“I don’t ever remember losing my temper until I got married.”
Dan may have a faulty memory about his years before marriage, but one thing he’s certain of: his wife, Sarah, provokes his anger. “When she says certain things or gives me ‘that look,’ I get furious.”
All married couples experience anger. The tragedy is that thousands of couples never learn how to process anger productively. Marriage becomes a battlefield, each spouse accusing the other of firing the first shot. If a couple do not learn to properly handle their anger, they will never have a satisfying marriage.
Six Keys to Anger Management
The good news is, couples can learn to handle anger responsibly. In fact, they must learn to if they are to survive. Let me suggest a six-step strategy for handling anger in marriage.
- Acknowledge the reality of anger. In the course of marriage, each of us will experience anger from time to time. Remember, anger is not sinful; rather, it is evidence we have a concern for fairness and justice. Thus, we don’t need to condemn ourselves or each other for experiencing anger, nor do we need to deny we are angry.When we give each other the right to feel anger, we give each other the right to be human. This is the starting place in learning to process anger positively.
- Agree to acknowledge your anger to each other. “Guessing games” are a waste of time and usually not very accurate. If you are angry toward your spouse, it’s because he or she has done or said something you deem inappropriate, or failed to do or say something you expected. In your mind, your partner treated you unkindly, unfairly, or unloving. That event has become a barrier between you two. Your spouse deserves to know this. The couple who commit to give each other this information have taken a major step in resolving anger productively.
- Agree that verbal or physical explosions are inappropriate responses to anger. Unhealthy venting of anger is always destructive and should not be accepted as appropriate behavior. This does not mean that once your spouse and you make this agreement, neither of you will ever “lose your cool” again. However, it does mean that when doing so, you’re committed to acknowledging that response was wrong.One practical way to break this negative practice of explosion is to agree that whenever either of you begins to explode, the other walks out of the room. If you are followed, you will walk out of the house. If the spouse pursues you in the yard with yelling and screaming, you will run to a neighbor’s house or walk around the block. If you both agree to this strategy, then each of you will know that when the other starts walking or running, it’s time to stop and reflect on what is happening. The hope is that when you return from the walk or run, your spouse will have calmed down and will be say to say, “I’m sorry. My exploding at you was wrong. I guess I was hurt and angry. I lost control. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” You can then forgive your spouse for this momentary lapse and pursue the issue that originally aroused his or her anger.
- Agree to seek an explanation before passing judgment. If you are angry with your spouse, your first impression is that his behavior is wrong. But you should always take this as tentative until you hear his side.Rob thought he heard his wife say on the telephone that he was “late and that she couldn’t stand being late.” He felt angry because he had made every effort to be home on time and was only two minutes late. When he sought an explanation, he discovered she was actually talking about a friend’s baby who arrived two weeks late. If actions and words are open to misunderstanding, motives are even more difficult, since motives are internal. We can never know another person’s motive unless he or she tells us. We often attribute motives to our spouse that are totally off base. We often attribute motives to our spouse that are totally off base.
- Agree to seek a resolution. Often anger can be resolved when you receive an explanation.
- Agree to affirm your love for each other. After the anger is resolved, tell each other of your love. In doing so you are saying, “I am not going to allow this event to separate us.” As a couple, you have heard each other out, the issue has been resolved, you have learned from the experience, and you move on together.
Where genuine wrong has been committed, where one has been unkind, unloving, or unjust, resolution requires confession and repentance on the part of the one who committed the indiscretion and forgiveness on the part of the other. Anger subsides when this process has been completed. Anger has served its novel purpose of holding us accountable for our behavior.
I believe a genuine commitment to these six principles will get a couple on the pathway toward productive anger management. Marriages need not be destroyed by uncontrolled anger. Commit yourselves to these six principles and begin to practice them today.
Excerpted from Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion, ©2015 by Gary Chapman. Used with the permission of Moody Publishers. www.5lovelanguages.com