Anger Management Courses: The Rules of the Game - Advice for Women in Anger Relationships

by James A. Baker
(September, 2009. Recovery Today)


I must be an idiot. My boyfriend has an anger problem, but he is still basically a nice guy. He has a quality I like, and when he isn’t acting like a jerk, he treats me really nice and we have a lot of fun. But his anger fits are giving ME fits. They seem to be getting worse. He has broken some of my stuff, and last time warned him I would call the cops, and I did. I didn’t press charges, but maybe I needed to. I just don’t know. He apologizes every time he blows up, and he really sounds sincere, but then it happens again. He is beginning to scare me. Is he just playing me? Should I get out now? I told him I would leave if it happens again, but I think I love him.

Rattled in Racine

Anger Management Courses: The Rules of the Game - Advice for Women in Anger Relationship

Dear Rattled:
Rageaholics are great at playing games. They excel at manipulation and intimidation .
They can make you laugh; they can make you cry; they can scare you to death; and they are ready to use physical force if necessary in order to get what they want. Their goal is to control the women in their lives, and they play to win. Sometimes those women decide two can play that game, but whenever they try, they hardly ever win. Their attempts to threaten and intimidate usually fail for one simple reason: they aren’t willing to play the game to win.

It is not unusual for women who are in relationships with anger addicts to threaten to kick them out, or threaten to leave. Sometimes they will call the police, and often they will apply for protective orders. Sometimes they will take the kids and move into a shelter. As a result of these acts of strength from their partner, many of the men in these relationships begin to soften and repent; they make promises and some might even go to counseling.

All the while, these guys are also begging their partners: “Please get back together. Please come home (or please let me come home). We can’t work this out as long as we are apart. How will you ever know I have changed unless we move in together again? We need each other. The kids need us together. Give me another chance. Please, I love you, I need you, I can’t live without you.” Eventually, this can start to sound really good to a woman alone. Money is tight, she has three kids in tow. She finds herself thinking things like: “He sounds sincere. Maybe he has learned his lesson this time. I’ll give it one more try.”

Anger Management Courses: The Rules of the Game - Advice for Women in Anger Relationship

Inevitably, the minute he unpacks his bags, the cycle starts all over again. It may take a while for his rage to build back to full strength, but there is no doubt that it will. Because he won again! He got to come home on his terms. All he had to do was look sad, make a few promises, maybe go to a few classes and time his move just right. The game is control; his goal is to get her back in his life without giving up anything important. And she was no match for him.

How do you beat this guy? Change the game, change the rules, and play to win.

For the rageaholic, the game is all about keeping his lady in his life. When women try to get in the game, too, they make the mistake of playing for the same thing. Because she may still love him, or for the sake of the kids, or for the sake of financial security, or whatever, she also wants to keep him in her life. She just wants him to be nicer, that’s all. With that strategy, she will lose the game every time. She may take action to get him out of the house temporarily, and he may accept a few inconvenient consequences. But, after a little emotional shell game, he will eventually end up back in the house, which is where he wanted to be all along!

If you want to win, first you must change the game. The game can’t be about getting him to be nicer, the game has to be about getting him to be safer. The whole point of your game must be to make life safer for you and your children! He can be nice whenever he wants to be. (That’s how you ended up with him in the first place!) But that is not the same as being safe. He has abused you emotionally and maybe physically. He has threatened you. He has damaged property and terrorized the kids. As long as you are looking for ways to help him be nicer so that you can stay with him, you will lose, and it won’t be pretty.

Anger Management Courses: The Rules of the Game - Advice for Women in Anger Relationship

The name of your game has to be safety first. He can be charming, he can even be truly sorry and don’t doubt for one minute that he won’t try to convince you that he is all of that -- but that is not the same thing as being truly safe. If you are working on a plan for making him behave, the goal of the plan has to be making him a safe person to be with. The game is not over until you are convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he has done every bit of the hard work necessary to assure you and everyone who loves you that he will never threaten the peace and safety of your home again.

If you are going to win, you have to change the rules. Up to now, the rules have gone pretty much like this:
He has a rage event.

You react with pain and sadness.
You try to do something about it.
You either pick a response that doesn’t work, or you just give in too soon.
He regains control of the relationship.
He wins and the game begins again.

Anger Management Courses: The Rules of the Game - Advice for Women in Anger Relationship

The new rules have to look something like this:
Don’t wait until the next rage event. Act now.

Make a plan that will assure that you and your kids are safe.

With the help of a professional counselor, develop a list of changes and choices he must make now (anything from no profanity to moving out while getting counseling). Identify consequences for non-compliance.

Enforce them immediately. No negotiating.

Be prepared for lots of whining, complaining, raging, promising, apologizing, charm, and outrageous grandstanding, because it will come. Don’t pay attention to any of it.

Don’t give in on any point until it is certain that he has his anger under control for good.
Be patient. This will take a while.

You can’t do this without lots of support, so get started now. Maybe he will change and maybe he won’t. The important thing is for you to make a life for yourself and those you love that will be safer and more stable than the one you have now.

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