Girlfriend gets extremely angry over small issues, how can I help her?
When I went to live with my girlfriend a few years ago I was initially surprised by how she got very angry (using a very aggressive tone, shouting, ecc..) when I did "something wrong". By angry, I mean that she might use a very aggressive tone and shout with rant lasting several minutes. She never got physically aggressive or anything of that sort.
Just to give you some examples of the things that could make her angry were me saying some inappropriate jokes, the fact that I was frequently late or the fact that I was frequently a bit absent-minded or absorbed in other things.
While recognizing my mistakes, I made her notice that her reactions were somehow excessive and we reached the conclusion that I should be more careful around here in some contexts and at the same time that she should take better care of her behavior when annoyed or angry.
After a few years, now the situation is kind of different. I think I really improved with her and I am much now more careful, she also completely recognizes this. Unfortunately, at the same time, she worsened her behavior. She still gets angry, but now over smaller and smaller issues. Also, while at first, it happened mainly when we were alone, now she's doing this when other people are around, even friends or relatives, making it even more painful and embarrassing.
I never got so irrationally angry at her and never shouted at her in any way. When she gets angry and starts shouting I generally just shut up until she's over and then tell her that she went mental again. She generally answers at first by trying to justify herself in some way and then by recognizing that I'm right and the issue at hand was ridiculous (or sometimes even non-existent!) and by saying she's sorry and will be more careful in the future. Unfortunately, after a just a few days, we are again dealing with the same situation.
I think it's important to add that she doesn't behave in this way with her friends or acquaintances, while she does instead something similar with her parents. I think it's also valuable to say that she told me that her parents used to fight in this way quite frequently, especially when she was a child.
I tried to talk to her about the reasons behind her behavior, to try to understand if she just got really angry over nothing or she just has excessive reactions when she is just slightly annoyed and she seems to be more inclined to believe the latter. As a solution, I really tried to talk to her about this a lot and even suggested that she could visit a specialist (something she is now considering).
Is there any other thing I could do to make her improve her behavior?
EDIT, a few details I added in the comments:
An example of how she may get angry over a small thing:
She may be looking at something funny on the web and asks me to join her. While doing it together it may come to my mind something related that I'm sure she may appreciates and I suggest her to search for that. Maybe she doesn't do that immediately (and that's fine of course) so after a few minutes I suggest it again and she flies off the handle. She may start to scream about how she wants to look at what she prefers, how she wants to be left alone, that she has already wasted too much time doing nothing, that she already had a very tough day and I'm only making it worse, and similar things.
About her childhood:
She had a very good childhood, in a upper-middle class family where she was treated like a princess. Her parents are a very strong couple, very close together. They just happened to share a lot of time together (both worked from home) and when some conflict arose they reacted by raising their voices, but AFAIK never insulting each others or worse.
Besides the issue that you're asking about here, would you say that your life together is fairly drama-free, especially compared to her childhood?
@Nat: Maybe I gave the wrong impression, I will edit the question if necessary. She had a very good childhood, in a upper-middle class family where she was treated like a princess. Her parents are a very strong couple, very close together. They just happened to share a lot of time together (both worked from home) and when some conflict arose they reacted by raising their voices, but AFAIK never insulting each others or worse. Said that, my life together with my girlfriend is definitely drama-free. This behavior stands out exactly because the rest of our time together is very relaxed.
@Stephan Branczyk: That's similar to what I usually do, I think. If we are talking about thing X and she gets angry I immediately stop discussing X until she acknowledges her behavior and apologizes. Multiple times I've started doing other things and leave the physical place where we were when this started to make it clear that this is not tolerable. I think she understands this pretty well, she is just occasionally unable to control herself.
@Paparazzi: that's something I considered. I tried to evaluate whether her issues with me were valid or not and not assume that I'm right "just because" In some cases (like been late) she was just right and I'm happy to have improved my behavior, in other cases I've considered exactly your point of view. I'm really trying to walk on the thin line between stopping to be myself and not making her angry. It's not not easy.
First my humble opinion
I will be honest, your relationship is extremely close to an abusive relationship, even without violence.
As you said she is prone to anger over the smallest of details, wich means that you're walking on eggshells all the time. Not only is it probably extremely stressfull for you to have to be so careful on an everyday basis, if things keeps getting worse it might become dangerous.
This is also something that can be found in many abusive relationships from http://www.safeplaceolympia.org/signs-to-look-for-in-an-abusive-personality/
An abusive person is easily insulted and claims that their feelings are “hurt” when really they are very mad. The abusive person will “rant and rave” about the injustice of things that have happened – things that are really just part of living such as being asked to work overtime, getting a traffic ticket, being told some behavior is annoying or being asked to help with chores
You also said that her parents used to act this way during her childhood, but there is one difference. You said when some conflict arose they reacted by raising their voices the difference here is that while both of her parents where involved in the shouting, here you just brace for it and take it. While I totally understand that you don't want to escalate things, it also means one thing: Her parents were arguing, she is vanting.
In an argument two people are trying to get their point across. Wich means both persons admit there is a problem to solve. When someone is vanting their anger, they just take any excuse to get angry, and start shouting. And that's a major issue, because, unlike an argument there is no way to argue against someone vanting, because, even if you prove that they are completely wrong, they'll get angry at something else. This is not healthy for you, her, your relationship or any future children you might/might not have.
The point that is the most concerning to me though is: saying she's sorry and will be more careful in the future. Unfortunately, after a just a few days, we are again dealing with the same situation. This is something that happens extremely often in an abusive relationship, when a man hit a women, or the other way around, many of them will apologise, say "I love you, I'll be better, this won't happens again" but the cycle keeps going again, and again, and again. And the abused keep forgiving the abuser, saying "But they're so great when they're not angry".
If you couple that with the fact that after a few years she did not improve, but got worse if thing keeps going the way it does, it might become a really dangerous situtation.
How can things get better
If she did not improve by herself, then she needs to seek professional help, not only for your sake, but for hers as well. Constantly getting angry is not a good thing for anyone involved, and a professional will probably be able to teach her how to relativise.
Something that might help too is to try and assert yourself when she gets angry over nothing (If you haven't tried of course). If you're not naturally assertive, and tends to be more passive, there might be some people that might be able to teach you how to be more assertive. (For example where I live, there used to be a course you could take for a small fee -around 100$- to learn how to be more assertive).
Another solution a friend of mine used in a similar situation (with his roommate instead of a SO) would be to record one (or several) of her outbursts, and show it to her. Sometime, even when we know we did something wrong, we don't realsie how wrong until we see it from an outsider perspective. While I am not a fan of that kind of solution (it feels like manipulation to me) it worked for him, so it might work for you.
You answer really resonates with me. Sometimes when she downplays what happened, I use the comparison with physical abuse as well. In the last period she seems to better understand that even if some people consider shouting when angry as normal, for me it isn't. I also already has some thoughts about filming her during one of these outburst but they generally last just a few minutes so it's not always possible or easy to do.
What my friend to be able to film her, was to sneak a camera in an area they were often in together (their kitchen) and "made her" angry by doing something that he knew would annoy her. This is a little bit manipulative, but it worked for him. Also I added a link listing typical abusive behavior, it might give you a little more insight on the matter :)
@heapOverflow Just to contribute to this great answer, it is very important to remember that violence has many forms and usually tend to escalate when not stopped immediately. If your girlfriend says that she will seek psychological help but don't do it immediately, you might have to find a therapist for her yourself. She may never got physically violent with you, but, as far as I have experienced on my own life, that is just a matter of time and opportunity.
If it were reversed, if you were female and your partner male, the whole world would be advising you to leave. Why are you still there?
I had a similar situation with a girlfriend, in my 20's. For the record, we eventually broke up! What worked for me (with one girl so I don't know if it would generalize) is walking out.
I just said, "I'm leaving so I don't get angry," and left, for hours. I think I did that about 4 times, and the behavior stopped.
The first time, I wasn't sure if I was walking into a fight, but I came in, went to the fridge to get a soda, and sat on the couch and turned on the TV. After a few minutes she asked me where I went: To my sister's house, my brother in law and I watched a 007 movie on DVD. After about a minute of silence I said I was ordering Chinese, and asked if she wanted anything. She did.
So I pretended nothing happened, and she did too. I did almost exactly the same thing the next time, and the next time, and the next time. Then there were no more times.
I can't remember why I walked out, perhaps I was thinking I don't know what to do, but staying here is making it worse. I do know that when I did it, I wasn't thinking "this might work," I was thinking (and told my brother in law; a pretty good friend of mine) I thought we were probably done.
But we weren't, it worked, and ended the spiraling tantrum craziness.
Eventually we broke up anyway, so perhaps the spiraling tantrum was a symptom of something else wrong with me and her. Maybe it was a kind of venting thing that helped her, and my walking out made it ineffective, and maybe that led to us breaking up!
Anyway, I at least stopped that behavior with this one girl.
This seems like an avoidance strategy rather than a strategy to solve the underlying issue, which might (or might not^^) have contributed to the eventual breakup (not enough context to argue about that and it's not the focus). I would only advise this as a possible short-term solution or coupled with having a talk about the issue when both are calmed down, not to completely ignore the general problem.
@Darkwing Although an improvisation at the time, in retrospect I think staying was making it worse, and leaving short-circuited the tantrum. One could see this as without me to blame she was forced to stop. Enough times, and she was forced to see it wouldn't "work", she wouldn't get what she wanted by even starting. Perhaps what she wanted ***was*** to break up, in which case the relationship was doomed and I did myself a favor by reducing my pain, and her a favor by making her do what she really wanted all along: Ending a relationship in which she was unhappy. Not all issues can be solved.
I'm not sure this would help me. Her tantrums last no more than a few minutes, sometimes even 1 or 2. After the fact she calms down quite rapidly. I'm not trying to avoid a 30 minutes fight about something, but just a few minutes of craziness in our lives.
@heapOverflow That's okay; your problem just reminded me of my problem, and for me at least I never had any luck with any *rational* response or sympathetic response, so ... what's left? Fight or flight, and I don't like to fight, so I kind of instinctively chose flight. I suppose you might find a recognizable **posture** for riding out these little storms (for one example head down, eyes closed, hands folded). Maybe that would serve a similar signal to her that she is "doing it again" and help to shorten or short-circuit the tantrum. But I don't know.
This needs to be her issue, not yours. As you said, she is considering professional help to understand her anger, and this is probably the best course of action. At some later time counseling as a couple might be helpful so you can understand her issues too.
You should stop trying to analyze this on behalf of the both of you. There are too many possible issues on her side. Many of them might predate your relationship, so there would be no way for you to try to analyze them or work on any solution.
Possibly she perceives some situations between you as threatening her security or status quo (comfort zone), for whatever reason that might have nothing to do with you. This could manifest itself in various kinds of irrational response, including anger.
But still, she needs to understand the causes of her anger and find the resolve to move forward.
One concern with questions like yours is that we only hear one side of the story. Her side is just as important.
If she were to write a question like yours about this topic (the anger) from her point of view, what do you think it would say? That question would be just as important as yours.
Finally, there is a term that is commonly used in describing relationship issues, co-dependent, that you should be familiar with if you aren't already. Basically, any behavior you tolerate you by default condone.
I may try to add the story from her point of view. This may be indeed a useful exercise both for me and for the one who want to help. I'm not exactly sure instead about what you mean here by "tolerate". Can you expand on that? What are some reactions that you would or would not describe as "tolerating"?
I was like your girlfriend. I went from calm to going total nut job angry over small issues. Adding to that my wife also has a strong character did not help the situation and we where close to a divorce. What helped us? Professional advice.
Including me, there are going to be a lot of people that tells you what could help resolve this situation but to be honest nothing is going to be 100% right to fix this problem unless it comes from a professional.
Now, comes the hard part with what you will really need help, showing her that she needs help. With me it was my wife giving me a deadline to fix myself. I had half a year to go to psychiatrist before she would go to get a lawyer for the divorce. Take into note that I already knew our constant fights where hurting her emotionally but since she kept forgiving me I thought that every thing was ok until our next fight. So forgiving her even when is needed, is not going to help her.
You have to stand your ground telling her that she is hurting you and that you want to be happy with her but only if she gets attention. Explain to her that having a mental issue is no different from having the flu or other types of disease. The brain and its chemistry can be affected by external factors and they need healing treatments. Only that in most cases it not a virus, it is our past that caused those changes in our brain and its chemistry. Also, if not treated, they can cause greater damage. In my case was an untreated depression that i had for 20+ years. Now imagine a heart disease untreated for that long period of time, well, depression can also cause great damage if untreated for a long time.
Tell her that getting help is not the same as being crazy, actually stats say that more than 1/4 the world population of adults have a mental disease. So its actually pretty common.
Now you will also have to take a decision, if she goes to seek help, you will also have to help her with her treatment. So you will have to decide if you have the strength to go thru that with her. It is not an easy path, but if you love her, you will find a way.
This sound like a very difficult situation to cope with. You are showing real patience and a strong commitment to make the relationship work.
I think that she would be a very good candidate for anger management counselling, especially since she can acknowledge that she over-reacts to certain situations: she may just need help in managing the immediate triggers that precipitate her anger response.
As to how to encourage her to seek such help, I really don't have nearly enough sense of her to be able to advise you.
I might be late to a party, but a very important point here is self respect. It is important to establish the point that you are her partner, not a friend, not a stranger, a PARTNER and you treat her well, but you also expect her to treat you well. It will be hard and tough to do so, you have to also prepare to walk away from the relationship if that's what you have to do. But once you take a leap and explain her that you will no longer tolerate that behavior, you will be much happier in your relationship with her or without.
I would suggest she tries cognitive hypnotherapy. It's a solution-focused therapy which helps one change unhelpful behaviours or reactions.
Here's a bit more info about it:
It sounds like her brain perceives even the slightest remarks from you as a threat so it reacts (fight, flight or freeze) and in her case, the automatic reaction is to fight (shout at you). It sounds like in childhood her brain wired badly and copied her parents' behaviour and now she does it automatically, she can't help it.
I had similar issues (used to be very short in my answers) and cognitive hypnotherapy helped me change this automatic unhelpful reaction.
Here's a database where she can find a qualified therapist: http://www.qchpa.com/therapist-finder/
You know one strategy that doesn't work: Trying to give her no reason to be angry. One answer involved a strategy that worked amazingly quickly: Leaving the home for a few hours when she starts.
Another strategy that may work is actually shouting back, and louder than she does. Not saying "do you realise how bad this makes me feel", because she does know, that's why she's shouting in the first place. But for any accusation that she makes, throw one back into her face.
What will happen? She will learn that her behaviour is unpleasant. She will also learn that her behaviour will have unpleasant consequences - for her. She will either stop her behaviour, or will decide that she needs an easier victim.