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?

Nervous

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.