The List – Let Anger Have It’s Way

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage, and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and watching marriage fail.

Anger can be caustic to marriage at best and dismantling to marriage at worst.

IS IT WRONG TO BE ANGRY?

Anger itself is not the problem. Many religious people feel like it’s wrong to be angry, but anger is a normal and natural emotion that everyone will experience. We’re even told in the Bible that God experiences anger:

“And the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” – 1 Kings 11:9. (ESV)

The problem is not anger, but rather the way we choose to deal with our anger. That’s the principle behind two New Testament Scriptures:

  • “Be angry and sin not…” – Eph. 4:26a (ESV)
  • “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” – James 1:19 (ESV)

HANDLING ANGER POORLY.

Again, experiencing anger is not the problem. Handling it poorly is. And we handle anger poorly in the ways we talk about it and the ways we express it.

Talking About Anger.

Because we’re often taught that anger is bad or wrong, we tend to use words that minimize our anger and make it more palatable. Instead of coming right out and saying, “I’m angry,” we say things like:

  • I’m peeved.
  • I’m miffed.
  • I’m frustrated.
  • I’m aggravated.

These sound kinder, but they often short-sell and misrepresent what we’re really feeling. To the listener, these words make it sound less important than it really is.

Expressing Anger.

People express anger in a variety of ways. Oftentimes, the way people express anger is either the way they saw it expressed growing up, or it’s in opposition to the way they saw it expressed growing up. Below are some of the general ways people poorly express their anger:

They keep it to themselves.
These are the people who are angry, but they try to go on and act as if everything is ok. Maybe they were led to believe that anger is wrong or bad. Maybe they’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Maybe they don’t like confrontation. Whatever the reason, they try to keep their anger underground. The problem with this approach is the anger still leaks out in their body language, or their tone, or their withdrawal.

They become sarcastic.
These are the people who veil their anger in a sarcastic tone and comments. They may try to pass it off as humor, but it’s actually a back door approach to expressing anger. It’s a form of verbally throwing darts at someone in a hit-and-run fashion. The problem with this approach is it’s disrespectful and makes the anger worse for both people.

They become passive-aggressive.
These are the people who say one thing, but do another. They say they’re fine but act in ways that show they’re not. They may say it’s alright for you to go out with your friends, but then come up with all kinds of ways to sabotage that. They may say they’re perfectly fine with your decision, but then continue to point out reasons why your approach won’t work. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t resolve the anger and it keeps the other person stuck in a “darned-if-you-do-and-darned-if-you-don’t” position.

They go off like a grenade, and then they’re “fine.”
These are the people who go off with little warning, hurting everyone in their vicinity. And once they’re done, they feel better, because they’ve released the emotional pressure that had built up in them. It’s like someone pulling the pin on a grenade and walking away. The problem with this approach is that the person who pulled the pin may feel better, but they’ve left everyone else riddled with shrapnel and not ok.

They erupt like a volcano and continue to spew.
These are the people who are constantly angry. Like a volcano, their anger is rumbling ever-present below the surface.  You never know when they’re going to blow. And when they do, the only option for people is to flee the destruction. The problem with this approach is that, like a volcano, their angry eruptions forever change the landscape of the marriage and can cause their spouse to have no choice but to flee.

HANDLING ANGER PROPERLY.

Know this. Anger will not go away by itself. And if you try to ignore it, it will still have its way…one way or another. You will either handle your anger poorly or properly. You will either deal with your anger, or your anger will deal with you.

So let’s look at some ways you can intentionally and effectively handle your anger.

Recognize it.

The first step to properly handling your anger is being willing to recognize it’s there. You may be a person who knows when you’re angry, but often people have ignored their anger for so long they don’t recognize it anymore. I’ve had people in my counseling office who were telling a story that was obviously making them angry. I could see their face turning red. I could see them gripping the chair so hard their knuckles were turning white. I could see their jaw clenched. But when I asked them what they were feeling, they said, “Nothing.”

Pay attention to the warning signs. Watch for things like tensing up, quick and shallow breathing, your face feeling flushed, clenching your fists or your jaw, or anything else that might signal you’re angry. If you’re not good at recognizing when you’re angry, rely on others to point it out to you, until you can recognize it for yourself.

Own it.

Once you’ve recognized your anger, then you must have the humility to own it. It’s so easy to try to pass our anger off by making others responsible for it. This sounds like, “Well I wouldn’t be angry if you didn’t…” It’s also easy to deflect attention from our anger by pointing out the other person’s anger. This sounds like, “You’ve got some nerve talking about my anger. Look at all the times you’ve been angry!” If you want to handle anger properly, you must be humble enough to own it as your own problem.

Trace it.

Once you’ve owned your anger, then you need to figure out the real root of your anger. It’s easy to just trace your anger to the current circumstance, but you need to go deeper than that. Has your anger been building for a while? If so, when did it start? Does what makes you angry remind you of something or someone else? Does it go back to childhood?

I know these are hard questions that are not always easy to answer, so you may need to enlist others to help you investigate this. Sometimes it takes a friend, a pastor, or a counselor to help you get to the bottom of things.  But, someone once told me, “When you look underneath the anger, you will usually find hurt.” So look for the deeper hurt.

Replace it.

Once you understand what’s really driving your anger, then you’re ready to replace the anger. You do that by replacing the thoughts that fuel your anger and replacing the behaviors that allow your anger to fester and get worse. Again, this may take the help of a good friend, pastor, or counselor, but if you don’t replace the old thoughts and behaviors with something different…you’ll be stuck with the anger.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

Marriage is supposed to be a place where spouses enjoy safety and security. But unchecked anger in a marriage erodes and destroys safety and security. That’s why anger is so caustic to a marriage. Letting anger have its way can destroy a marriage relationship, and cause you to lose your marriage. And that’s why…IT’S ON THE LIST.

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