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My Overly Sensitive Husband
Dear Emuna

My Overly Sensitive Husband

My husband is very sensitive and gives comfort to others in pain. But he takes things too personally and can fly off the handle.


Dear Emuna,

My husband is a very sensitive person, both in a positive and negative way. He is always there for others when they are in pain to comfort them, but also takes things way too personally and will yell at people. The other day, he misunderstood something I said and completely flew off the handle and started yelling at me. He called me all types of expletives and other terrible names. When he finally cooled down, he apologized but said that I "struck a chord" in him. I have forgiven him but am nervous about the future and him acting out like that in front of our kids. Thoughts?


Dear Nervous,

As you suggest, being sensitive can be a double-edged sword. Your husband can be very empathic, feeling other people’s pain – and hopefully yours as well! And he can take simple, throwaway comments too seriously and personally. I would suggest two approaches to this – one is to be careful about what you say. I don’t mean that you should walk on eggshells but if we have a parent, spouse, child or even friend who is extra sensitive, we usually try to watch our words. It is appropriate to take their needs into account and it is appropriate in all situations to watch what we say.

On the other hand, even with the best of caution, we can slip up and certainly don’t want to be subject to the type of tirade you experienced if we do.

I think that you can possibly use your husband’s sensitivity as a tool to help him grow and change. Have him imagine how he would feel if he was at the other end of his outburst. Have him imagine how his children would feel. Have him imagine how he would counsel a friend who behaved like that or was a victim of that abuse. Hopefully these strategies will help him recognize the error of his ways and motivate him to change.

If this is unsuccessful or he needs some tools (as opposed to just insight) then I suggest the two of you meet with a competent therapist. It is a serious issue (I would venture to call it emotional abuse if it persists) and you are right to try to nip it in the bud before any children are affected. Your husband may be tempted to sweep it under the carpet – until the next time! You need to hold firm that this behavior must change.

Too Much Drinking

Dear Emuna,

I am concerned about my husband. He is 70-something, has dealt with depression on and off for decades (psychology is out of the question, as it means weakness) and has now started to drink wine, always a bit more, without eating anything, when the sun goes down. At first I let him be because he never gets drunk, and when he has his wine depression goes out and he is smiling and positive. But he is starting to drink the whole bottle. And this may ruin his health. I don’t know if I should go to AA (myself, he will not even think about that) or what to do. Besides praying, of course. But that helps me, not necessarily him. And I'm worried about his health.

Concerned Wife

Dear Concerned,

I understand why you are concerned and I believe it would be helpful to you to attend some Al-Anon meetings and learn more about the appropriate role for you to play in this situation. The bottom line, however, is that the real desire for help and change has to come from him. Frequently, people have to hit rock bottom before they recognize that they need outside help. This is an all too common occurrence with alcoholics. I certainly don’t wish that on your husband or you but his choices are out of your hands. You can make small changes – cooking foods that better absorb alcohol, reducing the amount of wine stored in the house and initiating gently prodding conversations about how he feels, your concerns and what you would like to see him do about it. You could perhaps ask him to do it for you and your peace of mind.

It is, however, unclear if any of that will work and it’s going to be up to him to decide what to do about his life. I don’t know enough about his medical situation. Perhaps start with speaking with his physician before panicking. My husband’s grandmother used to drink a glass of wine every night with dinner. A few years before she passed away at 98, she asked her doctor if she should make any changes to her habit. “On the contrary,” he responded. “Whatever you’re doing seems to be working; just keep doing it!” I know it’s not analogous but it would be helpful to have an informed medical opinion.

Finally, as a last resort and if you know with certainty that your husband is doing something destructive, there are interventions where the whole family gathers to strongly urge the addicted relative to get help (I’m simplifying here). This should be done only with the assistance of a competent profession.

And of course, keep praying.

Daughter’s Boyfriend

Dear Emuna,

My daughter just came home from her first year at college, first boyfriend in tow. She is so excited, over the moon to be precise. I am less so. He’s very quiet and reserved and doesn’t seem to fit in with our family. I also think they’re too young to be serious. What should I do?

Worried Mom

Dear Worried,

There is always something for moms to worry about!! Since you have sent me very little information, I can only respond briefly. About his reserve; it is not a character flaw to be shy and reserved. In fact it is considered more praiseworthy than being loud and chatty. Is there some negative quality that is the reason he doesn’t fit in or is it just the quiet? If it’s the latter, then your family can learn from him and you can all grow together. If we all married people exactly the same as us, life would be very boring indeed and the opportunity for growth that marriage provides would be squandered.

If, on the other hand, there is a more serious concern I would emphasize that they are young. If you get involved and try to separate them, you will probably end up pushing her into his arms. If you are just calmly accepting and available for discussions, you will, hopefully, allow your daughter to eventually make a decision that will be healthy for her. Watching our children grow and mature can definitely be challenging. It’s yet another phase in this roller coaster journey we call parenthood.

July 2, 2016

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 11

(7) Anonymous, October 13, 2016 2:54 PM

To the mom of the college student...
One of my good friends brought her boyfriend to meet her parents. He's shy and a little awkward, but he's also sweet and cares about her. The parents saw the sweet and caring part and they liked him. Her siblings are more social and didn't like his awkwardness. My friend and her boyfriend are happily married with a child now- obviously she had her priorities straight.
If you, the mom, see something seriously wrong, then you should ask for help on how to bring it up with your daughter (remember that you don't want to drive her any further into his arms). But if the only issue is him being quiet and reserved, but he's otherwise a good guy, then just step back and see where it goes.

(6) Anonymous, July 6, 2016 9:15 PM

He sounds like he is physically off and showing signs of DEPRESSION

It sounds like he has the medical condition/mental illness Depression. It produces a jekyll and hyde effect. The mood swings are strongest in Evening and when the weather is turning bad. Vitamins and Herbal supplements help GREATLY. In evening Calcium Magnesium Zinc complex, B-Complex, B-6, Fish oil omega, Evening Primrose Oil St. Johns Wort. Estrogen foods help as does Pasta. If it goes beyond supplement assistance then needs PRESCRIPTION FROM DR.

Go for a walk if he flares-ups. Get away from him and give him a chance to calm down. Never have discussions when they are in that state of mind. It is almost as if they snap into turrets syndrome. If he says bad things stick to the mantra
"That is not Nice, That is Rude, Watch your Manners".
Do not say bad things back.

If anything gets out of control you have to call the police and let them know his system is off and he is acting out of control and may need medical assistance.

(5) Anonymous, July 6, 2016 6:12 PM

Two Important points

1. To the Wife of the Sensitive Husband

Lets cut to the chase. Our Sages speak of a person's true nature when it comes to his own family, in the privacy of his own home, and when he is in an angry state. To say the least the fact that he 'flies off the handle' uses 'explicatives' indicates, in no uncertain terms, that he is NOT sensitive. He has serious anger management problems. He needs professional help. He is in no position to be with you in such a state and there needs to be clear boundaries that are a matter of extreme urgency to protect you and your children. The empathy he shows to others is a result of his anger management problem. A professional needs to be told of this fact.

2. To the wife of the depressed 70-year old soon-to-be alcoholic.

Your husband is in serious need of help. It is a miracle he has lived so long without help. He needs it desperately. He is out of control. He may not seek guidance from you, but his friends and peer group maybe able to get him to see a 'friend' not a 'shrink'. People are afraid of the consequences, but honestly, would you allow him to go bleeding and not see a doctor, regardless of his personal wishes? Of course you would do everything to help him! So why is mental health any different? He is emotionally out of control. He is helpless with his own state, seeks external means to help him get out of it, when in reality it could be easily corrected with medication! You need to get him professional help fast! It would help to seek guidance from a community leader such as someone he respects to encourage him to talk to a psychiatrist!

(4) Bobby5000, July 5, 2016 2:55 AM

Gender roles

From a male perspective, there are people who can tell you what to do such as bosses, coaches, teachers, and parents while others at your level may suggest or ask. Wives who bark orders do not seem to understand this. Why does she think she is above me and can tell me what to do, the husband thinks rather than focusing on the issue.

Many husbands will be happier if the wife suggests or couches her direction in soft language or compliments.

Nancy, July 5, 2016 11:53 AM

To commenter #4 Bobby5000

I certainly would not want my husband to boss me around/bark orders at me. With all due respect, this is not a gender issue at all. (Btw--I once had a male boss throw a pile of papers at me in a fit of anger. If that were to happen today, I would certainly speak up.) People of either gender and all ages react much better if requests are made kindly and courteously. Kol tuv.

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