Dealing With Anger in Marriage
“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not so easy” – Aristotle, 384 B.C.
During my 30 years of working with couples in distressed marriages, I would say that anger is among the top, most prevalent issue that couples face in their marriage. About one-third of clients are dealing with anger in their relationships. I think most counselors would agree that anger is one of the most prevalent contributors to the demise of marital relationships today.
And yet anger is natural, God-given emotion. It’s completely normal and healthy to feel angry from time to time, in response to certain situations. Everyone experiences anger to some degree or another. Anger itself is not the problem per se, it’s the intensity of your anger. It can range from mere annoyance to extreme rage. The problem is failing to manage your anger effectively.
Countless spouses have sat in my office and told me how their anger or their spouse’s anger was the biggest problem in their marriage. What would you say is the current temperature in your relationship overall? Answer the following questions and consider whether or not your anger temperature is at risk of contributing to the demise of your marital relationship.
Take a Few Minutes and Take a Quick Test
Answer these questions honestly about your periods of anger within the past 6 months:
1. Do you often lose your cool and act out your anger toward your spouse by threatening divorce or by threatening to leave or walking out on him or her when he/she does something or fails to do something that frustrates or upsets you?
2. Do you sometimes speak loudly, raise your voice, or scream belittling or cursing at your spouse when he or she disagrees with you?
3. Do you sometimes get angry with your spouse and express your anger with criticism, blame, or put-downs?
4. Do you have times when your anger spews out and hurts your spouse’s feelings?
5. If someone you don’t know offends you, like a clerk at the store do you give them a piece of your mind?
6. When you are upset or frustrated do you say or do things that you later regret?
Calculate Your Score:
3 points for each “Frequently” you checked.
2 points for each “Occasionally” you checked.
1 point for each “Rarely” you checked.
If You Scored 9 Points or less:
You’re doing Very Good. You may be having some ups and downs, but with a little bit of help, you’ll soon be experiencing day-to-day basis joy, peace, and harmony in your home.
If You Scored Between 10-13 Points:
You’re doing OK. Keep working at it.
If You Scored 14 Points or more:
Your marriage needs immediate intensive care! It’s time to seriously get down to work and get things turned around. You can learn new skills that can reduce conflict and help you experience a harmonious relationship.
If you were honest with yourself about the questions above and your score indicates you have an anger management issue, you are a step ahead of many. If so, then read on.
It’s hard to keep your anger in check when you just want to blurt out your feelings to your spouse as soon as they cross you. But that angry outburst is not only bad for the relationship, it’s also bad for your health. Understanding the crux of what our body goes through when we have these explosive outbursts and how these moments can have negative health effects on us is imperative. Learning how “not to speak” to get our point across to one another can help us avoid a host of problems.
How Anger Affects Your Health and Your Marriage
The inappropriate expression of anger on the part of one spouse can hurt both spouses deeply and cause significant harm to their marriage in the following ways:
- Damage the safe feeling/trust that is so necessary to the success of a marriage
- Damage self-esteem by resulting in guilt and shame
- Make one fearful of self-giving and of receiving love
- Introduce and increases fear of being hurt
- Result in a spouse being distant leads to sadness, loneliness, and anxiety
- Wound the sense of being “special” and a gift to one’s spouse
- Increase sexual temptations
- Contribute to drinking, gambling, and other compulsive behaviors.
Inappropriate expressions of anger in marriage can be a major source of marital distress and unhappiness. Recognizing and managing this unruly emotion can greatly enhance the degree of security and happiness you and your spouse achieve in your marriage. With this in mind, be willing to take an honest look at yourself and come to grips with the reality that anger is an issue in your marriage. By doing so, you can overcome this maritally destructive emotion and discover the joy of peace and harmony in your marriage and family.
What man or woman gets married thinking to themselves, “One of these days I’m going to become so upset and angry toward my spouse that I’m going to burst out into frequent fits of anger that will emotionally damage my spouse in a very deep way?” That’s not the way that anger commonly destroys a marriage. It’s usually something that gradually creeps up until it eventually takes its final toll.
There’s not one of us who doesn’t occasionally get upset and angry with our spouse. You can’t live together under the same roof for too long without finding things you disagree about that make you upset and angry with each other.
The Problem With Anger In Marriage
It’s not whether we get angry, but what we do with it that matters. It’s how we handle the angry emotions we feel toward our spouse when it occurs. Are we going to allow our anger to spew out and hurt our spouse emotionally? Or, are we going to find ways to express ourselves appropriately? We must find ways to express our anger in appropriate ways enabling our spouse to feel safe amidst the upsets that inevitably happen in every marriage from time to time.
To do so, it helps if we understand that anger in and of itself is not wrong. Anger is a God-given emotion common to each of us. In addition, anger is a human emotion that happens naturally in response to one’s perception of a threat to our security and well-being. Emotions are simply a part of the way God wired us. And yet they are subject to our management and control. Everyone experiences anger, some more intensely and frequently than others. It’s not whether we are going to get angry, but what we do with it that matters.
Though anger is an emotion common to all of us, few people are naturally skilled at being able to control this unruly emotion in healthy ways so that it does not become an emotional threat to our spouse and children. Most of us rely on a few specific ways of dealing with our anger that we learned as children and took with us into adulthood. These “inherited” ways of dealing with anger in marriage often have a destructive impact on ourselves and upon those closest to us. Recognizing what makes us angry can help us find better ways to cope with this emotion.
Researchers tell us anger in a marital relationship is more prevalent than in any other relationship. Thus the inability to express one’s anger appropriately is the principal cause of harmful interactions within marriage. The success or failure of a marriage may depend on the way spouses manage and express their angry feelings.
The Impact of Anger On Marriage
The negative impact of anger in marriages is considerable. A brief look at just a few recent studies demonstrates how harmful excessive anger is to marriages.
l. For example, research demonstrated that a 10-fold increase in risk for symptoms of depression is associated with anger and marital discord. Excessive anger in marriage is also associated with increased blood pressure, impaired immune function, and a poorer prognosis for spouses with coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. In short, anger is unhealthy. The Bible in Psalm 37:8 tells us to cease anger; it can cause bodily harm.
2. Another study revealed that angry outbursts are a contributing factor to depression and related physical and emotional illnesses in the other spouse. “The more hostile and angry behavior exhibited, the more depressed the spouses were after three years.” (Proulx C. et al., 2009.).
Couples need to learn how to express and acknowledge anger while managing and containing it to avoid hurting their partners, says Nancy Hudson of the Ohio State University. She suggests beginning by being open and honest and using “I feel” statements to help you communicate your anger to your spouse appropriately. There are practical, workable things you can do to avoid letting your anger get out of hand. It starts with making a commitment to do whatever it takes to put an end to angry outbursts and belittling your partner.
Best Ways to Deal With Anger In Marriage
The best way to resolve inappropriate expressions of anger in
marriage is to first get to the root of the anger problem. Have you ever been
hurt or emotionally wounded at some earlier stage of life? Have you ever been
the victim of verbal, mental, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse? Or
perhaps not allowed to express your feelings, ideas or opinions. Often
the root cause of anger is a cover-up for hurt and pain. It serves us as a
protection against being vulnerable and hurt again. In reviewing the following
list of root causes of anger, do you see any that might apply to you?
Deal With Possible Root Causes of Anger:
- People have repeatedly let you down
- Trauma or loss
- Impulsivity and lack of self-restraint
- Feelings of entitlement
- History of being repeatedly treated unfairly or unjustly
- Neglect or Abandonment as a child.
- Unforgiveness toward other(s) and resentful thoughts and feelings
- Unmet expectations
- Fear or anxiety
- Depression or Bipolar Disorder
- Blaming others and/or unwillingness to accept responsibility
Don’t be afraid to explore and consider what might be behind your anger and discover what the root of it may be. It may be some old baggage that requires understanding past hurts and disappointments. You can do this in a variety of ways such as through journaling about situations and just what it was that made you angry, and why? Journaling can help you to get in touch with other feelings which may be underlying your anger, such as frustration, hurt, sadness, fear, or pain from your past. Many people become angry because they feel violated or abused. Ignoring the root cause of your anger will prevent you from resolving your anger issue. It’s like putting a Band-aid on a cancerous wound that never heals.
If you have been unable to resolve your anger management issue with sheer determination, by reading self-help books or attending an anger management seminar, I encourage you to get Christian counseling help in dealing with the underlying factors which may be at the root of your anger management issues. Participation in private Counseling or becoming involved in a support group or anger management or therapy group can be very beneficial.
Scriptural Guidance on Anger:
The Apostle James instructs us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger,” (James 1:19-27). You have a choice when it comes to how you will behave when you are angered. You can learn to express anger appropriately instead of lashing out or acting it out.
Scripture doesn’t tell us to never feel angry, but rather to “be angry and sin not”(Ephesians 4:26). Anger in and of itself is not wrong. What is wrong, is when we have wrong thoughts, reactions, or behaviors in response to our anger.
Expressing anger, especially in a marriage should be short-lived, dealt with in a Christ-like, Biblical manner, and forgotten, preferably before the end of the day. Expressing anger inappropriately in marriage, especially in Christian marriage should be avoided because prolonged anger hurts deeply and destroys marital harmony, perhaps as much as an act of infidelity.
Spouses who are serious about dealing with the anger in their marriage should refrain from “letting the sun go down on their anger.” By resolving conflicts and dealing with anger as it occurs daily, couples can experience the joy of viewing each day as a new beginning, with no residue of negativity from the previous twenty-four hours.
Slow down and think before you respond, Proverbs 29:11; 15:1-2; 16:29. A quick, angry reaction is often regretted. Delay your response. Allow yourself to think and calm down.
Get to the source of your anger, (Psalm 4:3-5; 139:23-24. Search your heart. Be honest with yourself. Ask God to help you see what the source of your anger is. Ask yourself tough questions. Talk to God about it. Ask him about it. Listen quietly for God to speak to you. Seek the help of a Christian Counselor.
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