Ask Athena: He Drives Me Crazy

Getting a grip on your partner’s road rage. 

Q:

My husband is normally a safe and conscientious driver probably 99% of the time he’s behind the wheel. But if he feels cut off or perceives some grievance at another car on the road, he turns into a maniac. He’ll shout, flip the bird, tailgate, slam on the brakes, swerve into the shoulder – it’s terrifying. One of these days, someone’s gonna pull over and shoot him! Obviously my screaming isn’t getting through to him. What else can I try before he’s a roadside casualty?    — No Death Wish Here

A:

You’re right to be concerned! Aggressive drivers aren’t just annoying, they’re dangerous. 50% of driving fatalities are linked to aggressive driving. 30 murders a year are attributed to road rage.

Psychologists have noted a link between aggressive driving and narcissism, but we’ll give your husband the benefit of a doubt since so many of us can be antagonistic drivers too. Some studies show that 4 out of 5 of us have lost our temper behind the wheel at some point.

While we can all get frustrated with traffic – and are often quick criticize other people’s driving skills — most of us don’t feel the need to inflict punishment. That’s what your husband is doing, when he freaks out at other drivers. It’s not enough to honk his horn and motor on. Why?

Does he realize he is punishing you as well, by frightening you as a passenger and worrying you as a wife? You need to have a conversation with your husband when he is relaxed at home.  Certainly not in the car or fresh off his commute.

Talk with him about how his driving makes you fear for his life – and yours. He might not realize the distress he is causing you. Discuss how risky his behavior is (if you need to, show him the links in my response on nwlocalpaper.com). Create an action plan you can both agree to, for firmly and respectfully de-escalating tension.

For example, instead of yelling from the passenger side, you might try coming up with a signal you can use to wordlessly communicate your discomfort with his driving. Tapping twice on the console, for instance, or covering your eyes with your hands.

I know what you’re thinking, “But Athena, what if he doesn’t listen?” Again, this is something you’ll need to discuss and agree about BEFORE you get in the car together. May I suggest, however, that if he’s unable to control himself you have every right to an explanation right then and there. What is going on, that he enjoys acting out at other drivers so much that he’s willing to risk both your lives?

Note: you’re not asking him to justify his behavior, but rather to identify it. If talking about his emotions isn’t happening, ask him what he’s feeling physically. Go through all the body parts: Is his stomach queasy? Does his throat feel tight? Hands shaky? Palms sweaty? Often, just taking a sensory inventory can be a very calming experience (it’s something he can practice when he’s driving by himself, too).

Do your best to be a voice of tranquility and reason in his ear. Remind him that safety is more important than making good time or being right. Point out every drama-free car trip, and give him props for keeping his cool.

You get the idea. Every couple is different, try brainstorming solutions together and consult a therapist for extra guidance, if needed. Good luck!

Agree or Disagree? Please comment below.
Send your questions to AskAthena@nwlocalpaper.com

Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

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