For as much as anger has been touted as an emotion that “clears the air,” and “rights many wrongs,” I’ve seen almost nothing but destruction stemming from wild anger in marriage.
During a recent counseling session I listened to a young man talk about being paralyzed by his wife’s anger.
“I hate it when she gets so angry,” Karl said, his wife listening intently. “She explodes and blames everything on me. She says I’m the reason she’s so angry. But, why does she have to get so angry?”
“Because,” his wife, Jane, jumped in. “You’re not telling the whole story. You are deceptive with me, and then expect me to be calm. You don’t keep your promises, and you expect me to be calm about it? I’m not going to be calm. Not now. Not ever!”
Jane had grown angrier as she defended her actions. Staring at her husband, she seemed upset about Karl’s allegations. I puzzled over whether Jane’s anger was justified, or if her response created even more problems in their marriage.
“I don’t deny I do things that cause problems in our marriage,” Karl said. “I deserve Jane being upset with me. But, to be screamed at? To be told I’m being ridiculous? To be told I have to sit and listen while she yells at me? I don’t think so.”
Jane grew more frustrated as Karl talked. She looked anxiously at me to see what stance I would take on the matter.
Are there times when a mate’s actions are egregious enough to warrant being yelled at? Are there actions that justify spews of aggression? Is there a time when shame-based rage is warranted? Or must we always–always–talk with respect for our mate? These are difficult questions, though I’d like to share my professional experience on the matter.
First, anger is a normal, natural emotion. We all feel anger at times. However, the emotion of anger is rarely the problem, more often it is the actions taken, including what we say, that creates the difficulty. Jesus was angry and yet did not sin.
Second, it is what we do with anger that is the problem. Righteous anger is commended in Scripture, while selfish, unbridled anger is rebuked. “A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated” (Proverbs 14: 17). We are free to feel the emotion of anger–we are never free to disrespect others. Anger is never a justification for putting others down, name-calling or judgmental attitudes.
Third, while anger is a natural emotion, it often clouds our thinking. Anger often creates tunnel vision, ‘right and wrong’ thinking, blaming and ridiculing of our mate. Anger often escalates a situation, provoking similar emotions in others. An angry response from one leads to an angry response in our mate. On the other side of the coin, “A gentle answer, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15: 1).
Fourth, explore the emotions beneath your anger. Anger is considered a secondary emotion, and introspection often reveals ‘softer’ emotions such as hurt, vulnerability and sadness. Many of us are more comfortable expressing our anger than we are hurt. Yet, attending to our true emotions can lead to more effective contact with our mate.
Finally, we are called to be peacemakers. While we often feel justified in letting our anger run wild, this rarely leads to beneficial results. Calming ourselves down before a serious interaction or confrontation usually yields more beneficial results. Couples who practice taking time-outs when their emotions run amok fare better than those who blurt out whatever they feel. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19: 11).
How effective are you in managing your anger? Have you agreed with your mate that you will call a time-out when your anger begins to cloud your vision or create defensiveness? Agree to be peacemakers, sharing truth in love, and never out of anger or to get even. You’ll appreciate the beauty that comes from living together in harmony. Scripture says, “Make every effort to live in peace with men and to be holy” (Hebrews 11: 14).