Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Dealing with Husband's Temper and Jealousy

QUESTION: I have a few problems. I have been recently married, and an ex-boyfriend has been harassing me; he's been flooding me with email, calling my former employer, harassing my mother, etc. I have chosen to just ignore him completely (he doesn't have a phone number or address, and lives in a different country). The problem I do have is with my husband. He is greatly disturbed by all of this, and has gone so far as to accuse me of lying both to him and the ex about where my position in both relationships are. My husband won't even let me read my email without him standing behind me, perhaps to confirm my alleged 'lying'. I'm not sure how to reaffirm my loyalty, per se, to my husband.

The other problem I have is with my husband's temper. He seems to blow up at the smallest things, and he loses his head without stopping to think about it first. And, more frighteningly, this has led to violence. For instance, when one of my kittens hissed at his dog, he set out to torment that kitten for a half hour, dousing the poor beast in water, chasing him around the house, and even kicking him.

This brings up another issue: I'm jealous of his dog. His dog sometimes seems to mean more to him than I do. Aside from never being reprimanded for eating food from the table, etc., he allows him to sit on the couch (it's a golden retriever) and sleep in the bed with us, pushing me out, even though he knows how I feel about it.

ANSWER: Your husband's behavior seems to parallel the kind of obsession and lack of boundaries that your ex-boyfriend is showing. Perhaps you are mistaking feeling pursued for feeling loved. Both of these men appear to view you as an acquisition rather than a person.

What attracts you to men who would so devalue you? What are your requirements in a relationship? Certainly an atmosphere of safety is basic to growth and development of any individual or marriage. Pay attention to your feelings of intimidation in the relationship. You should not be tolerating behavior which frightens you in any way. Fear and intimidation are signals that your relationship is based on control rather than love. Perhaps this was the case in your childhood relationships, so it feels familiar to you. Or you may have felt so neglected that even negative attention feels better than none!

Your own lack of self esteem may render you vulnerable to defining your worth through a man's pursuit of you. Begin a path of self exploration. Individual therapy or support groups may help you identify what your needs are in relationship as well as help you to define yourself outside of the parameters of your relationship to men. Your own self esteem and worth needs to be based on a clear and loving sense of yourself. Strengthen your relationship to yourself. Find out more about who you are, what interests you want to develop, what your special talents are and what you offer, as well as need from a relationship. This will help you to fortify your self esteem which will provide guidance for you in your marriage relationship, particularly with regard to setting boundaries with your husband about the parts of his behavior that are devaluing, invasive or frightening to you.

Not addressing your husband's "temper" gives him the message that his behavior is acceptable to you. In fact, it should not be. Cruelty to animals is considered a crime in some states (such as California). Clearly our society considers violence to animals over the line. Why should it be acceptable in your relationship? Low self-esteem is the main reason you would tolerate this situation. No doubt your husband's self esteem is also severely damaged. He cannot feel pride about having to resort to the behavior you describe. Loss of self control builds a reservoir of shame. His sense of powerlessness to affect the situation positively does not engender respect or build esteem, either internally or in his relationship experience with others. His loss of control only reinforces a poor self image.

Require that your spouse focus on his inability to have discussions calmly. Offer him as well as yourself an opportunity for a viable marriage. Without the ability to negotiate conflict in the marriage, your relationship may be doomed. Walking away from a discussion may be necessary, if it is the only way to avoid violence. However it is not the answer. Developing communication skills and the self esteem necessary to explore differences is a must!

Express to your husband the things about him that you do love, but let him know that his behavior is frightening to you and that you want him to get professional help addressing his "temper" before it destroys the relationship. The violent acting out behavior must stop. It is not only damaging to your relationship, it is undermining to his own self worth, too. He owes it to himself to improve his ability to handle stress as well as to you. If he can hear you, you have a chance at developing a healing relationship. If he cannot, the signals of violence should be taken seriously as a sign for potential escalation towards you in the future. Your safety needs to be a first priority before you can develop or enjoy a healthy relationship! Fear has no place in your marriage.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com