Carolyn Hax: The spouses ‘project’ means one shouting, the other tiptoeing

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: My husband and I worked together on a project. Several times my spouse said, “I’m trying to figure this out,” and I tried to pull away to leave them, only to be yelled at for abandoning them. Tried to bring thoughts…only to get yelled at for not having the patience. I remained silent and patiently waited… only to be yelled at for not doing anything. And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll let you figure this out’ so I acknowledge hearing them and providing a reason for my non-participation…only to get yelled at because it’s something that WE must understand.

More recently, I asked my partner to make sure I said what he meant, and then I got yelled at for saying what he meant.

It’s starting to make me feel like I’m always wrong without making good choices, which feels like having to tiptoe on broken glass and/or immediately apologizing for giving the wrong answer or made a mistake. It’s a feeling my spouse says he sees in me that isn’t pretty and something I should work on. If I say okay, I’m told I’m just not listening and dismissing the comment.

What am I not seeing happening?

This is what is happening. You see all the elements of it, but not all of what it means.

It’s a plot to shout, deny, gaslight.

What I see that’s not happening is that you’re holding a baseline of self-advocacy: tell your spouse, “I’m going to read my book. I won’t be yelled at. I’ll talk about it with pleasure when you’re calm”, then leaving the room.

So don’t move even if your spouse yells at you for leaving. Not a nanometer. Do not engage with criers, not even a spouse. If they follow you to keep screaming, leave the house.

Because it’s abuse and it’s not right. Defend yourself. And don’t stay in a relationship with someone who keeps yelling at you after naming the problem.

So that you don’t take my word for it and to handle this safely, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or

Subject: Project: How about getting to the root of it all? Have you worked together on a project in the past? What is happening?

He is clearly angry/upset/frustrated. Find out why, maybe.

Anonymous: Maybe it will work if the heinous behavior is isolated to this project alone – but I find it hard to believe that’s the case, given the intensity. And even then, shouting and blaming are unacceptable.

By the way, we do not know the sex of the spouse.

Subject: Project: There is no “Aha! That’s why you repeatedly treated me with verbal and emotional abuse!” This cannot be fixed. People old enough to be married should control their emotions. J ‘ve lived this way for too long, where I turned into a pretzel to find the ‘right’ way that wouldn’t trigger it. There isn’t. I’m sorry.

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