My husband is becoming borderline verbally abusive. He's called me names such as b**** and c***. He walks away when he does this, which is good, but he won't walk away before saying it. He emotionally blows up every time I ask him something related to work or our marriage. I love him, but I don't know what to do anymore.

This is an issue that needs your direct attention. Given that it's not his normal way of acting, he should be seen by a medical professional and perhaps a psychiatric professional, as well. This behavior should not be ignored.

Here are some first steps:

  1. 1
    Set clear boundaries. Verbal abuse is never to be tolerated. Be clear with him, in a calmer moment, that what he did was unacceptable, and you want him to stop it. Leave the room (or the house) the next time it happens, if he doesn't, and take care of yourself. Use this as the time to take a shower, a calming walk, or listen to your favorite music. Call a therapist for yourself if he won't go, or for the both of you if he will, and get help if it keeps happening.
  2. 2
    Watch out for flooding. It sounds as if you even uttering a word causes him to blow up. But if it escalates, learn about flooding, and why people shouldn't keep talking once either or both of you are flooded.
  3. 3
    Get back to basics. Look at physical things like how much sleep he is getting and his diet. These are the obvious things. If he is getting less than 7 hours per night, he is chronically sleep-deprived. He can't "make it up" on the weekends. Sleep doesn't work that way. He'll need to get more sleep. Cut out the caffeine including chocolate and energy drinks after 1 pm. A lot of things are stimulating and to be avoided.
  4. 4
    Stop the alcohol and recreational drug use. Men often self-medicate to treat depression. It doesn't help them treat the depression and in fact, alcohol is a suppressant, so it makes it worse. But if he is drinking or drugging at all, the goal is to cut that out.
  5. 5
    Check the medicine cabinet. We don't think that over-the-counter and drugs prescribed by our doctor can have any emotional impacts, but they do.
  6. 6
    Think broadly but start with the obvious. It could be any number of things, but let's talk briefly about clinical depression. Clinical depression shows up differently in men than women. Men usually have a much more difficult time containing their anger than women, who tend to blame themselves. Read both posts I've linked to, to learn more.

What you describe, his tendency to get "one last dig in," is an impulse control problem. All of the things I've talked to you about can impact this issue. But your attitude ("Honey, something is wrong. You don't normally act mean and what you have said to me lately is really hurtful...") and the assumption that something is wrong (Instead of the fact that he's turned into a jerk...) will help a lot.

I hope things improve by applying some or all of these suggestions, and thank you for writing.

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Dr. Kathy McMahon


Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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