By Baila Sebrow
I’ve been in the dating scene for close to five years. The guys I go out with all sound great and sometimes even seem great, too—until I get to know them better! They all have anger-management issues. Till now, I didn’t care too much, but now I’ve met someone I really like a lot. It has become known that we are going to get engaged. However, I see some things about him that worry me; for example, he has no patience. So far I didn’t see any bad temper or anger. But I’m worried that it’s there and he’s just holding it in a little better than the other guys I dated.
What can I do to find out if he will be abusive when we’re married? On a regular day, he’s cool. But I see things on other days. In the car, he gets really impatient when someone cuts him off or drives too slowly in front of him. Does it mean anything? Someone once told me to make him really angry in order to see what his worst side is.
My parents think that I am just looking for problems when there aren’t any. All they talk about is the shidduch crisis at every Shabbos meal, and how bad it is for girls who want to get married but no one wants them. They also think that I am looking for excuses not to get married. I am so mixed up right now that I don’t know what to do.
There definitely is a shidduch crisis out there like never before. I will tell you something else that might scare you even more. The crisis appears to be getting worse in almost every hashkafic circle. But what your parents may not realize is that each unmarried person is in that state for his or her own reasons. No two cases are alike. And I disagree with them that the girls are single because no one wants them. That is preposterous. Any active shadchan will tell you that rejection happens to both genders. There are plenty of fine men who receive rejection as often as their female counterparts. Each person has their own ideas about what they want in a spouse.
Those single people whom your parents know or heard about have their own history that is unique to them. And what makes the crisis seem worse is what happens when there is any type of crisis—people panic and oftentimes act impulsively to save themselves and their families. That is what I believe might be happening in your household.
You are dating a guy who is transmitting negative vibes to you. With respect to your parents, I think that instead of validating your concerns, they are attempting to convince you that you are getting cold feet by looking for problems.
I cannot say that you are not overanalyzing this guy’s actions or that you are being overly cautious. But even if you are, so what? Deciding to get married is a major life decision. You are seeing signs in this guy that trouble you, and I believe you. However, there is sometimes a fine line between what one sees and what one imagines might become of it. You see impatience in him, but that might just be his temperament. There are wonderful and generous people who would do anything for any person; their one big flaw is that they have very little patience. That does not necessarily mean they have anger-management issues or abusive tendencies. But it could be that some do. The question is how you can know or find out for sure.
You may have heard people advise women in dating relationships to create situations that will anger the person they have doubts about to see how he will react. I do not subscribe to that tactic. Deliberately making a man angry to determine whether he is prone to abusive behavior is outrageous. What typically ends up happening is that the man who is being triggered goes running for his life to get away from such a woman. I don’t know who originally came up with such a concept, but most people who have been in a bad or abusive marriage will tell you that they had no clue that the guy they were dating had that in him. Or they might tell you that they saw abusive behavior but ignored it. A person prone to anger will not need much incitement to show his true colors, but to purposely set him up to get angry is not the way to go.
Let’s talk about the things you mentioned that bother you about him. You notice that he gets impatient on the road if someone cuts him off or drives too slowly. I don’t know what specific reaction you are seeing in him, but both those instances can cause someone to have an accident. When people react to situations of impending danger, they will usually not be calm and composed. Perhaps some people can, but not everyone. On the other hand, you are the only other person in the car with him, so perhaps you are seeing something unusual in his eyes that is scaring you or making you nervous about proceeding with the relationship.
I do have to put this out there for you. There are cases where a woman can be entirely fooled if she’s dating a guy who possesses a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde persona, even if she goes to extreme measures to provoke him. Those who do have such a front will usually not react to aggravating situations when in public. It is when they are in private (after marriage) that their dark side comes out and they become dangerous.
That said, there are incidents that are surefire red flags. It could be uncalled-for disappointment about the meal they ordered to flying off the handle in rage because of dissatisfaction of the service or seating, etc. Whenever I hear of such occurrences, I usually advise not going out with that person again.
So where do you go from here? Is there anything else that bothers you about him but you are projecting all other feelings into this fear of anger and abuse? How long are you dating this guy? How does he treat you while on a date with him? More importantly, how does he treat you when you are not on a date? For many people it is relatively easy to be on their best behavior while on a date. Oftentimes it is how one conducts himself between dates that reveals the future one can expect to share with the person.
Therapists cite various techniques for picking up signs that a woman might be dating an abusive guy. However, many of those guidelines cannot be applied in frum dating. And emotional abuse can be even harder to predict because it is so subtle and unfortunately will not come out sooner than during the engagement period, or when discussing wedding plans—if even then. At that point a guy might demonstrate symptoms of controlling behavior, causing the girl to experience feelings of inadequacy.
Please understand that the existence of domestic abuse is not to be challenged. Spousal abuse—whether verbal, emotional, or physical—is a very real and frightening phenomenon in frum society, too. However, bear in mind that this is not the only cause for divorce. There are many other issues that can lead to a young couple getting divorced.
A woman can get a sense of a guy’s temperament by observing how he treats others and speaks of them. Showing signs of disrespect towards his parents and other members of his family or coworkers and friends is often a telltale indication that the guy may not be emotionally well-adjusted.
I do not advise you to condone behavior that bothers you just so you do not become a victim of your parents’ fear that you’ll remain unmarried. You definitely need to explore this guy’s character further. Since you are on the verge of getting engaged, now would be the time for you to request that he join you for premarital counseling with a qualified therapist. Please share with the therapist all that you know about the guy, and also how you relate to one another in all circumstances. After speaking to both of you and watching you interact, this professional should be able to ascertain whether or not you are in a healthy relationship, and also give you more insight on spotting issues with anger management and abuse.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.