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Anger: A Toxin in Marriage
We have been created as emotional beings. A reading of Scripture reveals that each story, every character, becomes compelling in part because of the human, emotional nature.
We can relate to King David’s sadness at the death of his son. We hold our breath in anxious anticipation as Queen Esther approaches King Xerxes asking for the freedom of her Jewish people. We understand Jesus’ righteous indignation at the money sellers in the temple.
Yet, there are many occasions where a little emotion becomes destructive, ruining our emotional health as well as our marital health. Too much of almost any emotion is likely to cause some level of destruction.
Consider this recent letter I received from a man who regrets the impact his anger has had on his relationship:
Dear Dr. David. A short time ago my fiancée broke up with me, saying that she was tired off my disrespect for her and anger issues. I admit that the smallest things set me off. I have had temper problems my entire life, and I’m finally sick of it. I hope I’m not too late.
When my fiancée does something that bugs me, something I don’t think she should do, I lose my patience. Sometimes I say something hurtful, but most of the time I just give her a dirty look, which she says is just as hurtful.
Recently I’ve begun going to counseling to get at the root of my problems. I’ve learned that I was raised by a controlling father, and I still have issues with that. I want to control everything, and of course that makes my fiancée feel bad.
This crisis has caused me to reexamine my life. My fiancée no longer wants to see me and I’ve been praying asking God if I should just give up or keep fighting for our relationship. She says she no longer loves me and doesn’t want to see me. Should I keep fighting for this relationship or do you think it’s time to give up? Thanks.
Dear reader: I am certainly sorry that your relationship has been hurt by your anger, but in a way, this appears to be a wake up call for you. Your fiancée must be applauded for making a difficult decision, one that will help both of you in the long run. She has stopped enabling your destructive behavior, and now you both have an opportunity to change.
You ask what you can do now. Here are a few ideas.
First, you must meet your fiancée at her point of need. In other words, what does she really need at this time? If she is hurt by your recent outburst and wants to be left alone, that is the best thing to do. If she wants you to enter into Anger Management before she will see you again, that is what you must do. If she distrusts you and wants to be away from you for a time, leave her alone.
Second, this is an opportunity for you to think about others before yourself. While you hurt and want to be with her, you must consider her feelings above your own. You’ve caused damage and must think of how to repair that damage. A little anger goes a long way to create a toxic relationship. While your feelings propel you to want to talk to her, to try to make things “right,” this is selfish and will probably be perceived that way by her. Consider what she needs and give it to her. Show that you fully understand the damage you have caused.
Third, continue getting help for your anger. As you say, you’ve been helped by the counsel you’re receiving, so continue with it. However, you need to look deeper into yourself, exploring even more issues. For example, beneath your anger is there an attitude of selfishness? You say that you can be controlling. Do you have an attitude that “my way is the right way?” Has your fiancée felt smothered by your “right and wrong” thinking?
One of my books, Are You Really Ready for Love? will be particularly helpful to your situation. Consider reading it and preparing yourself emotionally and spiritually for a love relationship.
Fourth, you must develop a healthy way of expressing anger, whether or not your fiancée wants to see you again. The Scriptures don’t tell us not to ever feel anger, but to “be angry and sin not.” (Ephesians 4: 26) The Apostle James instructs us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (James 1: 19) Did you fiancée feel you spent time understanding her and meeting her needs?
Finally, pray for wisdom. In time you will know whether your fiancée wants to try again or whether the relationship has been completely severed. Give her space and perhaps check in with her in several weeks. Don’t push your agenda, but rather listen carefully to what she wants. It is quite possible that, as she sees changes in you, she may re-experience the love she once had for you.
It is very difficult when emotions are in a state of uproar because of a crisis to think clearly. If you are experiencing an emotional crisis because of relational difficulties, remember to go slowly, pray often and allow the truth of the matter to emerge. With careful prayer and consideration, God will reveal your best course of action.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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