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June 30, 2014

How to Deal with a Self-Centered, Arrogant Jerk

You're married. Usually, you're quite grateful for your husband. Then he says something that hurts like a kick to the gut.

For example, from one self-employed husband whose career is accelerating to his self-employed wife, still launching a business she started well after his:

He: I could use some help this afternoon. I'm under a deadline, and I really need an extra pair of hands.

She: Oh, can't it wait? This is my one day of the week with a block of unscheduled time, and I've been planning all week to work on my ebook today.

He: I need to get this finished to get paid. We need the money! You know your ebook is never going to make any real money.

Ouch! That line is enough to make blood boil.

If this were a blog on how to be a better spouse, I would tell you not to ever say anything like this.

But this is not a blog on how to be a better spouse. This is a blog on how to be a happier spouse. And this blog post is for her, not him.

Of course, I would tell her to Assume Love. It's the first thing to do whenever you feel a kick to the gut. And she would say, at first, "I can't Assume Love; there was nothing loving about that awful thing he said!"

But Assume Love does not mean assume you're wrong and this was actually a loving act. It wasn't. It was a thoughtless act.

Assume Love means assume you could be certain he still loves you as much as ever and he's still the same good man you've known for years. If this were true, how could you explain what he said?

If you're too angry at your own spouse, imagine you're watching a movie, one you know was written by clever writers who understand human behavior. Earlier you saw lots of strong signs of this man's love for his wife. Now you're watching this scene. It doesn't fit with the earlier ones.

You sense you are about to learn something new about him or their relationship. But the movie's on pause. You get to think about what could have caused it.

Point #1 - While he sounds just like a self-centered, arrogant jerk, you know he isn't. A self-centered, arrogant jerk would not have done the things he did in the opening scenes. He's having a self-centered, arrogant moment.

Point #2 - Money's on his mind. He fit "get paid," "need the money," and "make any real money" into a single sentence.

Point #3 - Something feels unfair or illogical to him. He's angrily arguing for, not asking nicely for, making one task a priority over the other. We get angry when we feel mistreated.

Point #4 - He is not necessarily angry about the task at hand, and he's not necessarily angry at his wife. What we argue about or protest when we're angry isn't always the thing we're actually angry about. He might be angry about her failure to see this deserves higher priority than her ebook. He might feel it's unfair he must do the task he wants help with in order to get paid. Or he might be angry because the repairs to his tooth did not stop the pain in it. Once we're angry, even tiny mistreatments get blown out of proportion.

Point #5 - He's out of control. If he were thinking clearly, he would not speak to his wife like this. It would kill him to lose her. If he were thinking clearly, he would not ask anyone, especially not his wife, for help by insulting them. If he were thinking clearly, he would realize that upsetting his wife is going to cut into his time for finishing a critical task.

Point #6 - Being out of control with anger does not "strip away all pretense" and reveal the truth about someone. Research psychologists have put this myth to bed. The craziness is designed only to protect the angry person from any other threats by scaring them away.

So, here's an explanation: this husband is out of control angry about one or more things, one of them is probably a lack of money, and he wants a hand with a bothersome project, after which he will likely return to his usual loving self and might even make amends for being such a jerk.

If she wants to have a happier marriage, what should she do?

If you said just help him, I need to tell you this won't always make the marriage happier. If she helps with a feeling of resentment (it's unfair after supporting his startup that he doesn't support mine, it's unfair of him to ask for something I can help with when he cannot help with what I need to get done, or it's unfair that I have to help him AND get put down like this), it will hurt the relationship more than it helps.

Another thing she can do is help him get back in control. She could just say "ouch" and stay present with him for a moment in silence while he pulls himself together. If she's now angry, too, she can say, "I need some time to cool off," and go for a walk.

If she can stay calm, she can help him vent: "Anything else besides our miserable cash flow projections on your mind? Anybody else besides me that you're angry at today? Anything else you want to say about how difficult today's task will be?"

Eventually, as it becomes apparent he's about vented out, and if he's the sort who can shift from anger to laughter, she can add things like these: "Anything you want to add about today's weather? How are you feeling about the price of gas? And cute cat videos, got anything to say about them today?"

He needs to get himself back in control and she does, too, before she can take the next step.

But then she can say something like, "I want to help you bring in that money, and the next four hours are special and just not available for helping. I have stood by you through the early years in your career, and now I'm sticking by me through the early years of my career, because it's the only way to get to where you are now and to be able to pull my weight when you want to take risks in your career. So, is there any chance the work could wait until after dinner, when we could do it together, or that you could call someone to help, and I'll make us all a great dinner when I'm done?"

That's inviting a Third Alternative, a win-win outcome for both of them. First, she jumps the net and announces she wants what he wants. Then she adds what she needs (the next four hours uninterrupted) and offers a couple of suggestions to get the ball rolling on finding an option that works for both of them.

By the way, just because you found an explanation for what might lead a loving husband to let out this crushing tantrum doesn't mean you must accept it. If what happens next is another nastygram, he might actually be a self-centered arrogant jerk incapable of love. However, if this description is a new one, you might want to get him checked for a brain tumor or addiction, because these are both better guesses than a sudden onset of narcissistic personality disorder.


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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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