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Our trauma has culminated in a big outburst

My husband and I have been together for 12 years. We have suffered many traumas together despite our young age - I had cancer early on in our relationship, he lives with chronic pain & for the last four years we have been trying to conceive and suffering with recurrent miscarriage.

Around five years ago I discovered an affair some years previously. We had some Relate counselling which was excellent and our marriage has on the whole been very healthy since. We have both had periods of individual counselling. Some years ago he would have anger outbursts and these were worked on in his therapy and he worked on his familial relationships which seemed to be the root cause.

The last few weeks have been a pressure pot. He is under immense work pressure, I am recovering post miscarriage. I know he isn't coping and had to take some days off work this week. I then had a stressful work complaint I was trying to discuss with him in the car on the way to look after his unwell mother. I didn't feel he was listening to me and I was rude to him I acknowledge that.

He then had the largest outburst either of us have seen and we are both in shock. He slammed his hands on the steering wheel screamed and yelled that he never wants me to discuss this work thing with him again then if I feel that way. We are both a bit shell shocked. He is worried at his outburst as much as I am. He's worried it's verbal abuse and he doesn't want to be like this. My sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and I'm either crying or shaking. Please offer some insight?

Why are either of you are remotely surprised at what recently happened? Few people experience the level of loss, disappointment, sadness and quite possibly the anger that must surely have been your shared 'lot' over the years. As human beings any of us can only take so much and you've taken more than your fair share. The outburst you describe is not a surprise.

I tend to think that when something like that happens it isn't really about whatever was immediately under discussion at the time. It's usually a resurfacing of all the things that have gone before. We tend manage things as best we can and then something else comes along, like your work situation and suddenly it all feels too much.

Getting the response you did from him is clearly not right but it sounds like you’ve both done the right thing by taking step back from it and asking some salient questions about what happened. I don’t get any sense that he’s in denial that his approach was extremely upsetting. His fear that it was verbal abuse is likely to be correct and though profoundly unhelpful at a time when you were most needing his support I think with help, you can both move on from what’s just happened...

It’s commendable that you’ve reached out individually and jointly for professional help. Counselling is often so useful for getting to the bottom of things and finding new ways forward. Clearly the work you’ve done with various therapists has provided considerable insight and given you the building blocks you needed at that time to recover the relationship.

But whilst that’s all well and good, sometimes couples can benefit from some ‘top up’ support. This doesn’t mean that people get hooked on therapy. What it does mean is that like all of us from time to time, you would be getting a helping hand to support the progress you clearly made together earlier on. I would really encourage you both to have a think about this possibility.

I’d also encourage your husband to make sure he’s investigated all possible options for his chronic pain. So many people live with this condition and the impact on quality of life is often profound and whilst we’re each ultimately responsible for the behaviours we dish out to others, nonetheless additional pressures like pain, miserable or worrying work experiences and many of the other curved balls life throws at us, these can often conspire to cloud our judgement and say things we later regret as is the case you describe here.

So, please do get some more support. What you’ve gone through together deserves this and I hope that in the midst of everything else you find some peace individually and together.

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Ammanda Major is a sex and relationship therapist and our Head of Service Quality and Clinical Practice

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