When I adopted an adorable little 3-year old, I immediately noticed her temper tantrums. She would literally throw herself on the floor and hit her head on the wall. I contacted her pediatrician immediately. What to do? She explained to me that likely the behavior would end as soon as her language skills developed. Sure enough, those tantrums nearly disappeared over the months ahead. She could verbalize her frustrations and we could resolve it (usually without much effort).
But, you know, the more I saw my daughter’s temper tantrums, I came to realize that they weren’t all that different than my then-husband’s tantrums, only he was an adult. They were ugly, scary, unpredictable… and incredibly child-like. Almost unable to use his words, Rob would literally explode over anything—a comment, a reminder to walk the dogs, talking about vacation plans, dinner… you name it. He would stutter, scream, wring his hands, jump up and down, and slam doors. Even after he was alone in a room, one could still hear him screaming and mumbling, sometimes incoherently. Bizarre doesn’t begin to describe the craziness of it.
I always chalked up his behavior to alcohol—he either needed a drink, wanted a drink, or was feeling guilty that he had too much to drink. I still believe that to be true, however, I also believe that he suffered from a severe personality or mental disorder. Was he bi-polar? Or… what? Maybe if I understood it better, I could do something to prevent the tantrums. Or at least make myself and the children scarce.
A lot or alcoholics and drug addicts self-medicate, attempting to “fix” something that feels very wrong by resorting to mind-altering substances. Temporarily, the drink or the pill or joint will make them feel more “normal.” It will help calm him, he thinks. It never does, though.
The other day, I saw an intriguing article about Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), which takes away one’s natural control over their aggressive impulses. According to Temper Your Anger, a web site devoted to the disorder, the cause is a lack of serotonin and testosterone to the frontal lobe region of the brain and affects more men than women. Similar to the “pleasure principle,” those with IED have not developed the part of their brain that uses rationalization skills. And the result is that he can go from “normal” to “melt-down” in the snap of a finger.
Before a proper diagnosis can be made, however, the following conditions must be ruled out: dementia, Oppositional-Defiant Disorder (ODD), Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), schizophrenia, panic attacks, and drug addiction or alcoholism.
For those suffering from IED, there is help. But it takes the help of a licensed therapist, perhaps a psychiatrist. But for those living with a man who has explosive tendencies, you really need to ask yourself if you should stick around. Because likely, you are in a highly abusive and volatile relationship. While I don’t think anyone will say that divorce is awesome, there are far worse things than a divorce, and a bad marriage is one of them.
I know that as much as I tried to get help for my husband, it was not possible. I could not work hard enough or do anything to make him seek treatment and stay in it. The only thing I could do was protect myself and children, and that meant leaving. As hard and traumatic as it was on everyone, especially the children, there were no other options.
If your guy is willing to truly get help, and to stay in therapy for a very long time while he works through his mental and physical demons, then there may be hope. But the odds are that he won’t. And in the meantime, you are allowing yourself and children to be victimized by a man-child. The consequences are real and they are serious.
I once had a reader chastise me for leaving my alcoholic husband. He wrote, “You made a vow about ‘sickness and health.’ He is sick. You should have treated him as such.” As much as I can’t fathom leaving someone with, say, cancer or heart disease, leaving someone with an addition is not the same thing. And if you are sacrificing your mental and physical health to try and save another, you are of zero help to anyone.
So what to do if your partner is emotionally volatile and prone to adult temper tantrums? As best as possible, remain calm. Leave the room or home. Call the police if you feel he is dangerous to you, others, or himself. When he has calmed down, try and talk to him about what set him off. Allow him to speak and listen. And then plan your escape. Your very life, and the wellbeing of your children, may depend on it.