Anger is a natural emotion when things don’t go our way. Often when a spouse is angry, it is because they have a need or want that we are not meeting or they have become resentful, and it is just an overflow of their general disposition toward us. Understanding your anger can go a long way toward finding better tactics to change it.
We view demands and disrespect as ramping up to anger. Taken together, they define the typical fights of most couples. All three illustrate a form of emotional abuse in the marriage, which is a tragedy! When requests don’t get what your spouse wants, demands don’t produce results, and disrespect doesn’t work, your instinct may have one more strategy: an angry outburst. Instead of protecting each other, spouses become a great source of unhappiness, which is instinctive. If you don’t do something to stop it, you will most certainly become victims of each other’s harmful outbursts.
Anger in Marriage: Trying to Get What We Want
Although the primary reason for an angry outburst is trying to get what we want, our instinct makes us believe otherwise. It turns into an issue of injustice. When we are angry, we usually feel that someone is deliberately making us unhappy (by not giving us what we want), and what he or she is doing isn’t fair. In our angry state, we are convinced that reasoning won’t work, and the offender will keep upsetting us until they are taught a lesson. We assume the only thing such people understand is punishment, then they will think twice before hurting us again!
We think we are using anger to protect ourselves, and it offers a solution to our problem: destroy the troublemaker! If our spouse becomes the troublemaker, we hurt the one we promised to love and cherish. When we are angry, we don’t care about our spouse’s feelings, and we are willing to use our anger to “put them in their place” if it prevents us from being hurt again. It is more about being right than putting the other person first, as God calls us to do in all relationships (Philippians 2:3-8). Our spouse is not our enemy!
Anger in and of itself is not a primary emotion. Usually, there is something else underneath that drives it; fear, pride, and unmet expectations all lead to anger. Often the reason for our anger is simply because our expectations were not met (James 4:1-2). These can be desires and sinful thoughts of selfishness, but they can also be reasonable godly expectations that have morphed into something sinful. For example, it is okay to expect your spouse to respect you, but when you anger them for not respecting you the way you feel you deserve, that anger morphs into a sinful demand to have your way at any cost and demand it, which usually backfires. At this point, your anger is not achieving the desired result.
In the end, we have nothing to gain from anger. Punishment does not solve marital problems; it only makes your punished spouse want to inflict punishment on you or leave you if that doesn’t work. When you become angry with your spouse, you threaten their safety and security. You fail to provide protection. Your spouse rises to the challenge and tries to retaliate in response. When anger wins, love loses. If being right is more important than your spouse, then the relationship won’t last.
Managing Anger: Different Tactics
If your spouse is angry with you, you must try different tactics to respond to them. A gentle answer will often soften someone’s anger (Proverbs 15:1), so instead of responding in kind, let them know you want to understand them and ask them to speak more calmly. If that doesn’t work, usually allowing them time to cool and then trying the same tactic again can be very effective. Ask for a timeout and then come back and speak more calmly about what happened. Do not use words of accusation or blame, but gently remind your spouse that you value your relationship and that it is too important to let anger and bitterness come between you. This tactic may not always work, but give it a few tries before trying something different.
Another option might be to create a neutral space in your home where you agree not to raise your voice but speak calmly. If things escalate, again, agree to call a timeout and separate long enough to cool down. Communicating with love and respect is vital when in conflict, but that will take lots of practice and patience with one another to change your harmful patterns.
Though anger is a natural emotion, it doesn’t have to wreck your marital relationship. Understanding where it comes from and how to respond differently.
Understanding where it comes from and how to respond differently can go a long way toward improving the overall health of your relationship and adding to the quality and longevity of your marriage! Change can happen, but you have to start by changing the way you react and develop new ways to handle your anger.
Resources for further help:
Uprooting Anger by Dr. Robert Jones
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs