Dealing With The Yelling

Screaming matches. Don’t have them.
When you are having a screaming match, it’s more often that not your Rationalization Hamster and her Rationalization Hamster squaring off against each other and trying to win their point of view through sheer force of emotion. There may be a short term peace as one side backs down, but whoever wins the argument, also learns that the screaming fit is a strategy that will get them what they want in the relationship. So it pretty much sets a path where more screaming matches will take place.
Women are more verbally skilled than men on average, and wives that outclass their husbands’ verbal skills can find the verbal tirade a stock-in-trade strategy to get their husbands to do what they want. Of course if a husband launched into repeated tirades against his wife, that would be immediately understood as verbal abuse.
That being said, rather than complain that women verbally abuse men, I think it’s far more helpful to see it as simply her employing a strategy that is proving to be effective. We could probably spend a few hundred hours trying to convince a screeching wife she is in fact engaging in verbal abuse, to little effect. But if it suddenly proves to be a ineffective strategy, she’ll probably just stop it very quickly anyway.
It’s very obvious that there’s a communication strategy involved when you witness women in the middle of very normal lighthearted conversations with friends, suddenly switch to the “Go-fuck-yourself” tone and issue sharp retorts or directives at their husbands, and then immediately switch back to light banter with their friends. Which means they are in control of their emotions the entire time and are employing a deliberate strategy with him. They aren’t actually all that angry with him, they are simply trained to act angry with him any time they want something.
The trouble with dealing with this strategy though is that any attempt to be polite, cooperative or simply evade them, is seen as a submission display, and that empowers them to bully you further. Actually completing the assigned task is even worse as that is a direct payoff to them for yelling at you. What you have to do is render the yelling an ineffective tactic to get what she wants.
Some responses:
(1)  Ignore the content of her speech, and draw attention to the fact that she is yelling at you for no good reason.
(2)  If she’s asking you to perform a task, just calmly say “No.”
(3)  Completely ignore that she is even talking to you.
(4)  Say, “Are you finished yelling?” When she says she is, then say, “Is there something you would like to talk about?”  Emphasis on the word “talk.”
(5)  Say “I’m not interested in having this discussion with you while you are like this.” and then either you leave where ever you are, or you ask her to leave.
Whatever it is that she is trying to achieve by this tactic, just ensure that she doesn’t get it by using it. At first she will blow up at you even harder and louder, testing to see if you continue to hold your ground, but if you do, eventually she will discontinue using the tactic.
Importantly… bear in mind that what she is asking of you may well be a reasonable request, you’re dealing with her unreasonable tone and tactic. Once she can restate her reasonable request appropriately, it’s fine to do what she is asking of you. If she makes a reasonable request, in a reasonable tone of voice, it’s generally the behavior you want from her to continue, so you reward it by doing what she wants you to do.
Though do bear in mind it’s not a reasonable request that you are her servant 24/7… even if she does ask nicely. Heck Jennifer and I have the whole Captain and First Officer thing going on, and while she does play more of a support role, she’s nowhere near being my servant 24/7. Jennifer pulls her own weight for sure, but if she asks for my help, I help her.
Jennifer: I can’t stand yelling lol.


  1. This is actually one of the most effective things I've learned from you … I used to think slamming back hard — verbally — was the way to go, but I've gotten much better at the whole staying cool and calm thing. Just this past weekend, the wife blew up at me out of nowhere. It was a reasonable request, delivered in an entirely unreasonable tone. I told her, calmly, that since she asked me that way, she could do it herself…and despite continued raised voice, leading to softer voice but still complaining, and me going to watch tv all the while, she did do it herself. Later, she was cuddly and apologized for raising her voice.

    My one gray area about this is whether it's an ongoing reasonable task/request. If so, I generally will go ahead and do it, figuring my point's been made. A lesson well learned.

  2. Before I married my first husband at the tender age of 24, I noticed that he frequently "blew off" his mother when she was talkng to him. She wasn't screaming or even asking him to do anything; she was just talking, and he'd just walk away, or turn on the TV, or sometimes he'd start talking over the top of her, about a completely unrelated topic. I was young and naive, and talked to him about the fact that I thought his behavior was rude and disrespectful, and voiced my concern that someday, he would treat me that way. "Honey, NEVER! I could NEVER do that to you!" Roight.

    The longer we were married, the louder I got, just to try to get and/or keep his attention for almost any conversation we had (how was your day, we need groceries, would you please help me rotate the mattress, why aren't you coming home on Friday nights any more?) I have always LOVED sex, but by year 4 I couldn't stand it when he touched me. I hated the way he ignored me (or worse; yelled at me) until he was horny. By year 7, we were both screaming at each other in almost every interaction. In year 9, I was so angry all the time I didn't even remember a time that I was not filled with rage. In year 10, I backed him into a wall and he thought I was going to kill him, so he sent me to anger management therapy, then we were in couples counseling for 5 years. In year 16, I stuck a fork in the whole thing and guess what? I haven't raised my voice since! Was married for 5 years to husband #2, never raised my voice once. Haven't felt angry since the day I walked out the door 13 years ago. So I guess what I'm saying is that I really believe it was his behavior which provoked my screaming, and it was one simple cause: I didn't feel heard. So if your wife is screaming, you might not have to go beta on her, but you might ask yourself if she feels you are listening to her and she is being "heard".

  3. Yelling is pretty stupid and pointless unless of course the person you are yelling at is actually hard of hearing. As a person and wife I simply refuse to yell. It makes you look crazy and out of control. My husband has raised his voice to me once. Only once. I made it calmly clear to him that he could speak to me about anything but if he was going to yell he'd be yelling to himself as I'd no longer be in the area.

  4. @Anonymous, there are far better ways to get what you want accomplished than yelling. Yelling is never appropriate if the house is not afire. If he doesn't listen, yelling won't solve it. It didn't solve it, did it?

  5. Ian Ironwood says:

    Mrs. Ironwood and I have what we call the Rules Of Engagement for fights. They were mutually understood and agreed-upon before we got married. They are:

    1) No yelling. Reasonable tones only.
    2) No name calling. That's disrespectful.
    3) Stick to one topic at a time. Don't fight about that thing you did last week.
    4) No ultimatums. That's contrary to the spirit of the discussion.
    5) No chase-and-follow. We handle our business face to face in our own home without involving other people.
    6) No involving other people. This is between us.
    7) No ad hominem attacks. That's rude and intellectually dishonest.
    8) No kidney punches, i.e. hitting the other person's acknowledged weak spots. After nearly 20 years, we know where those are. If your husband/wife had an alcoholic parent, for example, comparing them to that parent would be considered a kidney punch.
    9) No involving the children. This is a debate between adults.
    10) No profane language. If you can help it.

    That's the general guideline. Our friends think we never fight, but we do — we just agreed to the rules ahead of time. And NO YELLING is the very first one. Yelling is a clear attempt to establish dominance without having won an argument. That's disrespectful not just to your partner, but to the marriage as a whole.

    And that's not to say that both of us haven't occasionally violated one of the less-important of the above rules at various points. When that happens, it's time to call a "time out" and walk away for some silent contemplation. It stretches out the fight, but it's better than a trip to the emergency room.

    Oh, and the unofficial #11? Make-up sex. Righteous.

  6. If your wife is yelling at you, stay calm. I know it can be hard to not strike back, but yelling back is what is going to cause problems. Calmly tell her you won't talk about it unless she talks in a calm manner. If that can't happen, soothe yourself and walk away. The key is to stay in control and be calm. Just happened to me last night, my wife and I got into a heated discussion about our past problems (things are pretty good now), but after a couple of glasses of wine and it being 11pm, I told he discussion over and went to bed. This morning, all was fine! We used to get into these battles all the time, but that was before we had problems and frankly I wasn't conscious of what she was trying to tell me. Basically, I wasn't listening to her.

    One rule we have in our house is that nothing serious will be discussed after 9pm. Either you've had a glass of wine or two and you have loosened up or you are too tired to have a rational discussion.

  7. Anon 11:08,

    My wife very rarely yells at me, but when she does it is always for the exact reason you mention, because she's been trying to get my attention and I am tuning her out. I don't like being yelled at, but I also accept that I am not a very good multi-tasker and when I am focused on something else it is hard to get my attention. Once she has my attention she always restates her request or comment in a reasonable tone. She would never yell at me in front of our friends or our kid.

    I have gotten better over the years at being more accommodating to her presence when I am doing something else, especially when it is something trivial. If I'm watching a movie, I'll usually pause it when she walks in the room… (however, this does not apply to football games), and she has gotten better over the years at prioritizing her need for attention based on the importance of the activity I am engaged in (she no longer tries to get my attention while I'm operating power tools or moving heavy objects) but honestly, most of the time I don't get upset at her for yelling in the rare cases where she does it. I'm not a fragile flower.

  8. Ian, I very much agree about the futility of yelling during fights. I can't say it never happens in our marriage (both of us have been guilty of it), but when it does it is always due to a failure of the yelling party to make an adequately reasonable case for their position.

    The Kidney Punch rule is also an excellent one. Kidney punches during a fight can damage your marriage as catastrophically as infidelity.

  9. And yelling can escalate. My ex would not only yell, but cuss a blue streak. He claimed it was the only way he could get me to follow his orders.

    When the cussing changed to threats and him telling me his violent fantasies ("I'd never do it for real, it's just a fantasy"), this First Officer staged a mutiny.

    A No Yelling rule might have saved the marriage, though there were other deal-breakers.

  10. I don't see talking loud to get someone's attention as yelling. There's definitely a tone difference between "HONEY! CAN YOU COME HELP ME?" and "HEY! GET IN HERE NOW!" even if they're the same volume.

  11. My husband is always the first to start yelling. Then I'd yell back just so he could hear me over his own voice. Then I realized how badly I hate being screamed at and now I just refuse to speak with him until he's calmed down. He shouts less and less as the months go on… :)

  12. Athol,

    I've been reading your blog for a while now, and I have a question I haven't really seen addressed. I usually have no problem with being the Alpha in my relationship (long-term gf), or at least not the beta. We split responsibilities down the middle, and she knows better than trying to change me on anything I don't want to change on.

    My problem is, I like being submissive in the bedroom 60-70% of the time, and it's hard to (1) make that switch on the fly and (2) get her excited for it. Do I need to let her boss me around more in day to day life? Or just resign myself to not getting what I want?

  13. Like the first Anon, my husband tunes me out too. Especially if he's on the computer or watching TV. It's really frustrating because it seems like what I'm saying is never important to him…even if I'm just talking about what happened at work today or what we're feeding the kids for dinner.

  14. My husband tunes me out a lot as well. I'll say something to him and he won't even glance at me to indicate that he heard me. It can be really frustrating, especially when I'm trying to ask him a question (Did you give our son his medicine? Have the dogs been fed? Is there anything you need from the store?) It used to really piss me off! Now I choose my moments. If he's watching football and its his team playing… he's not going to hear me short of me standing in front of him naked and turning the TV off. That's a bit extreme when I'm just wondering if he has any requests for dinner. I try to catch his attention during commercials or when he is clearly not 'zoned'.

    I've also stepped back and really thought about how important what I'm saying to him is. I realize I try too hard to make idle conversation with him a lot of the time just to relieve boredom on my half. So when I'm just trying to have a chat about the weather and he's watching football, I go entertain myself with a book or catch up on blogs or take a nap. Now we sit around in silence a lot, each doing our own thing… but I am almost never frustrated with him for ignoring me, and when he wants to talk, he brings up conversation. We actually talk a lot more now that I let him take the lead on it than we did back when I was constantly trying to get his attention. I also feel less resentful towards him, because I don't feel ignored at all.

    Truth is… hearing all the details of my very uneventful day-to-day life probably isn't important to him. He doesn't care about the routine things I do. When he asks about my day now, I just tell him the funny things, the exciting things, and the important things. "I showered, washed some clothes and organized both bathrooms!" is far less interesting to him than me… but, "I had to do a big grocery shopping trip that went a little over budget, our son used the potty for the first time, oh and speaking of, let me tell you about what he said when he missed the potty and it got all over the floor!" … those are things he wants to hear about. He really does listen to me a lot more since I've cut down on talking about things that bore him.

  15. Sometimes it's a strategy, sure, but lots of times women just aren't very good at controlling their emotions.

    When a boy is growing up, if he talks to other boys in a too-abusive tone of voice, he's likely to get punched in the mouth. Even if he's bigger than the other kid, there's a danger that the other one will finally snap and hit him hard enough to hurt. This isn't usually a risk with girls; especially if she's well-connected in the social circle, she can verbally assault a less-connected girl (or boy) without any risk to herself.

    And in earlier societies, a man who was verbally abusive was actually likely to get killed.

    So it seems likely that the self-censoring function in women is weaker, both for evolutionary and social-programming reasons.

  16. @RACHEL:

    My favorite is when he can't hear "I'm going to the store, do you want anything?" But he certainly is at the door, digging through all the bags when I come back to see if I brought what he was hoping for…then, "Why didn't you get X? I wanted X."

    We are at the "quiet time doing separate activities" stage too. It's frustrating. I understand he doesn't want to hear about every second of my boring day, but a little attention and making the lady feel special makes me want to do a little something special for him that Athol would very much approve of.


  17. I'm just going to say this that for all you wives out there that their husbands are tuning you out. Up your sex rank and give them something to think about. I was in the same situation and my wife almost left me. But I got my shit together and while sometimes I don't enjoy listening to every little detail, I do look her in the eye and listen. It's important to her and it's important to our marriage. I'll cut her off if it goes on too long, but really we are all in these marriages and listening to each other is a key component to staying connected.

  18. I actually like Rachel's approach of trying to time when she approaches her husband and trying to talk about subjects of some interest to him. Frequently what gets women tuned out and ignored is when they approach men with the attitude that he MUST drop everything he's doing and pay attention to her NO MATTER WHAT she has to say or NO MATTER WHAT he may be doing-especially if it's NOT an emergency and particularly if she does NOT return the favor.

    He may get the feeling that what he's doing simply doesn't matter, that his needs and desires and what he wants or NEEDS to focus on are less important that whatever triviality she feels she MUST unburden on him at that moment.

    Note that Rachel says her approach works; according to her it actually gets her MORE attention from and conversation with her husband than before, with less resentment on her part. Perhaps something other ladies who feel ignored can think about bringing into their own marriages?

  19. @ Wife – I agree. The more attention he does give me makes me want to return the favor… as a favor. ;) It was an adjustment period for us, though… one that he wasn't even aware of, I don't think. I was upset with him one day for ignoring me all the time, I got online and came across this tip from one guy to a woman about the exact same issue (apparently its common lol) and decided to give it a try (this was before I came across MMSL). I started by just not talking to my husband at all for a couple of days, unless I was responding to something he said to me. While I was busy not talking to him and wrapping my head around it, I got busy deciding what was important to him and what wasn't — i.e. I was taking mental notes of what he chose to talk about when he came to me with conversation. Football, sex, food, our kid, his family, his job, and vacations he wants to plan were the most common ones. So I translated that to… don't talk to him when he's watching football. Increase sex talk and sex acts, etc. We mostly talk about our children (have since had a second baby!) and our families, as something is always going on with one side of family or the other. He talks minimally about his job, so I talk minimally about mine (SAHM). Its getting better, it really is. It took a month or so before it stopped being quiet all the time, and we really do chat more now than we did before. I also feel like its less idle chat and more connecting conversation.

    The most important switch I made in talking to him was the approach, though. I'm sure it varies for every guy, but generally I only talk during commercials on TV if he's got the boob-tube-stare going on, I make very little conversation at all during football games, unless its seems very important, and I let him relax for a while after getting home from work before I start talking about things.

    I think the sex rank increase thing has merit as well. I just had a baby a month ago, and my husband was not a huge fan of my 9 month pregnant figure. A week after giving birth, my husband's attention towards me sky-rocketed. He was constantly hugging me, giving/stealing kisses, and just generally touching me. He also suddenly wants to talk all the time now… and, get this, he actually will sit down and start talking about the weather. To me. Literally. Not in a 'the roads are bad, maybe don't go out today' sort of way, but a 'this is the forecast for the next week' kind of way. I don't care to sit around and talk about the weather, but it tells me that he is seeking my attention and that tells me that he is attracted to me again.

  20. Anonymous says:

    what is it about women and mumbling. I love my wife and am interested in what she has to say. She is an accomplished professional career person. Trouble is, a lot of the time around the house, she's talking to herself….outloud. stuff like "I have to pay this bill. Where did I put my phone". My mother, my mother inlaw, sisters in law ALL do this. Thinking outloud. This drives me crazy.

    I have to take my focus away from whatever I am doing to listen, only to find out that she's talking to herself. So after a while I just started tuning this out. But then sometimes she is talking to me and wants me to hear.

    Men cannot pingpong around from thing to thing. we are not multitaskers. I do not think women understand the whole male focusing thing. Is this what was happening to you?

    Wife understands but always forgets and ends up talking to the air anyway.

  21. Anonymous says:

    anonymous: I think that the 'mumbling" you are talking about is women's way to deal with stress related to the particular situation 'causing' that mumbling. The clue in your situation is 'bills' that is mentioning. That could be related to an overload of the female brain not suitable to deal with such amount of stress. What we need on this kissy-kissy and huggy-huggy website is a monkey-wrench article finally admitting that female brain is smaller than male and designed more for dealing with how to achieve access to the credit card.

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