether to take care of your wife, or to take care of your child.

You and your wife married each other, and part of that was a (perhaps implicit) promise to take care of each other. But, your wife is an adult. She has friends, relatives, resources. She can reason and make life-altering decisions. If she needed to leave to preserve herself, she could.

Your child, however, depends absolutely on her parents. She cannot change her circumstances; she can only change herself to adapt. She knows little beyond her small family; she's learning just what the world is about, and she's learning it from the two of you. If what happens to her feels wrong, she'll assume that the problem is her, not you, and change her world-model to fit. She is being formed, and it sounds like she's being formed in a damaged mold.

Given this choice, I think the answer is clear: you have to do what it takes to take care of your daughter. Beyond that, read @anongoodnurse's answer carefully, and reach out to people you trust for advice and support. Good luck.

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You have my respect - and alot of other people's I am sure - for posting here and wanting the best for your family situation.

I know she would never be intentionally violent towards our child but I know she is right on the border of losing control of her own actions. It is rare that the anger escalates to that point but there have beentimes that I have just wanted to snatch our daughter away and stand between us, just in case.

I have very little to add to other answers, but have two small comments to add. It may be in these situations that you may need 'to stand up to' your wife though this can be really difficult. I think also it may be helpful if your wife is prepared to apologize afterwards with you daughter about. I don't know if either of these points would be helpful for your situation.

Now I may be completely wrong here, but something that might be going on here is 'baby blues' or post-natal depression in your wife - given your child is 2 years. If this is part of what is going on then finding out about it may lead to possible ways forward.

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    My impression from the question was that the pattern of behavior did NOT start with the birth; and therefore is unlikely to be postpartum depression. – user3143 Jul 7 '15 at 21:09
  • @user3143 - I agree completely, but i thought it worth mentioning in case it was relevant. – tom Jul 8 '15 at 9:39
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I can only say that in such a situation if your wife doesn't want to seek treatment, or such doesn't work, you should start recording such outbreaks and keep the records in a place she can't get to as proof for your divorce filing.

I'm living through a similar dilemma. Not quite so extreme, but my wife allows herself to get angry, scream and otherwise strike out against our three year old daughter. Knowing the impact this may have on my daughter I SHOULD file for divorce immediately (so as to protect my daughter). The problem is that you have to weight in the psychological impact of loosing one parent in her everyday life as good or bad as her mother may be. Besides that's just the best case scenario. As fathers we are all at a very large disadvantage in any separation or divorce proceedings when arguing that we should be given custody of our children.

Even if the mother is abusive and has serious problems as a parent it's difficult to prove otherwise, besides the courts generally side with the mothers anyway. What happens then? As long as you are at home (whatever hell you may have to go through each day from your wife), you are still there to protect your child at least to a certain degree. You may try to explain such situations, soften the psychological blows each of those screaming sessions causes the child. After such a divorce where yo loose the custody of your child, you actually abandon him/her to live alone with the psychologically abusive mother.

So it's a very difficult situation and you are the only one who knows well enough the situation to decide what the best course of action may be. A therapist may help you personally deal with the situation and may be find a way to convince your wife to get help, so yes, that's a must if possible. But most importantly you should look for a therapist that may also counsel you on how to help your child to deal with the daily psychological blows perpetrated by his/her mother. Being at a formative age, the experiences a child lives through at a young age have a large and sometimes vital impact on the rest of his/her life.

  • Good points, especially about finding a therapist/counselor for OP. OP needs to look after himself, so he can look after his daughter. – sleske Dec 6 '16 at 10:49
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Your wife may not find it meaningful enough to change without encouragement. A lawyer might help, but it might create an additional level of tension--even if you explain you have no intention of divorce.

Bullies will generally stop bullying when their behavior has negative consequences towards them. A call to the police may sound extreme, but it may be the impetus your wife needs to put in the interpersonal work required to make changes.

However, many counties have a mental health crisis line staffed by Master's level social workers. Calling the crisis line will be an effective way to communicate the seriousness of your concern without risking an arrest.

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    Lawyers? Police? That's really just pouring oil onto the fire. The wife doesn't need a lawsuit, she needs therapy. If OP is going to call someone, he should call a crisis hotline as you suggest - OP needs professional help about how to handle the situation, about how to help his wife get the therapy she needs even when she doesn't realize or want it. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 15 '16 at 6:53
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How do you know she is "right on the border of losing control"? Has she lost control and been violent toward you? If not, you don't really know; some people who yell or even throw things are still well within control, and some people who keep their frustration bottled up can be more likely to break out into violence unexpectedly.

For what it's worth, I grew up in a household where my mother tended to yell a lot. In arguments with my father she would occasionally throw dishes on the floor and break them. She might have tried to hit him once or twice, unsuccessfully since he was much bigger and quicker. With my brother and me, she limited herself to the yelling. We got used to it and ignored it, and it did no emotional damage.

Since you mention a correlation with being hungry, you may be able occasionally to suggest that she have a bite to eat when this starts happening - or even when it hasn't yet. It will help if she recognizes the correlation with hunger. You might also suggest that she check with a doctor regarding possible hypoglycemia, metabolic syndrome, or diabetes, which can lead to irregular blood sugar levels that might be contributing to the problem.

With my mother, I am pretty sure the dish breaking occurred in arguments when she was convinced my father was not listening to her. Your situation may not be similar in this respect, but if and when the yelling is in the context of an argument, you could try listening carefully and doing your best to understand her point of view, even if that's difficult in the heat of the moment.

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As I see it, the best way to fix this issue is, legal divorce. You'll obviously get to keep your child if you prove the ill effects of the child's mother on it. As it's very young, another mother shouldn't be a problem. According to me, when women become intolerable, don't tolerate them.

protected by Community Dec 6 '16 at 12:03

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