Wonderful guy mismanages his anger
Dear Amy: I have been dating a wonderful man for nine months. He is smart, funny, and deeply charming, as well as being ridiculously attractive. On a normal day, I see a great future for the two of us.
However, every once in a while he will do something that I just can't get past. We'll be having a normal conversation, when suddenly, he'll pretend to be mad at me (or invent that I am mad at him), and literally pick a fight, even though he knows that neither of us is actually angry to start with.
It comes out of nowhere. Growing up, my father was prone to out-of-the-blue rages, so my first reaction is terror, followed quickly by intense anger, once I realize what he's doing.
I've explained that I find this behavior confusing and very upsetting, and he apologizes at the time, but it keeps happening.
I'm starting to feel that he actually is mad at me but doesn't know how to express it properly, and that maybe he enjoys upsetting me in this way.
He's not a great communicator, and I tend to avoid conflict, so I'm not sure how to address this, other than the way I already have.
I don't want to leave him, but this quasi-gaslighting might be too much for me. What should I do?
-- I Wasn't Mad, but Now I Am
Dear Mad: I agree with your take on this, that your guy chooses this extremely passive but very manipulative path as a way of expressing his genuine anger over something unrelated.
I wonder if his parents taught him to suppress his honest reactions to things that upset him, and so he learned to gin up trouble at other times, when it was "safer" for him to do so. However, the reasons behind this don't matter as much as the behavior, itself.