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Are Adult Temper Tantrums Dangerous?

Tantrums can turn into domestic abuse.

Key points

  • Adult temper tantrums are not necessarily physical but can still hurt a partner.
  • Adult temper tantrums can easily slip into domestic abuse.
  • Adult temper tantrums are destructive for the person having them and those they are directed against.
Engin AKyurt/Unsplash
Source: Engin AKyurt/Unsplash

Some children have temper tantrums in response to unmet needs or desires. Tantrums are especially common in young children who cannot verbalize their needs in words or control their emotions when they are frustrated or disappointed.

I am always impressed when either of my daughters-in-law says to one of my grandchildren, “Slow down, use your words. Tell me what is bothering you.” Words are essential to being able to calm and console yourself, which is a central part of being a resilient adult, yet many people are unable to do it. Instead, they act out their frustration, disappointment, and/or anger by having temper tantrums -- disruptive behaviors or emotional outbursts that involve physical acts or yelling.

Adult temper tantrums are not necessarily physical but can still hurt a partner. They might involve yelling nasty accusations, cursing, gesticulating violently, throwing things, or threatening to end the relationship. Adult temper tantrums can easily slip into domestic abuse. While men are more likely to use guns, and physical or sexual violence, women are just as likely to perpetrate emotional or verbal assaults. Since alcohol causes a serious erosion in self-control, it increases the chances that a temper tantrum will become abuse.

The World Health Organization estimates that 55 percent of perpetrators of domestic violence drank alcohol before the assault. Having a weapon in the house further increases the chances that a temper tantrum will turn into domestic abuse. The Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University estimates that around 4.5 million women in the United States have been threatened with a gun, and over half of all intimate partner homicides are committed with a gun.

Additionally, guns are often used to threaten and terrorize partners even if they are not discharged. But an abused woman living in a home with a gun is six times more likely to be killed than other women. The combination of alcohol and guns is particularly lethal.1

Types of Abuse

  • Physical abuse. This includes hitting, shoving, slapping, punching, kicking, forcing someone to have alcohol or drugs, physically restraining an individual, and aggravated assault (assault with a weapon). This includes sexual abuse – including forced intercourse and other sexual acts that are coerced.
  • Emotional abuse. This includes blaming the other individual for your problems (projection) or stonewalling them by refusing to speak to them for long periods of time.
  • Verbal abuse. This includes public humiliation, putdowns, yelling, name-calling, cursing, and criticizing another person’s beliefs, actions, and appearance.
  • Over-controlling. This includes preventing someone from seeing friends or family or from going to a job, taking away access to family finances, or constantly asking where you are going and where you have been.
  • Stalking. This includes repeated phone calls, tracking, using hidden cameras, showing up unannounced at work or school, monitoring phone calls or computer use, or going through another person’s garbage.

Adult temper tantrums are destructive for the person having them as well as the people they are directed against. The person having the tantrum is repeating a dysfunctional childhood reaction to frustration and/or disappointment, which is painful and probably ruins the relationship he has with the people he loves.

The person on the other side of it is physically and/or emotionally traumatized by the tantrum. For the couple, the repetitive tantrums prevent the development of trust and understanding. The constant fear of the partner having a tantrum creates distance, avoidance, and suspicion rather than love and intimacy.


1 Center for Gun Violence Solutions | Johns Hopkins | Bloomberg School of Public Health (

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