Unhealed hurt from a conflict in your relationship can trigger anger. Anger is a secondary emotion, typically following hurt, disappointment, or fear. It’s what grows out of the offense and the hurt when they are not dealt with quickly. Unleashed anger only makes things worse in a conflict and becomes another hindrance to resolving it peacefully.
When we talk about anger in a marriage relationship, we share what we call the “baked potato syndrome.” Picture a big, brown russet potato in the oven. You turn on the heat and the potato begins to warm. Given sufficient time, it bakes to a fluffy white inside, ready for butter, sour cream, chives, and bacon bits. But if you forget about the potato and let it bake too long, it could explode and make a mess in your oven. This illustrates what can happen when offenses, hurts, and anger are allowed to heat up through lack of loving action. The result can be a disaster.
You will be better equipped to deal with anger in your marriage if you understand the different types of anger and identify why you respond the way you do. There are three varieties of the “baked potato” of anger: situational anger, displaced anger, and chronic anger. Each one has a different cause.
Some anger responses are situational, triggered by specific events. You can almost predict it: When a certain something happens, one of you reacts with anger. Behind every eruption of situational anger are offenses and hurts that have not been resolved. The sooner you close the loop on offenses and hurts, the less damage you will suffer—or inflict—from anger.
Another variety of anger is one counselors refer to as displaced anger. Rather than confronting and dealing with the direct cause of the anger in a situation, the offended spouse expresses his or her feelings indirectly. Displaced anger may not be as damaging as other forms, but it still leaves a painful open loop in the relationship.
A third type of anger resulting from unhealed hurts is chronic anger. When an open loop is not closed in a timely manner, the hurt and anger are often shoved to the background and ignored. Because it is unresolved, this anger can flare up again and again. Buried wounds and anger generate an assortment of psychological and physical stresses that can ruin a person’s perspective on life and eat away at the soul. People with chronic anger are like loose cannons, ready to blast away whenever someone unwittingly touches off the fuse.
Unless you and your spouse learn how to work through your hurt and anger, you will likely find yourself on an emotional roller coaster that never slows down. Stuffing anger into some dark corner of your heart may temporarily help you skirt past a conflict, but the anger doesn’t go away. Venting anger through a verbal tirade, an argument, screaming, crying, or slamming doors may help you let off a little steam, but it won’t solve the root problem and you will explode again and again. The longer you allow the cycles of stuffing and exploding to continue, the more you will hurt yourself and your spouse.
Much of the hurt and anger you experience in your marriage relationship are the result of unresolved conflicts between you and your spouse. They are all part of open loops, and the longer the loops remain open, the greater will be the turmoil in your marriage. Closing every loop as soon as possible is vital to divorce-proofing your marriage. And dealing with those hurts and resolving them will help you and your spouse grow closer in your relationship.
*Our book, Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage, can help you understand different conflict styles and teach you how to move toward forgiveness and healing!