Ask Deepak: How to Deal with Your Husband's Bad Temper
By Deepak Chopra
March 31, 2010
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: As my husband is growing older—he's 69 years old—he is becoming a grouch with bad behavior, to the point where I do not want to go out in public with him. He finds fault with every little thing he thinks is wrong and tells me and others about it with a very distasteful attitude and words. He almost constantly bawls out the server at restaurants, the person behind the service desk, the person with whom he's talking on the phone with using terrible language. He has told the pleasant woman at the health store that she shouldn't be working there because she didn't remember a product he was looking for. He has no conscious about how other people feel when he explodes in their faces. He doesn't care because he is always in the right to correct them. He is very opinionated and anyone disagreeing with him is exposed to his fury. He has a very short fuse. His anger explodes.
As for me, he criticizes the smallest incident. Two years ago, I wrote him a letter, and had him sign it, stating I will not tolerate his bad behavior and swearing any longer. It said that he needed to calm his anger and to not use abusive language. If he did not stop, our relationship would end by a separation. It went well until about six months ago when the quick anger started again and the rude behavior with people returned. I believe he is bipolar. He can be very thoughtful and caring to the nth degree, until something sparks his anger, and the niceness is dropped. I strive to be happy. I need my world to be as pleasant and peaceful as possible. I try to make other people's day better, not worse. Believe it or not, I still love him, but I do not like him. What should I do now, please?
— Bette R., Ypsilanti, Michigan
As your litany unfolded, I could hear readers muttering, "Walk out on the grouchy S.O.B." But this is a case where you cannot leave until you make some basic decisions. The first is the most important: Is this a situation you can fix? To answer yes, the following must be true:
Your husband recognizes and acknowledges the problem.
He regrets losing his temper.
He asks for help.
He wants to include you in the healing process.
You see signs of improvement when you take action.
You saw signs of improvement before when you offered him an ultimatum. He took you seriously, but now he's had a relapse. Can you get through to him again? It may take professional guidance to steer your course. Only after you are certain that fixing it is hopeless can you extricate yourself without guilt and remorse because I can assure you that this man's life is going to go downhill fast without you.
I'd also like to mention a bit more about his anger. At his age, I assume he's retired. Men who leave a job that meant everything to them wind up, through no fault of their own, feeling bitter and wronged. It's this internal bitterness that causes the outbursts. He feels better by making others feel worse. His sense of loss is compensated for by showing others that he is in distress. But since he doesn't want to admit that he is in distress, he displays his hidden feelings as anger.
There are other ingredients that come to mind, such as his need to be right. This is a symptom of control issues. Perhaps at his work he had authority and could tell others how to do their job. Perhaps he was always a finicky perfectionist or someone who never could be pleased. Age may have exacerbated those tendencies. This happens because older people often let down their social boundaries. Their excuse for turning boorish is "I'm too old to care what other people think." That's sad but quite common.
I hope I've given you enough information to make the right decision. You don't need to live with an insufferable grouch who won't admit that he's the one who needs to get right, not the waiter who tips a coffee cup or a clerk who hasn't memorized a store's entire inventory. I think you are well equipped to make some hard choices.