If, When & How Apologize


My husband and I just had the first fight to end all fights in the 10 years we’ve been together.

This is a second marriage for both with 5 children between us, all grown and self-sufficient! Yay kids! He has a stubborn streak which, at times is amusing, at others more annoying. Mostly, I try to let him be himself (no hardcore manual, but yes to a teensy scrap of paper, folded, very small) and choose my thoughts and emotions without letting his less appealing characteristics affect my mood. Most of the time, it’s a cakewalk. In the past we might have exchanged some sharp words a few times a year, but we both would agree that letting it escalate would do no one any good.

This hurricane blew up out of nowhere and honestly blind-sided me.

On Sunday it was time for me to sign our joint tax returns (we always file for an extension). They’re quite complex and due to his profession, we have to file in a kajillion states besides local and federal. He prides himself on doing ALL the taxes himself. He’s brilliant! He does a fantastic job and every year we celebrate when they’re done and I heap loads of appreciation and admiration upon his little gray head. This year was no different. BUT…

I was in the middle of watching a TV movie in real time and he called me to come into the living room to sign some final out of state returns. I reminded him I was in the middle of watching a movie and asked if we could do it afterwards. He said it would only take a minute and to just come in now. I did. I signed. We got to the last batch which was thick and clipped together. He started thumbing through the pages, insisting there were more pages for me to sign but couldn’t find them. He repeatedly started at the beginning of the packet and kept thumbing through and still couldn’t find the pages. I asked him to take the clip off and let’s go through the pages one by one so we could find them. Hmmm, this was taking longer than I thought it would. I was missing my movie. He kept thumbing and I kept asking him just to take the clip off. He kept ignoring me. Finally, I was getting annoyed and said these horribly disastrous words, “Look, now you’re wasting my time. Just bring the pages in for me to sign when you find them.” I hurried back to the movie. He never came back with the pages.

Well, I had no idea that those words ignited a firestorm within him. He went to bed before me, not unusual. He left for work in a hurry on Monday, but brought me tea in bed, as usual (one of his especially considerate morning rituals). I’m going about my business on Monday and realize we hadn’t spoken yet during the day, which wasn’t all that unusual. I called and left a message, noting that he didn’t even say good-bye that morning. He texted me back saying that I should go ahead and have dinner without him as he knew I liked to watch the Bachelorette and he didn’t want to waste my time. In passing I thought that text was awkward, but still didn’t quite put two and two together regarding wasting time.

He came home late, also not unusual, and strangely didn’t stop to say hello but quietly disappeared upstairs. Now I was beginning to feel that something was clearly amiss. I hurried up stairs and asked him what was wrong and why he didn’t stop to say hello. He snarled that he didn’t want to “waste my time.” I blurted out, “What are you talking about! Why are you doing this? What’s your problem?” He repeated himself and went into the bathroom. I went back downstairs fuming with indignation and feeling blind-sided and started, with more than a bit of disbelief, to slowly put the pieces together. I realized he wasn’t speaking to me on purpose and was angry because I said you’re wasting my time! Now that technique is hardly a useful way to address the problem. Within minutes when I walked back up to discuss this matter, he was sound asleep. Men. I crawled into bed, restlessly fuming, tossing and turning and trying to read to make myself drowsy. Maybe I got 4 hours.

He typically gets up before me and goes downstairs to watch the morning financial shows. Because we hadn’t spoken on Monday, he didn’t remember that on Tuesday I had to leave very early for a conference. While I was in the shower he was sneaking up my morning tea and then disappeared. I didn’t drink it. I left to meet my carpool without acknowledging him. By then I was angry myself, feeling unjustly attacked when a simple conversation could have dealt with the issue on Sunday night. Neither of us made an effort to call or text during the day. I made dinner for both of us and ate early, saving his portion, not knowing when he would be home. I went up to bed early.

He returned about 9:30 and stomped upstairs to yell his head off at me, which is TOTALLY UNCHARACTERISTIC of him. He started demanding an apology from me because I had insulted and disrespected him, that I showed no appreciation or gratitude for the hard work he had done preparing the returns and some dumb movie was more important than getting these papers signed. I told him to stop yelling at me, that it was only making things worse. But he kept interrupting to keep yelling that I owed him an apology. Oh, but no I wouldn’t give him an apology because I’m so perfect, I never do anything wrong nor would ever admit it when I did. On and on he roared. I tried to get more than a few words in edgewise, but he was on a tear, yelling that this was the worst thing I had ever done and he was furious and he had seen an awful side of me that he had never known before and, of course, I owed him a apology but would probably never give him one because I am constitutionally incapable of apologizing.

Well, he knows that I am listening to you religiously and consciously trying to manage my mind and thoughts to effect my feelings in a neutral/positive way. So, I was hoping to slow down the rant by asking him why he was creating this destructive story around what I said, that did not match the person he has known and loved for 10 years. I tried to tell him that I meant no harm or disrespect, but that he simply was annoying me by not taking the clip off the papers so we could look at them more efficiently —nothing more than that. I don’t disturb him when he’s in the middle of doing something because he gets annoyed. STUPID. CRAZY, I KNOW! More yelling.

He was so wound up. He was having an apoplectic fit. I kept saying, this has to be about something much more than a careless phrase that taken in context was not something that should drive him into a rage. I was in bed with the covers pulled up to my chin and he was a blustering beast, haranguing me and then walking out of the room and then returning to yell some more. I kept trying to say, we need to talk about this more calmly, that he was making it impossible to have a conversation. He finally stomped out of the bedroom and went downstairs.

We have never slept apart while we were both at home, ever. He never came back up to bed. I slept fitfully again, my brain reeling from the assault. I started imagining leaving him, even started looking at apartments on realtor.com in the city I would love to live in and fantasized about moving out. Not divorce, but just getting away from him. Actually, that fantasy gave me a curious sense of relief and made me feel I was reclaiming my power.

Early this morning, he appeared in the doorway, fully dressed in his rumpled clothes from yesterday so he clearly slept through the night on the sofa. He started to raise his voice again, pacing between the bedroom and bathroom. Wow. Now we’re into the 3rd day of his fury. I fixed him in a hard stare and very calmly and firmly said, this behavior is abusive and unacceptable. It has got to stop. I have my boundaries.

I told him that what I said that upset him so profoundly was a sentence long. What he has been doing has shown me utter, intentional disrespectful for several days with hundreds of sentences. I told him that he was going down a dangerous path that could have regrettable consequences if he didn’t get a grip. If he didn’t come home at a reasonable hour tonight to discuss this mess, I would have to take matters into my hands because I would not tolerate one more day of this behavior. He didn’t reply, showered, and dressed. I heard him downstairs preparing my tea. He brought it up, placed it on my night table and in a somewhat normal voice, which I hadn’t heard since Sunday, said, “I can’t break the tradition.” Again in a surprisingly normal voice he said we probably should talk about it tonight and he would text me to tell me when he would be home. He texted he’d be home at 8:30 tonight.

Brooke, I am reminding myself that there is only love, that I have the power to think the thoughts I want and steer my emotional life accordingly. I keep trying to find the compassion, to tell myself that he has been under a lot of stress lately, a heavy workload (although nothing new in that), his elderly parent’s health issues, the recent international computer hacking that brought his law firm to its knees and which took them more than a week to recover from right in the middle of harrowing deals, we’re trying to buy the most expensive investment property we’ve ever owned and then there’s the huge tax return project that he’s been slaving over. I’m trying to arouse feelings of radical empathy. But honestly, I felt it was downright abusive the way he treated me.

The upset and unsettled feelings I’ve had the last 2 days reminded me of the unhappiness of my prior marriage and the disequilibrium I felt for years in that relationship. When I divorced, I swore I’d rather be alone for the rest of my life than in an unhappy marriage. I was soooo happy after my ex moved out and I was very strong and self-sufficient alone. I loved being the master of my fate and it was then that I began to understand that I could mastermind my own happiness. I have been soooo happy since then and especially in this second marriage. I have felt that even with his shortcomings, I couldn’t imagine a better fit for me intellectually, professionally and socially. I have also learned that it’s best to get the emotional depth I crave from my girlfriends, my mother and my adult daughters. It works.

But this episode has thrown me such a hard curve ball that it slammed into my head. I’ve been reeling from the intensity of his outbursts. Apologize? No way. I’m absolutely stunned and feel that everything he said and did to me far outweighed whatever I said to him. Isn’t he responsible for his own thoughts and subsequent feelings? Why would he make up such a terrible story around what I said when I am always showing him respect, appreciation and admiration, all of it genuine?

Here’s my model after getting my thoughts out in this email.

C: Husband screaming at me demanding an apology.

T: What a complete and total disrespectful, abusive ass. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever apologize to him. For what? His own runaway mind and temper?

F: Furious

A: Refuse to apologize without an apology from him too

R: Greater separation and distance and still sitting with an unresolved issue

Revised Model:

C.: Husband screaming at me demanding an apology

T: He’s really hurting. What does he think I meant by what I said? I better get curious.

F: Compassion

A: Make him bacon, his most favorite food, a peace offering. An apology of sorts?

R: De-escalate tensions and begin the restoration of our equilibrium

Brooke, thanks for hanging I there. Your thoughts please?