Psychotherapy expert: Emotional, moody spouse

Vol XXII: Being a very pragmatic person I am always seeking positive solutions to problems. Yet my wife is volatile moody and extremely emotional on all issues. How is it possible to have meaning relationship?

By DR. MIKE GROPPER
May 12, 2008 13:12
dr mike 88

dr mike 88. (photo credit: )

Dr. Mike is a licensed clinical social worker (USA and Israel) in private practice in Ra'anana. He recently wrote a column called "Psych-Talk with Dr. Mike" in which the feedback from readers was excellent. He has decided to shift gears and invite readers to submit their questions concerning a wide range of topics: child development, adult problems, addictions, ADHD, adjustment problems, crises and transitions, trauma, phobia, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bi-polar. He also welcomes questions concerning your marital or couple relationship, family issues, parenting, problems at work, self-confidence, shyness and much more. "I take pleasure having the opportunity to answer your questions in what I hope will be an informative and exciting weekly column in the Jerusalem Post-online edition. Look forward to hearing from you soon." Dr. Mike Gropper, DSW (09) 774-1913 Send your questions for Dr. Mike and please leave your comments on the Q&A below. * * * Psych-Talk with Dr. Mike: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 Click here for Volumes I-IV Click here for Volumes V-IX Click here for Volumes X-XIII Click here for Volumes XIV-XV Click here for Volumes XVI-XIX Click here for Volume XX * * * This column is intended solely to educate and is not a substitute for personal diagnosis or treatment. If you have a difficult problem, please seek advice from your own doctor or mental-health professional. * * * Vol XXII Q: Dear Dr. Mike: Over the past 35 of marriage I have had an ongoing battle with my wife on many issues. Being a very pragmatic person I am always seeking positive solutions to problems. Yet my wife is volatile moody and extremely emotional on all issues. In addition when an issue is troubling her, she is more than likely to go into a negative/depressive state of mind, expecting me to second guess what might be troubling. She never confronts problems on a "let's talk" basis and " let's see how we can come to some acceptable solution. Being observant Jews I always hoped that we could temper our relationship with Torah values, but this is not always the case. How is it possible to have meaning relationship with such a negative individual after so many years of conflict? A: It sounds like you actually have had some type of meaningful relationship if you have stayed together for 35 years in spite of your ongoing battle. There is no doubt from what you describe-you are the practical one; she is the emotional one. Why now does this reach such a crisis point. Many couples find themselves in difficult transition when their children grow up and leave the home. Suddenly, the couple is left alone with each other. This represents a potential opportunity for growth and greater intimacy or a potential crisis where one spouse looks back at the marriage relationship and says, I can't continue living with this person. Keep in mind that we do not marry clones of ourselves; more often we find someone that has certain traits that complement our own traits, and therefore the two pieces fit together as a whole. I think your wife's emotionality helps to balance your over pragmatic approach. What you need to do is to appreciate her feelings and sensitivity to things and instead of being hypercritical, try to listen to her empathetically. One very successful and useful exercise I sometimes prescribe to couples is called "Active Listening". It requires your asking your wife how her day has been or what bothering her when she feels overwhelmed. Your usual response has been, let's see how we can solve the problem, whereas your wife stays depressed and negative. Men have a tendency-it's the way guys have been socialized-to respond to feelings by offering solutions. Women, on the other hand, really don't mind the solution, but firstly, they want to be listened to and have their emotional feelings validated. So, listen to her and after listening ask her if you got it right by repeating back to her what you think she said. If she says yes, that's great, if not start again until you do have it right. Then when you do, tell her that your sorry that she is hurting so much. Validate her emotions. You may just find that once you do this, she will be ready to join you in being more pragmatic to find a solution. * * * Vol XXI Q: Dear Dr. Mike: My husband is well liked. He has many friends, and he has a great sense of humor--until he comes home. When he gets home he announces his entrance with a slammed door and immediately starts yelling. He yells at me and the kids about anything he can find that is wrong in the house--the lights are on, the kids aren't in bed, etc. If everything is in order, he will walk around looking for something to get angry about, then he will start yelling, "why is this here? Who did this? What is going on here?!" When he comes home late, he wakes everyone up with his yelling, and he gets himself into such a red-faced rage that I fear he will have a heart attack. A few minutes later, he is calm and apologetic. I don't think he can control himself--it is as if he craves this "anger storm" every night and cannot help himself. I live on pins and needles worrying about when my husband will come home and start yelling (sometimes he does it while I am talking on the phone to someone, and it is very embarrassing). He has never raised a hand to me, and he is not violent, but his overwhelming anger is terrifying for me. His son from another marriage suffers from bi-polar. Could this also be a manifestation of that disorder? A: First of all, I beg to differ with your description of your husband not being a violent man since he never raised a hand to you. Nevertheless, he is certainly emotionally abusive to you and the kids, and as your state, "terrifying". You say that this only happens when he comes home in the evening and outside, he is well liked. Also, it sounds like you are making excuses for his behavior as you state" it is as if he craves his anger storm" which is routinely followed by his plea for forgiveness. The problem is that you may be feeding into his need to continue this nightly ritual by making excuses and not demanding any change. He may or may not have a bipolar disorder. Certainly irritability is a key factor in bipolar depression or mania, but usually it is not time and place specific. Most individuals suffering from bipolar disorder (4% of the population) do not have such control over their moods. In other words, when irritable and angry, this would flare up also with fellow workers and friends. The fact that his son from a previous marriage has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, doesn't necessarily draw the genetic link to the father either, since the son could have inherited the vulnerability to become bipolar from his mother. A more precise question would be to see if your husband has any first degree relatives who have been diagnosed with the disorder. I would also be curious to know how long this has been going on for. Perhaps, something is bothering your husband and he doesn't know how to deal with his feelings, so he takes it out on all of you and then feels guilty for his behavior. Nevertheless, what ever the causes are, you should not go along and tolerate his outbursts, thereby reinforcing the behavior and enabling him to continue. I think that in a very calm moment, you should demand that you and he both seek professional guidance concerning his behavior. A good place to start would be a marriage counselor. I would also ask your husband to be evaluated by a psychiatrist to rule out bipolar disorder or any other psychiatric disorder that may be contributing to his behavior. Be persistent and don't settle for a continuation of the status quo. Good luck. * * * Send your comments >> Cafe Oleh experts have been chosen for their knowledge and reputation. Cafe Oleh does not take responsibility for any advice they offer.


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