Anger can be a difficult thing to deal with in a marriage - especially if you or your spouse struggle to control your anger. What can you do to deal with this tough situation?
Just listen to what this wife had to say:
“I just wonder if you have some ways to go about forgiving when my husband expresses anger and says means things, and then later on he’s sorry. I don’t feel forgiving of him when he does that. I want him to be sorry, but I also want him to end the behavior and be done with it.”
It would be nice if all conflicts were as small as which way the toilet tissue is supposed to hang. But many offenses in marriage are far from trivial. Few couples escape the conflicts that result from differences in family backgrounds, personalities, or values. No matter how our marriages grow in maturity, we always seem to find ways of hurting each other, either intentionally or unintentionally. And with every offense comes pain. Hurt leaves us wide open, feeling as if our hearts have been torn out, our tenderness brutalized, and our equilibrium upset. Sometimes we don’t recognize the inner pain right away; other times, we just try to hide it. We don’t tell our spouses when they have wounded us; we don’t want to appear vulnerable; we suppress the hurt and act as if nothing happened.
Just as it can be difficult for us to recognize hurt, it can be difficult to spot anger. As long as you deny that you feel angry over your unresolved disappointments and hurts, you won’t deal with the problem. Where there is an offense, there is hurt. And where there is unresolved hurt, there is anger. The cause of anger can also be confusing. While most anger is triggered by specific situations or events, anger can also be displaced—sparked by one person or event but taken out on someone else.
For example, your spouse calls to say he or she will be late for dinner again. You hang up the phone and all through dinner take your anger out on the kids.
Anger can also be leftover—stemming from the past, sometimes so far back that the cause is even forgotten. For example, your spouse fires off a volley of angry words at you for no apparent reason. When you sit down to talk about it, you discover that he or she was hurt by something you did a month ago, something you barely remember.
Wherever the anger comes from, God has provided a biblical way to address it and disarm the offense-hurt-anger pattern that will rob your relationship of intimacy and connection. Whenever you experience the downward spiral of unresolved offenses, hurt, and anger, you have two options. First, you can simply ignore the offense and the hurt while allowing the anger to fester. You may continue to stuff your unresolved feelings deep inside resulting in bitterness, resentment, and depression. You may explode, venting pent-up anger without regard for how it wounds and alienates your spouse. Either way, by failing to break the negative pattern, you continue to wear each other down. The end result may be a relational earthquake that rattles your relationship to its foundation.
But you have a second option. It’s called forgiving love. When you face hurt and anger, you can decide to resolve the conflict. That’s the biblical way to deal with the offense-hurt-anger pattern. What we want to work toward—as individuals and as couples—is a commitment to address the pain and anger, to resolve the conflict, to forgive the offender, and to renew the relationship. The goal is to bring the relationship to a place of healing, wholeness, and openness that will help you feel accepted and connected again. Forgiving love restores a wounded relationship. When you practice forgiving love consistently, you protect your marriage from heading down the path to emotional or legal divorce.
*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!