For the sake of this article, the assumption is that you are already dating seriously when this matter arises. You have found much to be drawn to about this person. And then, you became aware that this person could have an issue with controlling his anger. The point is that this is not a complete stranger we are contemplating. Perhaps you are not yet fully sold on the person, but you are leaning strongly towards moving forward to marriage.
Were it not for this anger issue, you would definitely be inclined to continue dating and would expect it to go the full distance. If you were told to end dating this person, this will not be an easy thing for you to hear. You have almost certainly developed some feelings for him or her, and think there is much potential for you to be very happy together. So, there is quite a bit riding on how you view this matter.
Let us break this all down. There are two types of anger issues – and they are worlds apart.
The first type is common among feisty people. When having a discussion, they are prone to raise their voice, get strongly animated, and occasionally get carried away. Sometimes, this tendency can manifest itself in antisocial behaviors, the likes of what we are referring to here. They include using overly forceful language to make their point, being unnecessarily argumentative, and refusing to back down from an argument. They can cause conflict and upset, and are not ideally suited to communication in a marriage.
Some people will find this behavior particularly problematic, and they should certainly not contemplate a relationship with someone like this. If this is someone you have not met or only met once or twice and had developed no connection with, you may think that you do not need this hassle. That would be a reasonable reaction. Still, I will give the same advice here as I would give when discovering any imperfection in the person you are dating: do not be quick to walk away from dating a great person. We all have imperfections; possessing faults is not a reason not to marry someone. Before quitting the relationship, challenge yourself: if the tables were turned, would I consider it a wise response for the other person to end the relationship?
On the other hand, this is not a true anger-management problem, and some people will cope well with this kind of feisty character. It may come as a surprise that the ideal partner for such a person is the soft and quiet type. They do not typically bring out the feistiness in their spouse, and they are adept at diffusing it when it does appear.
Thus, there is no rule that says that it is best to avoid someone argumentative. It is a matter of personality. Some truly exceptional people have this larger-than-life kind of personality that is often accompanied by this extreme feistiness. They are some of the greatest people alive. It would be completely wrong to present them as having a fatally flawed character that renders them unsuitable as a marriage partner.
The real issue is knowing whether this personality type is suitable for you. If you have concerns, you should speak to wise people around you or consult a psychological professional. It is not a black-and-white situation. No one should be delegitimized or rendered “undatable” because they have personality flaws, or – perhaps more correctly in this case – a personality that poses some negatives to complement their positives.
Between anger and rage
What we have discussed until now is the “normal” kind of anger issue. However, sadly there is an abnormal type of anger problem. Really, we should not call it anger at all, as this confuses things. From now on, we shall call it by its correct name: rage. People who rage pose an entirely different level of problem. There are many differences between anger and rage, and we shall only point out a few.
The main difference is that of control. You may get angry and struggle to contain your annoyance, which can be unpleasant for others, but ultimately you are in control. By contrast, people experiencing rage have lost all control. When caught up by their fury, they might as well be an animal. They are capable of saying and doing things that are truly inexcusable, like hurling insults and smashing dishes. This kind of behavior is intolerable. Because it is indeed intolerable. If this is allowed to run amuck in a marriage, the consequences could be truly devastating.
Another distinct feature of rage is that, like a fire, it consumes everything. Someone who is argumentative may be unwilling to drop the topic, much to the frustration of others> But, the “fight” is still limited to the matter under discussion. Someone caught up in rage is on a rampage. They are liable to rant and rave about anything and everything. Your parents, your hair, the mess in the car, the toothpaste cap – quite literally whatever has bothered them since infancy.
An important difference between the two is that people who get angry are at least behaving that way for a reason. Let us be clear that this is no excuse. But since there is a reason for their behavior it is possible to somewhat predict it, and therefore also avoid it. If you are married to such a person, you will quickly learn that they feel strongly about certain things (even if you feel there is no reason for his strength of feeling), and you can avoid those issues or figure out how to not trigger an argument about it. Not so with someone who has a problem with rage. They will freak out for no reason. Or at least, no reason that any other person can make out. There is no way to properly predict what sets them off. It is often the stupidest of things.
Finally, the feisty person is not going to so readily roll over when you ask them to quit the debate, but eventually he or she will calm down and life will return to normal. Not so people who rage; they are impervious to reason. Their emotions are so out of control that no amount of imploring, pleading, or begging will work. They will eventually calm down, once the madness has drained from the system. But by then, they have left a trail of destruction.
Rage = mental illness
Someone with a rage problem has a mental illness. A person with an anger issue is a normal person, who in all likelihood is highly functional. He or she has a particular personality that is not everyone’s “cup of tea”. So do plenty of people. A person who rages is ill and needs professional help. They cannot and should not be in a relationship, because the people in the relationship with them are not emotionally safe. They need to sort out their problem first and think of marriage later.
If you ask, “how do I know if is rage?”, refer to the criteria above to distinguish anger from rage.
Unless people are lying to you, there is no way that you will not be able to tell which it is. It is true that some people may have an extreme form of anger problem or a mild form of rage problem. It may in such instances be difficult to tell them apart. Still, with the information provided, it should still be possible – and if you are unsure you can seek advice. In case it is not eminently clear, I am saying to keep well away from dating a person with a rage problem. There is nothing to discuss.
If you are seriously dating someone with a rage issue and you really like the person, then you need to tell him or her that they need to get help before dating can continue. If he or she is willing to take ownership of the problem and accept professional assistance, then this is no different than dating any person who has any other psychological problem. In The person has a psychological illness – should I consider it?, we discuss the question of dating someone who has psychological illness. The same is true if you have not started dating the person but are considering doing so.
If you can obtain valid confirmation that their problem has been addressed and overcome and that they are now in a better psychological place, then you can consider dating this person in the same way you would anyone else – weighing up your priorities and making a smart choice as to what is in your best interest. Mental illness is serious and scary, but it is not a disqualifier any more than a physical illness.
You would not consider dating someone who had a physical illness and refused to get it treated, nor should you contemplate dating someone who does not deal with their mental illness. But the same is true in reverse. Many of us have dated and married (happily) people who had a physical problem and had it treated and are now better. Similarly, many of us have dated and married people who experienced mental illness but who had it treated and are now doing well.
Dates behaving badly
I will end on a point that I am less certain about and I invite you to form your own view on the matter. I shall, of course, share mine – but tentatively. In my mind, dating is sacrosanct. If someone behaves badly on the actual date, that is a problem for me. It is a bit like what the Gemara says about someone who commits sins on Yom Kippur itself – the Day of Atonement cannot atone if you are busy desecrating it. Similarly, if someone cannot hold it together even on a date, this is not good.
While I have “defended” people with anger issue (I said they can and should date, and it is for each individual to decide if this kind of person is for him or her), I can offer no real defense if this kind of argumentative behavior is happening on a date. My logic is this: you must have a pretty bad case of anger management if you cannot even keep things together for the person you hope will be your spouse for the remainder of your life. Either that (a bad case), or a real idiot. Two not very good options.