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Road Rage Can’t Rule

CD Knowles 12 months ago

Dear Knowles,

I am a happy wife except for one thing: my husband, whom I’ll call Charlie, has the worst road rage I have ever encountered. I didn’t know this when I first started dating him. We live in a high traffic city and he’s fine even when cars are slowed to almost a standstill; it’s when someone cuts in front of him, tailgates or honks at him that he goes nuts. First off, he starts screaming and shouting curse words he’d never use in any other situation. He presses down long and hard on the horn with one hand, while he flips the guilty driver off with the other. If tailgating was the original problem, he slows to the pace of a snail and when the other car passes him, gets on their ass way worse than they did and won’t relent. And woe to the driver who cuts in front of him. Charlie has been known to follow them, shaking his fist and honking all the way to their house. It’s really embarrassing. I’ve asked him to stop but I think he gets some kind of weird satisfaction out of his behavior because he refuses to listen to me, just goes right on with his rage. What to do? We’ve been married five years, no kids, and if anything his rage has gotten worse. In other areas of his life, he’s a gentle guy, that’s the paradox. He laughs if I tell him to go to therapy for what he considers such a minor problem. Truly I think the rage is a dramatic form of entertainment for him and he doesn’t understand how appalling and frightening it is. I should add that he’s educated, works as a math teacher in a private school, and is wonderful with his students who adore him. He’s wonderful and loving with me, too; it’s only in a car that he goes nuts. At this point I don’t like getting in a car with him and worry that one day soon his behavior will lead to real trouble with another driver. Please help.

All the best,

Frightened of Road Rage in Austin, TX

Dear Frightened,

In my opinion, road rage of the sort you describe is caused by an uncontrollable anger disorder that erupts almost only when the person is behind the wheel of a car. The clinical name for this is “Intermittent Explosive Disorder,” and you can easily google it and learn more. For those who suffer from it, the probable cause is most likely genetic — an inability to suppress anger — rather than learned. What is interesting is that the behavior occurs while driving rather than in other areas of the person’s life. Why would this be? Well, the car in and of itself is a powerful weapon with the ability to mow people down, crash into other vehicles, kill pedestrians, passengers and other drivers alike. Behind the wheel a person who suffers from this disorder feels godlike, all powerful, fully entitled to behave exactly how he wishes. He is the captain of the ship: his way rules. And if some little twerp pisses him off with what he considers bad or rude driving, watch out for the consequences. That is why your husband considers his rage to be a minor problem, unworthy of therapy. He just doesn’t understand it’s as bad as it is. To his way of thinking, his unleashed anger is a mere blip and the other driver is the one at fault. In fact, he might rationalize by saying it’s his responsibility to teach the other driver a lesson. My advice to you is to read up on this disorder and to make a decision not to drive with your husband unless it’s totally unavoidable. I’d also recommend attending some Al-Anon meetings where you can learn to detach with love. At heart, as with alcoholics and addicts, this is your husband’s problem and you’re the co-dependent who covers up for him. Go to meetings and you’ll find the help you need. He might also try meditation, a proven form of anger suppression. Or, marijuana – though illegal in Austin, it shouldn’t be hard to find. 

Best of luck to you,

CD Knowles




Dear Stepmom,

I have step kids too and it hasn’t always been a picnic. My motto is tell it to ‘em like it is, so I don’t pussyfoot around anything. When they’re in my house, it’s my house, my rules, and I frankly don’t care what their mom thinks or does. In the beginning I used to buy them stuff so they’d like me, but now I know the wiser course is just to be myself, and if they don’t like my ways, tough titty. But here’s the deal: I provide a good home for them, always healthy things to eat in the fridge, and plenty of toys and video games though I limit their access to TV and electronics. I go to their school events and even to conferences with teachers (the other mom and I have agreements about that).

All in all it’s worked out well and I hope the same for you.

Millie P, Hartford, CT


Dear Stepmom,

In the beginning I was very shy with my two step kids, but they acted rude as a result so I began to assert myself. It was hard for me to do that because I didn’t feel I had any rights. My girlfriends reminded me that every day is a new day, never too late to put your foot down. And my husband said I should treat them as if they were my own. So finally I wrote up a list of rules which I put on the fridge, and if either of them broke the rules or disobeyed, I took away their tablets and phones and forbade visits with friends. It took awhile but it worked because they discovered I stuck to my guns. Also that they could talk to me and I’d really listen, which I don’t think their mother does. Now we really get along and I love being with them.

Hope things work out for you too.

Carla M., Binghamton, NY


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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.