Is Your Partner “Always” Upset?

Is Your Partner Always Angry?

Is your partner “always angry?” As a couples therapist and marriage counselor, I often hear (or see) couples in counseling where one partner is saying, “Why am I so irritable?!” While their long-suffering spouse nods their head in agreement. As a marriage and family therapist, I take a systemic view of relationships and seek to understand how couples are (whether they know it or not) working together to create their negative relationship dynamic.

Even though it can seem like one partner’s “anger issues” and lack of emotional intelligence are THE problem in the relationship, there is often more to the story. Without even realizing it, you’re likely creating this dynamic together. This insight is important because, with it, you can both become much more self-aware of how you’re impacting each other, and will have much more control over your ability to improve communication, manage your emotions, and have the kind of healthy relationship you want. Really!

“I’m Always Angry!”

Has your partner or someone close to you mentioned that you seem like you’re always angry? If you are the one who feels like it is hard to control your emotions, it can be really useful to consider the intersection between your own reactions (and take responsibility for them), as well as to consider how your relationship dynamics may be contributing to your tendency to get upset. While individual factors like trust issues, low self-esteem, or codependency might need to be explored on your side of the equation (barring any mental health issues such as depression, which can also lead to irritability), if your “anger issues” are typically happening in the context of your relationship you may be entrenched in a pursue-withdraw relationship dynamic. (With you being the pursuer). I hope you listen to the podcast below to get more insight into this, and how you can step out of this unhealthy relationship dynamic.

Without even realizing it, you’re likely creating this dynamic together.

“They’re Always Angry!”

Does it feel like you’re walking on eggshells in your relationship? And that your partner is always angry, always quick to react negatively in any situation? This is a difficult communication dynamic that brings many couples to the online marriage counselor’s office, for sure.

If you’re dealing with this relationship problem, you’ve probably become more careful and guarded around your partner over time. You love them, and want them to be happy, but it seems like you can never do anything right. Or, at least, not for long. Then something happens and they’re mad at you again.

All you want is peace and harmony, but it can start to feel impossible when you’re living with someone who seems to always be upset about something. If it’s been going on for a while, you might feel increasingly helpless about how to make things better between you.

Or, if this has been going on for a REALLY long time, you might have begun to think that your partner is just a cranky, overly emotional, possibly irrational, chronically unhappy person for whom nothing will ever be good enough. You may even be wondering if it’s time to call it quits in this relationship. If that’s the case, I’m very happy that you’ve found this podcast — we have no time to waste!

Grow, Together.

Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.

The Pursue / Withdrawal Relationship Dynamic When a Partner is Always Angry

First of all, you should know that having one partner in a relationship that “pursues” and one who “withdraws” is a very common communication dynamic, and one that experienced marriage counselors can help you with. (Particularly those who are well-versed in evidence based forms of marriage counseling such as the Gottman Method, or Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Even though it feels so hard when you’re going through this kind of communication problem, it is something that many couples resolve successfully. There is no reason why you can’t do it too — and when you do, your relationship can be stronger than ever before. But like all relationship problems, it is unlikely to resolve on its own. You need some knowledge and basic skills before it will get better.

And that’s what we’re going to work on today: In part two of our “Communication Problems, and How to Fix Them” mini-podcast series, we’re going be talking about how to tame the tiger glaring at you from across the living room, and bring the peace back into your home. If you haven’t already, please listen to the first podcast in this series (posted last week) to learn about some of the basic concepts that we’ll be building on today. Then, we’ll talk about:

  1. Why your partner seems angry, irritable, critical, or hostile.
  2. What this dynamic does to your relationship, and the damage it can do unless you take action to stop it.
  3. What you can do to restore the emotional trust in your relationship, and start having conversations again — instead of fights.

I sincerely hope that this communication advice helps the two of you, and makes it easier for you to talk to each other.

Of course, if you feel that working on your relationship with a good marriage counselor, couples therapist or relationship coach would be the most direct route to making positive changes in your relationship dynamic, 1) you’re probably correct and 2) you’re invited to work with us. Get started by requesting your free consultation session to talk about your hopes and goals with a relationship expert.

With love and respect,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. One easy, low key way to start creating positive change in your relationship is to do relationship building activities with your partner. You can listen to this podcast together, or invite them to take our “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz” with you, to get the conversational ball rolling.

P.P.S. Of course, trying to talk with your partner about their anger issues may or may not be a good idea. As I discuss in this podcast, while the ideas, tools and techniques I offer are very effective for helping resolve garden-variety communication problems there are situations in which it is not appropriate for you to try these out. For example, there is a big difference between “angry,” and “abusive.” If you are in a relationship where you or someone in your home is experiencing verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse you don’t need a podcast — you need professional help. Please visit my “emergency resources” page to get started in finding a competent mental health professional in your community. Xo, LMB

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55 Comments

  1. Its funny, you spelled out my most recent relationship with this podcast. The pursue/withdraw dynamic. I didnt know how to cope with his angry demeanor or words when he wanted to get me to talk to him, i only further withdrew or got more defensive and it only escalated from there. My therapist thinks we started showing a flat out lack of compassion and respect because neither of us knew how to talk to each other or get what we needed at that point. My dad always said, a friend isnt someone that helps you in a time of need, its someone who respects your boundaries. We started losing sight of that, lost our friendship and therefore our relationship. Never lose respect for one another. If you show a lack of respect, youre bound to lose their trust.

    1. I could not agree more William. I recently came across the concept of “falling into respect” with someone vs “falling into love.” I think that you hit the nail right on the head. It sounds like you have a lot of great insight and are doing good work in loving and respecting yourself while dealing with a difficult relationship situation. Thank you for sharing your perspective. All the best, Lisa

    2. this my current relationship..he’s always pissed and grumpy for no reason at all..when i try to talk to hum he shoots down my emotions and says hes tired of talking about it..I’m tired and depressed all the time now..he says he loves me but acts like a piece of crap towards me. I don’t know what to think anymore

      1. Check to see if he is diabetic, if he takes steroid meds, or is in pain. None of this excuses this but it can help you distnguish when he is really being an ass for no reason.

  2. Hi Lisa,
    I’m experiencing the EXACT same situation. My partner and I were best friends in high school years ago (now both 26) and have actually started dating within a year. We decided to rush things and had to buy a home after having a child together. I started struggling a lot with alcohol because I felt he emotionally withdrew from me- for I am the hypersensitive one and he is the angry, hostile partner who has cut off all intimacy. I’m not sure how to repair it. For example, what can I say to an angry person that critiques you in a mean way. “Don’t you want to be better?” “Are we finally turning off the lights in the house?” Almost in a passive aggressive way. I listened to your podcast and was just confused on how to figure out what they are really upset about. Please e-mail me back! Huge fan.

    1. KM, thank you for reaching out. You have had so many big changes, so quickly, it is normal that things would feel stressful. (Newish relationship, new house and new baby in the space of a year? And some recovery work in there too? That is a lot!) And when people are feeling overwhelmed and experiencing so many major life events all at once it can be a breeding ground for arguments, emotional withdrawal, and disconnection. But what is also true is that most couples need to LEARN how to communicate with each other, and I’m hearing in your story that you two have not done that important work together (yet). And my goodness, you need to!

      Also, I am so glad that my podcasts are helpful to you, but please know that the type of dynamic you are describing is not one that can be resolved with few quick tips or self help kinds of information, like the type I provide in my podcast. In order for this to change, it will likely involve you and your partner sitting down with a good marriage counselor who can begin to help you both learn and grow. You’re both going to have to look at your own stuff, and get support in hearing each other in a new way and then learning how to communicate differently. This is especially true since you’re describing the presence of emotional triggers happening on both sides.

      I sincerely hope that you make an appointment with a good couples counselor who can help you both learn how to understand each other, develop empathy for each other, and learn productive and respectful new ways of communicating with each other — especially during times of stress. Here’s the link to schedule a free consultation session if you’d like to do this work with one of the relationship coaches at Growing Self. Over the next months and years I hope that you remember that great relationships don’t just happen, they are grown. People who have wonderful relationships are the ones who take is seriously, and who open themselves up to learning HOW to “do” great relationships.

      Most people do not do this. They do whatever reflexive thing they learned how to do in their families, for better or for worse, and it does not go well. There are a few exceptionally privileged people who got to grow up in families where mature, healthy people had healthy, self aware relationships with each other and modeled things like emotional regulation, stress management, effective teamwork, open communication, and how to handle inevitable conflict in a constructive way. The rest of us (myself included) had to very deliberately learn how to do all of the above in order to have strong, successful marriages.

      You and your husband can totally do this too, and I hope you do.

      Among other things, you’re a family now — and little eyes are watching. Your investment in creating a healthy relationship with your husband will not just benefit you and your life, it will become a foundation of stability and trust for your children’s future as well as model healthy relationships for them. The investment you make in your marriage can create a stable, respectful, loving and functional family which is the greatest gift you can possibly give a child. You ALL deserve to have that type of family, and you do have the power to create it — with the right support.

      Wishing you all the best KB. Stay in touch! 🙂 Lisa

    2. Sometimes they are upset or remorseful at the “choice” that they made in the person they committed to when the see or think of what they “could have had” in a partner or a “life”. Instead of making the best of their life with their partner they sabatoge it when they get “responsibilities” (mortgage, babies, limited freedom, etc…) Making the other person feel like they “trapped” them while never accepting THEIR role in the relationship from the beginning. A straight infantile move on their part. They forget that the other person had better”choices” too.

  3. This is great advice… except that it doesn’t work with narcissists. Narcissists don’t want solution to issues. So this approach unfortunately will give the narcissist another opportunity to abuse and get narcissistic supply. I wish it worked. But it doesn’t. Great advice for healthy individuals though.

  4. Having a child is sometimes the only thing keeping us together. She tells me I am terrible at everything I do. I am corrected on everything, even tells me how to do my job! She hasn’t worked in years. The stress of work, and not being able to let my guard down after work is a lot. We see a couples therapist, but it’s always an hour of how I suck and how I need to improve. I learned if I spoke out in therapy it was hell to pay on the ride home, and even trying to go to sleep that night. She never dropped whatever I brought up. I’m stuck in a depression and counseling seemed to backfire. What do I do?

    1. This sounds like such a terrible situation and I’m sorry you’re going through it. My first question: I know you two are in “couples counseling” but are you working with an actual marriage and family therapist? 95% of clinicians who provide couples counseling have hardly any training in this highly specialized type of work, and it makes a huge difference in outcomes. Here is an article to learn more about this: How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor.

      Also, my second question: Does your couples counselor practice evidence-based forms of couples therapy? That also really matters, and has a huge impact on outcomes. In particular, you’ll want to work with one who has training and experience in either the Gottman Method of Marriage Counseling, or Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Both of these modalities specifically address the types of anger / hostility you’re describing. Without that type of focused work, it is a difficult dynamic to change.

      Third question: Do you (and / or your wife) actually still want to be with each other? I ask this because sometimes when couples feel extremely stuck and there’s so much hostility and negativity that seems like it persists no matter what you try to do to change it, one of the partners is really not that interested in improving the relationship. (Sounds odd, for people to be in couples therapy but not really interested in improving the relationship, but it’s truly not that uncommon. Please listen to this podcast about “Discernment Counseling” for more info!

      Lastly, while I am all for saving and repairing marriages and families when ever possible, sometimes a relationship can become so toxic that it’s not fix-able. You can check out “When to Call it Quits in a Relationship” for more info about how to tell when it’s time to throw in the towel. If you’re seriously considering divorce, you can also listen to “Amicable Divorce” for some advice from a divorce lawyer on how to (hopefully) achieve a healthy, respectful, and collaborative divorce (and coparenting relationship) if that turns out to be the best option here.

      So hard. Anyway. I hope these resources help you, and I wish you all the very best on this challenging journey…

      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  5. I think listening is the problem in a ton of relationships after a while, when each person turns inward and focuses on what they are lacking/what they need and not what the other person needs and is actually saying because they are hurting too much. I say this by being totally guilty of that. Without knowing the situation a whole lot, but being the angrier person in my relationship married to someone recovering from alcohol who is more passive and avoidant in communication, I can say that I have probably screamed the “Don’t you want to be better” question a bunch of times and I truly am unhappy with a whole lot of his traits and habits, to the point of debating if they are deal breakers. Again, your situation could be completely different, but here is where I come from when I say that… I am frustrated with my diminishing attraction towards said person, because I want a partner who I do accept and am actually attracted to, respect and feel as equal. I have been in such relationship and my behaviour was drastically different in how I treated that person (there were other issues). Initially, current husband used to refuse responsibility of actually becoming a better person, healthier, more active, more successful, more of whatever it is that meets my standards of a healthy attractive person. I am careful to have realistic standards but I also refuse to lower them. I am active, educated and always interested in growth. The times I’ve been frustrated, it was from the same pain and hurt of not being able to connect because the partner in question did not take care of himself, did not work on self development, self help, spiritual growth, emotional growth, you name it and my pain is not so different… it is longing to connect and to be on the same page. However,I recognize I must not judge the growth of another just because it doesn’t match my expectations of what it should be. There is also the thing with people who struggle with alcohol, a lot of things are said but not done. Big things turn into small things. So at this point I also get frustrated when he says he is going to turn off the lights and go to bed with me, but then I got to bed and wait 1 hour…. 2 hours…. I either fall asleep or get angry while he has lost track of time watching a show or whatever. He is sober now but there are a lot of left over traits. I don’t know who you are or what you’ve been through, how you live your life. I’m just wondering if there is even a little bit of that from his perspective. At the same time, there are people who are straight up controlling and narcissistic and that’s just their default to criticise and blame, and that usually comes from childhood having had the same treatment from others and needs a lot of work and self reflection. Is he capable of that, does HE do that? In my case, my mom was always critical, blaming and yelling so I recognize this is my default language and absolutely hate it, but at my worst I do become her. Therapy (individual and as a couple) in whatever form that may be, is a must. This is a self feeding cycle that takes two to keep it going. In any case, no person deserves criticism but if he is overall a great person, it is easier to blame and point the finger than to speak in “I feel” terms.

  6. Recently this is my relationship in a nutshell. A week ago he packed his clothes and left. Came back and talked to me, then took him 4 days to bring in the clothes. That was 2 days ago. This morning after letting him sleep from 7pm last night til 1 this afternoon he says to me, are you really expecting me to put those away? I ended up doing it to diffuse the situation. But while I was he just said how much I piss him off. He used to show me so much affection and still does on some days but most days are like this. Says he’s better off alone. I don’t know what to do .

  7. Its funny, you spelled out my most recent relationship with this podcast. The pursue/withdraw dynamic. I didnt know how to cope with his angry demeanor or words when he wanted to get me to talk to him, i only further withdrew or got more defensive and it only escalated from there. My therapist thinks we started showing a flat out lack of compassion and respect because neither of us knew how to talk to each other or get what we needed at that point. My dad always said, a friend isnt someone that helps you in a time of need, its someone who respects your boundaries. We started losing sight of that, lost our friendship and therefore our relationship. Never lose respect for one another. If you show a lack of respect, youre bound to lose their trust.

  8. I could not agree more William. I recently came across the concept of “falling into respect” with someone vs “falling into love.” I think that you hit the nail right on the head. It sounds like you have a lot of great insight and are doing good work in loving and respecting yourself while dealing with a difficult relationship situation. Thank you for sharing your perspective. All the best, Lisa

  9. You are very kind Cristyna. I’m glad the info you found here has been helpful to you. That’s why I do this! xo, Lisa

  10. Hi Lisa,
    I’m experiencing the EXACT same situation. My partner and I were best friends in high school years ago (now both 26) and have actually started dating within a year. We decided to rush things and had to buy a home after having a child together. I started struggling a lot with alcohol because I felt he emotionally withdrew from me- for I am the hypersensitive one and he is the angry, hostile partner who has cut off all intimacy. I’m not sure how to repair it. For example, what can I say to an angry person that critiques you in a mean way. “Don’t you want to be better?” “Are we finally turning off the lights in the house?” Almost in a passive aggressive way. I listened to your podcast and was just confused on how to figure out what they are really upset about. Please e-mail me back! Huge fan.

  11. this my current relationship..he’s always pissed and grumpy for no reason at all..when i try to talk to hum he shoots down my emotions and says hes tired of talking about it..I’m tired and depressed all the time now..he says he loves me but acts like a piece of crap towards me. I don’t know what to think anymore

  12. KM, thank you for reaching out. You have had so many big changes, so quickly, it is normal that things would feel stressful. (Newish relationship, new house and new baby in the space of a year? And some recovery work in there too? That is a lot!) And when people are feeling overwhelmed and experiencing so many major life events all at once it can be a breeding ground for arguments, emotional withdrawal, and disconnection. But what is also true is that most couples need to LEARN how to communicate with each other, and I’m hearing in your story that you two have not done that important work together (yet). And my goodness, you need to!

    Also, I am so glad that my podcasts are helpful to you, but please know that the type of dynamic you are describing is not one that can be resolved with few quick tips or self help kinds of information, like the type I provide in my podcast. In order for this to change, it will likely involve you and your partner sitting down with a good marriage counselor who can begin to help you both learn and grow. You’re both going to have to look at your own stuff, and get support in hearing each other in a new way and then learning how to communicate differently. This is especially true since you’re describing the presence of emotional triggers happening on both sides.

    I sincerely hope that you make an appointment with a good couples counselor who can help you both learn how to understand each other, develop empathy for each other, and learn productive and respectful new ways of communicating with each other — especially during times of stress. Here’s the link to schedule a free consultation session if you’d like to do this work with one of the relationship coaches at Growing Self. Over the next months and years I hope that you remember that great relationships don’t just happen, they are grown. People who have wonderful relationships are the ones who take is seriously, and who open themselves up to learning HOW to “do” great relationships.

    Most people do not do this. They do whatever reflexive thing they learned how to do in their families, for better or for worse, and it does not go well. There are a few exceptionally privileged people who got to grow up in families where mature, healthy people had healthy, self aware relationships with each other and modeled things like emotional regulation, stress management, effective teamwork, open communication, and how to handle inevitable conflict in a constructive way. The rest of us (myself included) had to very deliberately learn how to do all of the above in order to have strong, successful marriages.

    You and your husband can totally do this too, and I hope you do.

    Among other things, you’re a family now — and little eyes are watching. Your investment in creating a healthy relationship with your husband will not just benefit you and your life, it will become a foundation of stability and trust for your children’s future as well as model healthy relationships for them. The investment you make in your marriage can create a stable, respectful, loving and functional family which is the greatest gift you can possibly give a child. You ALL deserve to have that type of family, and you do have the power to create it — with the right support.

    Wishing you all the best KB. Stay in touch! 🙂 Lisa

  13. This is great advice… except that it doesn’t work with narcissists. Narcissists don’t want solution to issues. So this approach unfortunately will give the narcissist another opportunity to abuse and get narcissistic supply. I wish it worked. But it doesn’t. Great advice for healthy individuals though.

  14. Check to see if he is diabetic, if he takes steroid meds, or is in pain. None of this excuses this but it can help you distnguish when he is really being an ass for no reason.

  15. Sometimes they are upset or remorseful at the “choice” that they made in the person they committed to when the see or think of what they “could have had” in a partner or a “life”. Instead of making the best of their life with their partner they sabatoge it when they get “responsibilities” (mortgage, babies, limited freedom, etc…) Making the other person feel like they “trapped” them while never accepting THEIR role in the relationship from the beginning. A straight infantile move on their part. They forget that the other person had better”choices” too.

  16. Having a child is sometimes the only thing keeping us together. She tells me I am terrible at everything I do. I am corrected on everything, even tells me how to do my job! She hasn’t worked in years. The stress of work, and not being able to let my guard down after work is a lot. We see a couples therapist, but it’s always an hour of how I suck and how I need to improve. I learned if I spoke out in therapy it was hell to pay on the ride home, and even trying to go to sleep that night. She never dropped whatever I brought up. I’m stuck in a depression and counseling seemed to backfire. What do I do?

  17. Thanks for this podcast Dr. Lisa. I’m currently the angry spouse in our cross cultural relationship. It’s after many years though of putting up with my husbands snarky comments, undermining behaviour and treating me as if I’m not good enough, I tried to remain empathetic though. I know that our relationship could be great but a year ago I reached the end of my rope. And now I am angry and reactive. But he now takes the victim role, withdrawing and not doing his part in building trust in the relationship. I’m actually frustrated with myself for letting this reactive anger control me. I don’t want to give up on the relationship as we have 3 lovely kids but I feel like this is not the person I want to be for them or myself. Carrying around this bitterness and anger is also taking a toll on my health. Any suggestions would be great! Sincerely, Powderkeg 🙁

  18. This sounds like such a terrible situation and I’m sorry you’re going through it. My first question: I know you two are in “couples counseling” but are you working with an actual marriage and family therapist? 95% of clinicians who provide couples counseling have hardly any training in this highly specialized type of work, and it makes a huge difference in outcomes. Here is an article to learn more about this: How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor.

    Also, my second question: Does your couples counselor practice evidence-based forms of couples therapy? That also really matters, and has a huge impact on outcomes. In particular, you’ll want to work with one who has training and experience in either the Gottman Method of Marriage Counseling, or Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Both of these modalities specifically address the types of anger / hostility you’re describing. Without that type of focused work, it is a difficult dynamic to change.

    Third question: Do you (and / or your wife) actually still want to be with each other? I ask this because sometimes when couples feel extremely stuck and there’s so much hostility and negativity that seems like it persists no matter what you try to do to change it, one of the partners is really not that interested in improving the relationship. (Sounds odd, for people to be in couples therapy but not really interested in improving the relationship, but it’s truly not that uncommon. Please listen to this podcast about “Discernment Counseling” for more info!

    Lastly, while I am all for saving and repairing marriages and families when ever possible, sometimes a relationship can become so toxic that it’s not fix-able. You can check out “When to Call it Quits in a Relationship” for more info about how to tell when it’s time to throw in the towel. If you’re seriously considering divorce, you can also listen to “Amicable Divorce” for some advice from a divorce lawyer on how to (hopefully) achieve a healthy, respectful, and collaborative divorce (and coparenting relationship) if that turns out to be the best option here.

    So hard. Anyway. I hope these resources help you, and I wish you all the very best on this challenging journey…

    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  19. I think listening is the problem in a ton of relationships after a while, when each person turns inward and focuses on what they are lacking/what they need and not what the other person needs and is actually saying because they are hurting too much. I say this by being totally guilty of that. Without knowing the situation a whole lot, but being the angrier person in my relationship married to someone recovering from alcohol who is more passive and avoidant in communication, I can say that I have probably screamed the “Don’t you want to be better” question a bunch of times and I truly am unhappy with a whole lot of his traits and habits, to the point of debating if they are deal breakers. Again, your situation could be completely different, but here is where I come from when I say that… I am frustrated with my diminishing attraction towards said person, because I want a partner who I do accept and am actually attracted to, respect and feel as equal. I have been in such relationship and my behaviour was drastically different in how I treated that person (there were other issues). Initially, current husband used to refuse responsibility of actually becoming a better person, healthier, more active, more successful, more of whatever it is that meets my standards of a healthy attractive person. I am careful to have realistic standards but I also refuse to lower them. I am active, educated and always interested in growth. The times I’ve been frustrated, it was from the same pain and hurt of not being able to connect because the partner in question did not take care of himself, did not work on self development, self help, spiritual growth, emotional growth, you name it and my pain is not so different… it is longing to connect and to be on the same page. However,I recognize I must not judge the growth of another just because it doesn’t match my expectations of what it should be. There is also the thing with people who struggle with alcohol, a lot of things are said but not done. Big things turn into small things. So at this point I also get frustrated when he says he is going to turn off the lights and go to bed with me, but then I got to bed and wait 1 hour…. 2 hours…. I either fall asleep or get angry while he has lost track of time watching a show or whatever. He is sober now but there are a lot of left over traits. I don’t know who you are or what you’ve been through, how you live your life. I’m just wondering if there is even a little bit of that from his perspective. At the same time, there are people who are straight up controlling and narcissistic and that’s just their default to criticise and blame, and that usually comes from childhood having had the same treatment from others and needs a lot of work and self reflection. Is he capable of that, does HE do that? In my case, my mom was always critical, blaming and yelling so I recognize this is my default language and absolutely hate it, but at my worst I do become her. Therapy (individual and as a couple) in whatever form that may be, is a must. This is a self feeding cycle that takes two to keep it going. In any case, no person deserves criticism but if he is overall a great person, it is easier to blame and point the finger than to speak in “I feel” terms.

  20. Hi, i know for a fact my partner is diabetic yet he wont change his habits. I have been able to link his extreme mood swings to his severe sugar addictiin. Of course he refuses to address this in any way.His diabetes medicine is 300+ a mo which he complains about yet makes no changes.

    What do you suggest in this case? He expects me to stay in a giid humor no matter what moods he gets in or what he takes out of context daily. I am exhausted.

    No one else has ever said i have a “bad attitude” except for him. This happens whenever i contradict him. He becomes irate and curses me out immediately… i am so tired of the up and down. Especially as it makes no sense.

  21. I have a boyfriend of 22 years and we have a 20 year old daughter together he is always angry and when I apologize about what I could have done to make him angry it just makes him more angry

  22. Sometimes it is hard to know where the line is between garden variety and abusive. Where do you draw the line and call it emotional abuse?

  23. You really hit on what I needed to hear at the moment. My partner and I have tried therapy twice. He is not interested, in feeling I am the one that is broken and needs to be fixed. You put a name to what is happening: pursue/withdraw dynamic. Thank you for reminding me that I cannot change my partner. I also picked up a sweet piece of knowledge that he is experiencing me as not caring for him. I picked up that with him this is a trust issue. You also brought out the fact that anger is a secondary emotion. Pain or fear are the primary emotions. The reason for his feelings of fear is the insecure feelings of his love for me or he feels insecure about my love for him. I love your podcast.

  24. Well, I stumbled on this because of the pain I’m at and trying to figure out what to do as you might imagine. I am the husband that clams up. That keeps walking on eggshells, that avoids been on the same room as to not get into another argument, for reasons that seem utterly irrational to me.

    Its also been 20 years of this, and I keep hoping things will improve somehow. And sometimes it seemed like it did, for a spell. Only to fall back into the same crap.

    Wife has said for years that she wants to seek therapy for herself, because she feels stuck, and depressed. But she never does. Our teenage sons avoid her, and she gets upset that this is happening, but doesnt change the behaviors that are pushing them away. Which she knows. And it seems (to me) that she is mad at me because I get along with them swimmingly and they look me up. My oldest just went to college, and I had to ask him to call mom because he would call me only, and she would get mad at him and me because he didnt ping her. Which I understand. Heck she pushed him into therapy to deal with her. And I didnt go myself because one time I talked with the therapist she got mad at me for talking to him. Which seemed to me to defeat the purpose of it. Similar to the other comment I saw here.

    She gets upset for what seems to me dumb things, and I try to engage patiently and calmly with her, but eventually I either withdraw (but she yells at me) and then I explode like mount vesuvius. This just happened 10 days ago, and she is still fuming. And I cant seem to find the door.

    She keeps telling me that she feels like killing herself, but after years of this, it just feels like emotional blackmail, and just makes me mad. I almost want to tell her “why dont you?” She says she doesnt have anyone, and nobody loves her, not even her kids, etc etc. She is a very negative person, that seems to always look for a fault on everything, or anyone. That expects the worst of people. And since Im the polar oposite of that, we have gotten into arguments over that!

    It just doesnt seem like anything satisfies her, as there is always something wrong with whatever it is. Work, persons, family, money, anything.

    Im lost.

  25. Gabrielle, I feel for you, I am in the exact same situation, though it’s been going on for so many years. I don’t feel myself anymore. I’ve tried giving myself completely, I’m constantly walking on eggshells, it seems when we’re having a great day, sharing being loving, happy, he finds something to start an argument, and it doesn’t matter what I do, be supportive, listen, apologize (for something I didn’t do) he won’t stop, until he gets either me crying or an argument. It’s exhausting and a spirit killer. I don’t know what to do. I dream of having a grown up, loving, relationship with him, but feel like I’ve lost myself in the journey…

  26. I’m the one who is shutting down and is angry all the time. I’ve been asking, begging, yelling for help and he just doesn’t get it. He says he’s “figuring out” what to do or got to talk.
    So it’s been a year and I’m still wanting help, talk, attention, etc and he hasn’t “figured out ” how to talk to me yet.
    So I’m giving up. I hate that it’s taken this long and I end up getting so mad and frustrated to get him to even hear me.
    I hate all of it. I hate my relationship, my life.
    I want out.
    But I don’t really. I just think I want a partner who talks to me.
    But I think I’m asking for too much and what if I regret it if and when I leave.
    It seems like such an easy fix that he’s unwilling to do.
    Well he says he’s willing but doesn’t. I’m just over this.

  27. I’ve been listening to this series because my husband and I are deeply into this pattern. (Married 28 years) I wanted to encourage my refusing withdrawn husband to listen as well but the conflict I’m having with encouraging that… is that as the pursuer, I’m not the explosive one. He yells and screams at me as well as bombards me with nasty hurtful insults. He is either extremely explosive or giving the silent treatment and stonewalling. I sound like the lecturer because any attempts at discussion are one sided and turn into what he calls “preaching”. I’m well aware of our toxic cycle, but can not seem to make headway with a husband that REFUSES to participate. My trust has withered, respect is now contempt, we’re both exhausted with the cycle, and I’m confused about why these behaviors exists at all. I’m extremely hurt and have tried to explain the loneliness rejection and hurt that I feel but he blatantly says he will not talk to me and is mostly anger or withdrawn. Divorce is a weekly threat and discussion

  28. my partner and I have been dating for almost 2 years. We are both almost 20 and have had a lot of big life changes since being 18yr olds.
    We just moved back in with his family after they were away for a yeat (which was very hard on him) and he has been constantly angry, irritated and annoyed, with everything but he keeps reflecting it onto me. I feel like the only time we talk, he is angry or annoyed at me, and he always says it’s because I’m annoying, or he says that he doesn’t know why he’s so angry lately. He video games all day and the lag of the game really frustrates him to the point where he throws stuff. I hate the toxicity of him gaming and hate the energy it brings, I feel like I can’t talk to him because he’ll be busy being angry at the game. I feel like there’s no way to fix this, he’s very stubborn with string down and talking. I’m starting to not like him as a person anymore.

  29. Hey! Thank you so much for bringing up these excellent points about how persistent anger issues are definitely present in narcissistic relationships, and that the kind of “normal” relational dynamics I described in this podcast really don’t apply to those situations. While it is normal and expected (and very common) for garden-variety relationship issues that go unresolved for a long time to disintegrate into this “pursue/withdraw” dynamic, it is a very different experience when you’re in an abusive relationship with a narcissist trying to punish or control you. It just so happens that I have another podcast on exactly this topic, “What to Do if You’re In Love With a Narcissist” that I hope you check out. If you’re in this situation you might also consider listening to “How to Deal With Selfish People,” “How to Have Healthy Boundaries,” and “When to Call it Quits in a Relationship.”

    Hope these resources help you get clarity, and find your way forward. Wishing you all the best, Dr. Lisa

  30. Hi Sienna, your feelings are valid. When your partner struggles to regulate their emotions, or criticizes you regularly, it can damage our attachment severely. At the end of the day, we can’t force someone to sit down and talk with us, but we can provide a warm, supportive space of empathy, slow down, and give them time to open up. And we can often be surprised by the outcome when we ask someone what type of support they need from us to help them figure out what they’re feeling…often it’s space and time without judgement or pressure. It sounds like you’ve been empathetic and have considered what could be contributing to his feelings, but are understandably negatively impacted by his behaviors. I wonder if you would be open to sharing a few podcast episodes with him that he might find helpful? I’m thinking of “It’s Okay to Cry, How to Handle Big Emotions” and “”How to Let Go of Anger.” You might also like “Boundaries in Relationships.” All my best, LMB

  31. Hi DD, it is so painful and lonely to feel stuck in this cycle you describe. I can hear you are doing your best and working with everything you know to try and make things better. IT also sounds like you don’t quite understand what to do differently or why he feels the way he does. Are you working with a couples counselor? When we’ve been in this type of pursue/withdraw dynamic for a long time, and it has escalated to the point you describe, it takes time and the expert guidance of a trained marriage and family therapist to help you: see how you’re communication style contributes to the cycle, help him hear and have compassion for you, help him communicate with you differently so that you can also achieve a greater empathy for and understanding of his experience, and, ultimately, create new, very different communication and conflict experiences that bring you close again! In the meantime, you might find “Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Away…” informative. Warmly, Dr. Lisa

  32. Erica, I’m so sorry. It sounds like you’re describing the pursue/withdraw dynamic, which can be so painful, especially when we’ve been stuck in it for so long, desperate to connect. The good news is that this is a very common dynamic; couples can change it. Take a look at the episode “Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Away…” or pick up any of Sue Johnson’s books. Ultimately, though, I recommend meeting with a couple’s counselor if you’d be open to it. Changing this dynamic, getting heard, learning new communication tools on both sides, takes time and is more likely with the help of a trained marriage and family therapist. I hope you consider getting this type of support. Warmest thoughts your way, Dr. Lisa

  33. George, of course you’re in pain, for yourself, your family, and your wife. It sounds like you wife is grappling with some pretty serious mental health issues. I use that term not to diagnose her, label her, or pathologize her. But to say that what she’s struggling with is not something anyone can just fix on their own. She needs and deserves the support of a therapist, an expert, and the private space to heal, and find happiness, which takes time. For you, it sounds like there is a strong need to set your own boundaries, to take care of yourself, help her, and give your relationship the best chance of success. One of these can be that she meets with a therapist – so she can be happier, because you love her, and it’s clear everyone deserves more happiness and peace. I hope this is helpful and that you reach out for support of your own, too. My very best, Lisa

  34. Peggy, absolutely! I’m glad to hear you got so much from the episode. Thank you for sharing here for those that might not have listened to it yet. Kindly, Lisa

  35. Good question. It can sometimes be a blurry line, to be sure. Believe it or not, there isn’t a universally accepted definition of emotional abuse amongst researches as of yet. It’s complex. Generally, though, there’s agreement around the various forms of emotional abuse. Overall, emotional abuse is non-physical behavior aimed at power and control through intimidation, manipulation, degradation, or humiliation. To complicate it further, while some definitions include intentionality in emotional abuse, others don’t. Rather than getting stuck in the weeds (and on labels), it’s most important to focus on “how does this treatment make me feel?” and “what are the impacts this is having on my self-esteem, self-worth, and ability to be well and functional?” How you answer those questions is enough to know if it’s unacceptable. I hope this is helpful, Dr. Lisa

  36. I can completely understand why you’d be upset. I do not want to make assumptions about the bits of information you shared here, but if you are a person of color married to a white person, white European cultural supremacy is going to be the 3rd partner in your relationship and needs to be addressed. It’s absolutely normal and healthy to feel angry about this, particularly if it’s coming up in that weird diffuse way that makes it so hard to tackle head on. White people can get extremely touchy and defensive about this, so I would strongly consider your seeking out a marriage and family therapist — ideally a person of color — who practices a feminist-approach to couples and family therapy. Also, see if he’ll read this book with you: White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism. (Or listen to the audio book together while you are driving — depending on how old your kids are it may be really helpful for them, too.)

    I will also add that part of “the white experience” is moving through the world without conscious perception of having a white racial identity and perspective. “White blindness” is a very real thing, and part of our privilege is not having to think about cultural or racial differences at all… and it can therefore be extremely easy for white people to reject anything that goes against the myth of meritocracy. If it’s helpful for either of you, I recorded a podcast with some additional thoughts that may be relevant here: “Becoming Anti-Racist.” It goes into the stages of healthy white racial identity development, which, again, 99% of white people have never even heard of, even though we’re living it!

    Anyway, I made the assumption that you are a person of color married to a white person and if I was wrong, my apologies. This kind of dynamic can definitely show up in different cultural pairings where there is a “supremacy narrative” on one side of the equation — it is not *just* white people who do this. (Many cultures have their own variation of a caste system based on ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and more).

    I will close by saying that in this situation, it sounds like your feelings of anger are healthy, legitimate, and simply your emotional guidance system telling you that there is a power dynamic that is out of balance, and growth work to be done. This is the kind of anger you want to listen to and validate — it will carry both of you to a better place if you understand it for what it is.

    Wishing you both all the very best,
    Dr. Lisa

  37. I am constantly arguing with my boyfriend of 10 years. I find myself getting upset when he says huh? or what? To everything thing that I say. It makes me feel that he constantly never listens and after 10 years he has not done anything to listen better. He constantly asks questions to anything. My questions, he asks a question, I make a statement he asks a question by rewording my question. I have been dealing with for years and it seems now I am just tired of it. All he does is apologize every time and never improves. Previously I used to control my emotions and not let those things get to me, but now I am just exhumed. I got a new job, just moved three times for it across country. I have controlled myself but what more can I do?

    1. Izzy, this does sound hard. I’m sorry you’re struggling with this! It’s true: there are communication tools we know help us connect, understand each other, and grow closer, too, in the case of a romantic partnership. And without these, we struggle to collaborate, feel heard, or truly understand each other. Have the two of you tried couples therapy? A trained therapist can help him understand the importance of these communication tools and help you repair the damage done by not having your needs met for so long. In the meantime, you might want to listen to – or share with your boyfriend – the episode “Communication that Connects.” Best, Dr. Lisa

  38. This is precisely my situation. My partner is often irritable, angry, and looking to fight when he’s not stoned. I don’t smoke pot, so I don’t get it. Every time he tries to quit, he gets toney and mean and tells me all we do is a fight, which is untrue – he goes straight to the negative. When we met, he was broke, I helped him increase his financial status over the past four years, and now I’m no longer good enough because I’m older and have gained weight under the constant pressure of constantly being attacked. He nitpicks me to death. I am a catch – I’m educated, good with money, and love my job. Up until 1.5 years ago, I was fit and attractive. Yet, he’s always threatening to leave me high and dry. Even worse, he bad mouths me to his friends after they invited us as a couple to spend time with them, so they withdrew their invite, and it was just him that hung out with the married couples. He makes himself look like the victim when he’s instigating arguments. I moved away from all my friends for him.

    Our first year was effortless. He was kind and supportive, and we never argued. Now, he treats me like the enemy no matter how hard I try to show him I’ve got his back financially and emotionally. Its never enough. He’s mad that I gained weight and that I can’t read his mind. He says he shouldn’t have to tell me I should know what he needs.

    1. Evelina, I’m so sorry. I can hear you are not getting your basic relationship needs met of validation, respect, and appreciation. Do you meet with a therapist? A therapist can help you feel supported but also gain clarity and education around what to expect in a healthy relationship, and how to take care of yourself, too. In the meantime, you might find the episodes “Signs of a Healthy Relationship,” “Are You Stuck in a Codependent Relationship” and “How to Stop Being Codependent” helpful. xoxo, Lisa

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