Dear Harlan: I’ve been feeling stressed about school and problems at home. I don’t have an outlet where I can release all the stress, so sometimes it just comes out as “anger” when I’m with my girlfriend. I’ve been with her for three years now and plan to spend the rest of my life with her, and she with me. I feel like she’s overwhelmed with me always taking it out on our relationship. I truly love her. She’s the one I will marry and cherish, but I hate hurting her so much. I know I’m still maturing, but I truly want to change for good. How can I change? What do I do if she gets too overwhelmed and tries to break up? I know that it’s not her intention to break up with me, but she is getting frustrated with me and my anger.
Dear Angry: Grateful for this question — it takes a strong man to admit he has a problem. You know it’s NOT OK to continue this. You appreciate that it MUST stop. It doesn’t feel good for you or for her. If it doesn’t stop, she will leave you. The only question is how quickly you can change. Check out the Love Is Respect website: www.loveisrespect.org/for-yourself/can-i-stop-being-abusive. There are some helpful suggestions to help you start changing your behavior. The first step is taking responsibility for your actions. Emotional abuse is not allowed. Examine how your behavior impacts your girlfriend. Accept that if this continues, she will leave or it might escalate. Turn to the people who can help you. Find a support group. Lean on friends. Talk to a social worker. Develop healthier ways to cope. Things like meditation, exercise, journaling, focused breathing, counseling and self-care are ways to help regulate the anger. Identify the moment right before the anger, and change the action. This takes time and practice. And apologize to your girlfriend. Acknowledge what you’ve done and tell her what you’re doing to change. Then do the work.