Carolyn Hax: Spouses’ ‘project’ means one yells, one tiptoes around



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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My spouse and I have been working on a project together. Multiple times my spouse has said, “I’m trying to figure this out,” and I have tried walking away to let them, only to get yelled at for abandoning them. I’ve tried contributing thoughts … only to get yelled at for not having patience. I’ve stayed silent and patiently waited … only to get yelled at for doing nothing. And I’ve said, “Okay, I’ll let you figure this out,” so I acknowledge hearing them and providing a reason for my non-participation … only to get yelled at because it’s something WE need to figure out.

Most recently I asked my spouse to be sure to say what they mean, then got yelled at because they said what they meant.

It’s beginning to lead to my feeling of always being wrong with no right choices, which feels like having to walk on tiptoes on shattered glass and/or immediately apologize for giving the wrong answer or making an error. It’s a feeling my spouse says they see on me and is not a good look and something I should work on. If I say okay, then I’m told I’m just not listening and brushing the comment off.

What am I not seeing that is going on?

That’s what’s going on. You’re seeing all the elements of it, but not the whole of what it means.

That is a lot of yelling, negating, gaslighting.

What I see that is not going on is your holding a baseline of self-advocacy: saying to Spouse, “I’ll be reading my book. I will not be yelled at. I will gladly talk about this when you’re calm,” then leaving the room.

Then not budging even if your spouse yells at you for leaving. Not one nanometer. Don’t engage with yellers, not even a spouse. If they follow you to keep yelling, then leave the house.

Because it is abuse and it is not okay. Stand up for yourself. And do not stay in a relationship with someone who continues to yell at you after you’ve named the problem.

So that you’re not taking my word for it, and to manage this safely, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or thehotline.org.

Re: Project: How about getting more to the root of it all? Have you worked together on a project in the past? What’s going on?

He’s clearly angry/upset/frustrated. Find out why, perhaps.

Anonymous: Maybe that will work if the obnoxious behavior is isolated to this one project — but I find it hard to believe it is, given the intensity. And even then the yelling and blaming are unacceptable.

We don’t know the gender of the spouse, by the way.

Re: Project: There’s no moment of, “Aha! So that’s why you were repeatedly treating me with verbal and emotional abuse!” This cannot be fixed. People old enough to be married should have a basic handle on their emotions. I lived this way for far too long, where I twisted myself into a pretzel to find the “right” way that wouldn’t set him off. There is none. I’m sorry.



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