We are the first to admit it. Both of us are expressive people and when it comes to expressing anger, we don’t hold much back. We’ve kind of come to accept that, but lately, it seems that anger is rearing it’s head a little too often. What do we do if anger is a repetitive problem?
Marriage and anger go together. Of course any relationship can generate considerable anger, but a typical marriage relationship often generates more anger than any other. Why? For one reason, the sheer amount of time spent together creates more opportunity for anger to erupt. In addition, we let our guard down with the ones we love more than we do with others. This creates opportunity not only for more intimacy but also for more frustration and anger.
But while anger comes part-and-parcel with most marriages, it should not — by a long shot — be given free license. Anger without limits can lead to terrible destruction. Anger must be reined in and controlled. But how? How can a married couple cope with this inevitable feeling that holds such devastating potential? A few practical principles can help.
Successful anger management begins with recognizing, first and foremost, that anger is a natural human experience. You are not being a bad spouse just because you feel anger toward your partner. According to marriage expert David Mace, we are not responsible for being angry, only for how we respond to and use anger once it appears. The apostle Paul understood this when he said, “In your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). God created us with a capacity to experience potent emotions, including the passion of anger.
With this understanding firmly in place, the next step is to recognize and admit your anger. This sounds simple, but it can be quite difficult in the heat of the fiery moment to acknowledge the feeling. Most of us want to deny the presence of anger in an attempt to control it. But that never works. Repressed anger has a high rate of resurrection. So fess up. Own your anger without hiding it or projecting onto your partner.
Once you have admitted your anger, the next step is to release your vindictiveness. Almost always, we become angry because we feel that someone has hurt us, and we want to hurt them back. We fool ourselves into believing that the only way to obtain satisfaction form being offended is to repay “evil for evil.” Once we become consumed with balancing the score, anger takes center stage in our marriage and is destined to do damage. So practice what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Turn the other cheek” (Matt 5:38-48). Paul said it this way in Romans 12:17: “Never pay back evil for evil.” This practical principle releases revenge and is an insurance policy against resentment. Practice it, and you will keep anger from ruining your marriage.
In addition to “cheek turning,” here are a few more tips for keeping anger from ruling the roost:
- Be specific with your anger. What exactly is ruffling your feathers? Complete the sentence: “I’m angry because . . .”
- Return to the issue when you are calm. It is amazing what thirty minutes can do to help you collect your thoughts and diminish your anger.
- Don’t allow your anger to build up until you erupt like a volcano. Deal with your hurts as they arise, one at a time.
- Listen. Once you acknowledge your anger, listen to your spouse and receive any explanation of apology that may be offered.
- Make understanding your ultimate goal. This will help you give up your angry desire to hurt back.
- If your anger has found expression in some hostile act, admit that you have crossed the line and retreat. Take time by yourself to regroup and then apologize to make it right.
- If you are like most couples, anger will be a part of your marriage because you are human. But it certainly doesn’t need to do its potentially damaging work. Remember, the “feeling “ of anger is not harmful, it is what you do with it that matters to your marriage.