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Temper Tantrums

My husband's angry outbursts are driving our family apart.

My husband has a bad temper and a habit of cursing. He usually directs his verbal tirades at the TV or other drivers in bad traffic, but he also occasionally targets my two teenage sons and me. As a result, my sons are losing respect for him. My husband doesn't see the damage he's doing to our family. Is there anything I can do to open his eyes?

Long ago I learned people don't change destructive behavior until they experience its negative consequences. Any seasoned counselor will attest to this fact, and there's no reason to believe the same won't hold true for your husband. So, let me suggest a couple practical ways you can help him see the negative consequences of his unchecked anger.

First, your husband needs to receive a clear heartfelt message from the whole family. It's vital he hear from his boys—and not just you—about the impact of his undisciplined anger. I recommend you hold a family meeting not to punish him, but to let him know each of you is losing respect for him because he isn't treating you with respect.

Next, set some consequences in your meeting. Decide, in advance, what the fallout of his next tirade will be. Maybe the next time he curses at one of you, you will immediately leave the room and not respond. Or on a more lighthearted note, maybe he'll agree to give each of you five dollars whenever his temper flares up.

Of course, if your husband resists the whole premise he's angry, this approach won't work. Instead, your husband will only face reality when you take action by sticking firmly to the negative consequences you've warned him about.

If your husband wants to tame his temper but can't, it's time for him to seek some professional help. An anger-management class or individual counseling can be effective.

Finally, if your husband's outbursts ever become physically violent, it's time to get immediate help for you and your children. Seek safety by phoning the police and/or temporarily moving to a safe place until firm boundaries are established.

Stand By Your … Friend?

A friend asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. We grew up together in church but she's drifted from the faith and she's been living with her fiancé for a year. I'm glad they're getting married, but I don't feel their relationship has honored God thus far. By being a bridesmaid, I feel as though I would be vouching for this couple in a special way. Should I provide that kind of support?

Your desire to live by your convictions is admirable. The sacredness of marriage too often is taken lightly these days, and I want to affirm your desire to respect this institution. But I believe there's a way to stand by your convictions and still offer your friend loving support and grace.

First of all, it sounds as though your friend may not know where you're at on this issue. I recommend you talk with her and start by saying something like: "You know I really love you and want to be a part of your important day, but I also want you to know we disagree about some really important choices." With a gentle, loving spirit, let her know you believe her living with her boyfriend was a damaging choice for their relationship and a damaging choice for her spiritual health. Let her know you support her desire to be married and affirm her for this choice. Then ask: "Knowing how I feel about these convictions, do you still want me to stand with you in your ceremony?"

This allows her to make the decision. And it allows you to offer support in whatever way she'll receive it. Whether she continues to want you to be a bridesmaid or not, this gives you a chance to stand for what you value—a committed marriage relationship—and to love your friend at the same time.

Wandering Eyes?

My boyfriend and I disagree about friendships with the opposite sex. He thinks it's fine to take other women out to dinner "just as friends." My ex-husband developed similar seemingly innocent relationships with women that evolved into affairs so I know I'm sensitive in this area. Nevertheless, what's fair to expect in a dating relationship?

You're wise to ask this question in the dating stage of your relationship. Too many women overlook this kind of behavior, thinking it will change once they're married. That rarely happens.

The best way to approach this issue is by being vulnerable, not demanding. If you come across as challenging, angry, or sanctimonious, your boyfriend is certain to be defensive. Take ownership, in front of your boyfriend, of the possibility that you're particularly attuned to flirtatious behavior. You might say something like: "I'm sure my pain from the past can cause me to be more sensitive to this and maybe make more out of what I perceive as flirtation than need be." Taking ownership for your history will lower his defenses and promote a more productive discussion.

Instead of immediately telling him what you need to change, you might begin by asking him what boundaries he's comfortable with for you and your male friends. This will help him to see the situation from your shoes.

Next, discuss the boundaries you both need to maintain a trusting relationship. Tell him flat out what you need to feel emotionally safe and respected by him. And if he doesn't respect those needs, that's a red flag.

The bottom line is that you both need to feel safe for your relationship to have a future. If he can't provide that emotional safety, it's time to move on.

Leslie Parrott, Ed.D. is co-founder (with her husband, Les) of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and the author of several books, including Love Talk (Zondervan). Have a relationship question for Leslie? Check out her website at www.RealRelationships.com, e-mail her at tcwedit@christianitytoday.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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