Ask Dr. Conte: I Think My Lashing Out Has Cost Me My Relationship – What Can I Do?

Domestic violence anger frustration

Dr. Conte,

I have a dire situation that has made my relationship crumble. I never opened up to her or told her about my problems – why I was feeling sad, and why I looked angry. I oftentimes lashed out at her. When we wanted to talk things through and find a solution, she would stop and tell me, “You don’t say anything, so I suppose you don’t care,” and when I was about to tell her an answer she’d shut off. I acted on impulses when I didn’t get what I wanted, and I would get mad. I would force her to talk to me, even a few times grabbed her by her arms or legs out of bed when we were about to go to sleep. I don’t know if my relationship is able to be saved, but I know that I need help. I am currently not living with her. I hope I can find the proper steps to control this type of behavior.


Hi Chris,

Yes, this is a dire situation. The way I want to give you help is tough, because on one hand, I can see that you’re spiraling toward living in shame over what has happened, and I do not want you to live in shame because I know where that type of path leads. However, on the other hand, I need to be very clear with you that domestic violence is unacceptable. Whether it was impulsive or not, you did physically hurt your partner, and that’s never okay. I do not say what I say out of judgment in any way. I have no judgment for you, but I do have truthful information to share with you, and sometimes hearing the truth is not easy. Although I am openly telling you that it won’t likely be easy, if you really want help, and really want to know what steps to follow to control that type of behavior (as you asked in your question), follow these steps: 

Step one: Do not force yourself on anyone. Continue to give her space and do NOT push yourself back into her life. Forcing her to talk to you is controlling and abusive (whether you mean for it to be or not), and it’s not okay to force her to do that; so again, step one is to give her space. You might very well have lost this relationship, and might possibly never get it back, but if you are to ever have a chance with her again, it has to be when she feels safe enough to come back, and it has to be only after you have made the following changes:

Step two: Learn from your mistakes. Recognize specifically what you did that was harmful so that you can learn from it and never do it again. From what you described, it sounds like you felt it was okay for you to shut down and not open up, but if your partner ever wanted to not talk things out, you somehow did not find that acceptable, so you would, as you said, “force” her to talk. It’s vital that you understand that in a healthy relationship, no one forces anyone to do anything. If it was okay for you to not talk about your feelings, then it should have been okay for her to not talk about hers as well. That’s called an equal partnership. That you cannot handle her going inward has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with you; so if you are not capable of giving a partner space when she needs it, then you are not ready to be in a relationship. 

Step three: Understand with your entire being that domestic violence is never acceptable. For whatever reason, you allowed yourself to believe it was acceptable to put your hands on her. It’s not. It never is. You have to find a way to learn that there is absolutely nothing she can do that could ever justify you putting your hands on her. Until you can learn to control your impulses, it is really important for you to not be in a relationship. There are ways to begin to learn how to manage your anger, but you also have to learn that it is fundamentally unacceptable to ever hit a woman. 

Step four: Learn to open up. It’s not easy to open up about what you’re feeling. Most men have never been taught how to express their feelings. Most men grow up being told to stuff their emotions down; but the problem is, as men, we do have emotions, and stuffing them down only causes problems. It is entirely on you to learn how to open up. The process isn’t difficult to learn, but it is difficult for many people to actually do. The process is simply this: Tell your partner what is going on with you. Tell your partner exactly how you’re feeling. That’s it. That’s the step to opening up. I know it sounds “easy,” and that’s because the method itself is straightforward, but I also know that it’s not necessarily easy to do. It will take practice. In other words: Even if how you’re feeling is angry and like you don’t want to talk, you need to say that. Be honest about what’s really going on with you. 

The reality is you might have lost this relationship (and I honestly don’t think you should try to get back in it, even if she does want to get back together, until you have gotten significant help for controlling your impulses and shifting your fundamental worldview of what is acceptable in terms of violence). If you did lose this relationship, my heart goes out to you. I can tell you’re hurting. It took a lot of guts to reach out to a website and open up the way you did; so again, I have no judgments for you. In fact, the reality is that because you were able to open up to me, I know that it’s in you to open up to a partner in a relationship. 

Finally, I will say this: Some of the changes I’m talking about you making are behavioral changes, and even though behavioral changes sound easy in theory, the truth is that it often takes a great deal of time and energy to break longstanding behavioral patterns. So, I definitely want to be real with you and let you know that you have a lot of work ahead of you. However, I also want to encourage you, because the fact that you would reach out to me means that you are willing to change. 

Life is hard sometimes. Sometimes we lose relationships that we feel were meant to be. My heart definitely goes out to you and your partner, because remember, she is suffering in all this as well. I’m sending you both all the best. 

Much peace,

Dr. Conte

*Names have been changed for privacy.