When two people with different personalities, preferences and quirks live together, they're bound to become irritated or angry sometimes. However, anger can be different in each marriage based on how it's expressed and managed. People often learn to disguise their anger and deal with it through masking behaviors such as gritting their teeth. The other extreme is allowing anger to escalate to flat-out rage.
Marriage provides plenty of motivation to learn about anger and how to manage it effectively. Here are a few scenarios to consider:
Jack and Michelle have a great marriage, but there are moments when each is annoyed with the other. Last week Michelle burst out in anger when she opened the dishwasher and saw that Jack had once again "loaded the bowls the wrong way." She explained, "It wasn't my proudest moment — and yes, I cleared it up with my husband."
After Susan and Thomas had twin girls, they noticed that their previously mild irritations with each other had become more intense. The babies weren't sleeping, and both Susan and Thomas were exhausted. To make matters worse, Susan didn't think Thomas was pulling his weight caring for the girls. Tension in their marriage was higher than ever, and conflicts became daily occurrences. Susan and Thomas sought counseling to improve their relationship.
Steve and Bri had been married almost 15 years. They had traveled a difficult road in their marriage. Each of them had been involved in emotional affairs. They never really dealt with the underlying issues that had left them vulnerable to outside relationships. The frequency of Bri's fits of anger increased. During a counseling session, Bri discovered she held resentment and bitterness toward her husband because his emotional affair had taken a toll on their marriage.
The dilemma of angry outbursts and sin
Anger is often a secondary emotion. The primary emotions are hurt, fear or frustration. Anger also can be a sign that we care deeply about something or that something is wrong. For example, anger can indicate outrage at child abuse. All anger is not the same.
God gave us a heart and a brain — emotions and logic. Both are necessary and affect our decision-making and worldview. Emotions are the "voice of our heart." As Christians, we so often stuff, deny or invalidate an emotion such as anger because "good Christians don't get angry." But without information from our heart, we often make mind-only decisions, which are incomplete.
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Anger itself isn't the problem. Ephesians 4:26 says, "Be angry and do not sin." Jesus got angry — yet did not sin. In contrast, the culture often advises us, "Give 'em a piece of your mind!" or "You have every right to get up in their business — they hurt you!" Following either of those suggestions could cause someone to cross the line into sin. But holding your anger inside or developing passive-aggressive behaviors to deal with your anger is as destructive as openly venting it.
Dealing with the problem of anger in marriage
So, if screaming and suppressing anger with fear and shame aren't healthy ways to deal with anger in your marriage, what is? Scripture can lead you:
Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Explosive rage and intimidation don't have a place in marriage. This creates an atmosphere that doesn't feel safe — either emotionally or physically. Pride and selfishness can drive angry rants toward your spouse. And when explosive attacks continue, a nasty pattern of behavior can form into a stubborn habit.
If you're struggling with rage, get help from a trusted friend, a pastor or a Christian counselor. You can contact Focus on the Family Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32)
As Christians, we're called to be kind and compassionate to one another — forgiving as we have been forgiven. We're capable of committing offenses against our spouse just as he or she has wronged us. Keeping this in mind can help us maintain a humble and compassionate stance.
Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)
Often people say, "I'm called to speak the truth!" But they frequently leave out the rest of the phrase — "in love." What does speaking in love look like? When someone is angry, his or her heart is closed and God's love cannot flow to others. Communication with an open heart is full of God's love to share with your spouse.
So, do your own work before telling your husband or wife how he or she wronged you. Be sure your heart is open and go to that someone in love — kindly, compassionately and gently.
Erin Smalley serves as the strategic spokesperson for Focus on the Family's marriage ministry and develops content for that department.
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