Which couple, when they walk down the aisle ever thinks to themselves, “I’m going to get so angry that I’m going to hurt and emotionally damage my partner in a very deep and real way someday!”? And yet tragically, it happens.
Every one of us gets angry with our spouse at some point in our marriage. You can’t live together day in and day out without finding things you disagree about —things that make you really angry with each other.
The problem is, how we deal with the anger we feel for our spouse when that occurs. Do we allow our anger to cause problems that hurt our spouse and our marriage or does our anger lead us to find solutions to help our marriage?
“It’s a very natural thing to feel threatened by someone who disagrees with us. Conflicts feel inherently threatening. We very naturally consider that our opinion or way of seeing things is the ‘right’ or ‘better’ way. If we didn’t, we’d change our opinion or way of seeing things. So when people suggest that our way isn’t right or better, we fear that they’ll take us someplace we don’t want to go —and that creates fear. We tend to dig in our heels and try to prove our point to get them to see things our way, and to admit how wrong they are.
“Once we square off as adversaries, however, the outcome is already assured. We don’t even have to play the game. In conflicts you have only two options: You either both win, or you both lose. Your spouse is your teammate, not your enemy. Be careful as you work through struggles. You’re on the same team!” (Dr Gary Smalley, from Smalleyonline Newsletter 5/2/07)
Isn’t that true? We forget that truth. But something else that is important to face, is that not only can our spouse have a problem in how they deal with anger, but we could too.
“Few people want to admit that they have a problem with anger. Most of us readily see the mismanagement of anger on the part of others, but seldom see it in ourselves” (Dr Gary Chapman)
To look at how to deal with the “mismanagement” of anger and what we can do about it, we must first look at a few different ways that we can negatively respond to anger. And to do that we’d like to refer to something that Dr Gary Chapman wrote in his book, The Other Side of Love, published by Moody Press, now titled, Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way. In this book he writes:
There are two equally devastating response to anger: explosion and implosion. We may think that one is more destructive than the other, but the truth is implosive anger can be as damaging as explosive expressions of anger. Both can occur at varying levels of intensity, yet either response has destructive consequences. They represent destructive ways of responding to anger.
…Some Christians who would deplore explosive expressions of anger fail to reckon with the reality that implosive anger is fully as destructive in the long run. Whereas explosive anger begins with rage and may quickly turn to violence, implosive anger begins with silence and withdrawal but in time leads to resentment, bitterness, and eventually hatred. Implosive anger is typically characterized by three elements: denial, withdrawal, and brooding. Let’s look at each of these.
Those who practice an implosive method of responding to anger often begin by denying that they are angry at all. This response to anger is especially tempting to Christians who have been taught that anger itself is sinful. Thus, one often hears individuals say one of the following:
- “I’m not angry, but I am frustrated.”
- “I’m not angry; I’m just upset.”
- “I’m not angry, but I am disappointed.”
- “I’m not angry; I just don’t like it when people do me wrong.”
In almost all these cases, however, their condition is the same: The people are experiencing anger.
…Suppression of anger, holding anger inside, will eventually lead to physiological and psychological stress. There is a growing body of research that shows a positive correlation between suppressed anger and hypertension, colitis, migraine headaches, and heart disease. However, the pronounced results of suppressing anger are found in its impact upon one’s psychological or emotional health. Internalized anger eventually leads to resentment, bitterness, and often hatred. All of these are explicitly condemned in Scripture and are viewed as sinful responses to anger.
A third characteristic of implosive anger is brooding over the events that stimulated the anger. In the person’s mind, the initial scene of wrongdoing is played over and over like a videotape. He senses his spirit; he relives the events that stimulated the angry emotions. He replays the psychological audiotapes of his own analysis of situation.
How could he be so ungrateful? Look at the number of years I’ve put into the company. He’s only been here five years. He has no idea what’s going on. If he knew how important I am to the company, he wouldn’t treat me this way. I feel like resigning and letting him suffer. Or I feel like appealing to the board and getting him fired.
On and on the tapes play as one wallows in his or her anger. The difficulty is the tapes play only in the person’s head. The anger is never processed with the person involved or with a counselor or trusted friend. The anger is developing into resentment and bitterness. If the process is not interrupted, the person will eventually experience an implosion in the form of an emotional breakdown, depression, or in some cases, suicide.
However, for a growing number of those people who are internalizing anger, the end result will be not an implosion but an explosion. In their desperate emotional state, they will do some act of violence toward the person who wronged them. This is seen over and over again on the nightly news where the employee who was fired nine months ago walks in and shoots the supervisor who fired him.
The child who abused by parent, at the age of fifteen turns on the parents and murders them. The calm and meek husband turns on his wife and destroys her life. Neighbors find these realities almost incredulous. Typically, they say to the reporter, “He seemed like such a nice man. I can’t believe that he would do such a thing.” What the neighbor could not observe was the internalized anger that had been fed by brooding over a long period of time.
It should be obvious that implosive anger is fully as destructive as explosive anger. That is why the Scriptures always condemn internalizing anger. The apostle Paul admonished, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold“(Ephesians 4:26-27).
Clearly Paul instructed that we are to process anger quickly, not allowing it to linger inside beyond sunset. I suppose that if we get angry after dark, he would give us till midnight, but the principle is that anger is not to be held inside; in fact, to do so is to give the devil a foothold.
That is, we are cooperating with Satan and setting ourselves up to sin even further. The apostle further challenged us to rid ourselves of anger. (See Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8.) This is not an indication that anger itself is a sin; it is an indication that to allow anger to live inside is sinful. Solomon warned that “anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
The key word is resides; the fool lets the anger abide in him. The implication is that those who are wise will see that anger is quickly removed. Anger was designed to be a visitor, never a resident in the human heart.
All of us experience anger. But holding anger inside by denying, withdrawing, and brooding is not the Christian response to anger. In fact, to do so is to violate the clear teachings of Scripture. Bitterness is the result of stored anger, and bitterness is always condemned as sinful in Scripture. (For example, see Acts 8:23; Romans 3:14; Hebrews 12:15.)
In the course of counseling through the years, I have heard teenagers say, “I hate my father.” Almost always such a statement is tied to a series of perceived wrongs committed by the father. The teenager has internalized the hurt and anger and has developed resentment, bitterness, and now hatred toward the father. I have also heard more than one wife say, “I hate my husband,” and I’ve heard husbands express the same about their wives. Without exception, hatred does not develop overnight. Hatred is the result of internalized anger that remains planted in the heart of the individual.
Eventually the emotions of hurt from the internalized anger are replaced. In their stead appear the emotion of bitterness and the attitude of hatred. Almost always those who hate wish ill upon the person at whom they are angry. Sometimes, they end up perpetrating this ill themselves. The internalized anger erupts for all the world to observe.
When someone perpetrates evil upon the individual who wronged them, they have taken the prerogative of God. The Scriptures say, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord“(Romans 12:19 KJV). When we seek to impose judgment upon those who have wronged us, we will inevitably make things worse.
What positive steps can one take to defuse implosive anger?
- First, admit the tendency to yourself: “It’s true, I hold my anger inside. I find it very difficult to share with others that I am feeling angry. I know I am hurting myself by doing this.” These are the statements that lead to help.
- Second, reveal your problem to a trusted friend or family member. Telling someone else and asking for their advice may help you decide whether you should confront the person or persons with whom you are angry. Perhaps you will chose to “let the offense go,” but at least this will be a conscious choice, and you can release your anger.
- If the person to whom you disclose your anger is unable to give you the help you need, then look for a pastor or counselor who can. Don’t continue the destructive response to anger.
Explosive anger is another way in which many people deal with their frustration. They become so confused or feel that things have spiraled so far out of control that they explode into angry outbursts and rage at their partner —taking “control” of the situation in a more harmful way.
“Although the primary reason for angry outbursts is trying to get what we want, our instinct makes us believe otherwise. It turns it into an issue of injustice. When we are angry we usually feel that someone is deliberately making us unhappy (by not giving us what we want), and what he or she is doing just isn’t fair. In our angry state, we are convinced that reasoning won’t work, and the offender will keep upsetting us until he or she is taught a lesson. The only thing such people understand is punishment, we assume. Then they’ll think twice about making us unhappy again!
“We think we are using anger to protect ourselves, and it offers a simple solution to our problem —destroy the troublemaker. If our spouse turns out to be the troublemaker, we find ourselves hurting the one we’ve promised to cherish and protect. When we’re angry we don’t care about our spouse’s feelings and we are willing to scorch the culprit if it prevents us from being hurt again.” (Dr Harley, from the Marriage builders article, “Angry Outbursts”)
So what do you do if you express your anger in explosive and maybe even violent outbursts?
The following are several links to articles on different web sites that may help you with this. We pray you will find them helpful. To read these articles please click onto the links below:
Filed under: Communication and Conflict