The early years of my marriage to Karen were filled with anger. We fought all the time, and created several issues we simply couldn’t talk about because it always resulted in a fight. We fought so much we were numb. We almost divorced.
Anger, by itself, isn’t always a bad thing. Every human relationship will have anger. Great marriages have anger. Anger is manageable if it is dealt with immediately.
But Karen and I had unresolved anger in our marriage. That can be toxic.
Research indicates that unresolved anger causes health problems. People in bad marriages get sick more often and have shorter life spans. Literally, you’ll die earlier from living in an angry marriage. You can suffer depression and anxiety.
For a healthy marriage, you need to learn how to deal with anger the right way—before it turns dangerous. How do you do it?
FIRST, ADMIT YOUR ANGER. Don’t deny it. Don’t bottle it up. Some people are hesitant to admit anger, but the Apostle Paul says it is a natural emotion (see Ephesians 4:26-27). But it only stays healthy if you don’t allow the pressure to build. A balloon expanding with too much air will eventually pop, destroying the balloon.
CULTIVATE AN ATMOSPHERE OF HONESTY WITHIN YOUR RELATIONSHIP. Your spouse needs to know he or she can share anything without paying a price. In counseling, I’ve had spouses tell me certain things and I’ll ask them, “Have you told this to your spouse?”
They answer, “Oh, I could never tell them. They’ll go ballistic.” That’s when I know they live in a home with an unsafe atmosphere. They aren’t free to complain. They know they’ll pay a price.
A healthy, honest marriage has to be a safe place to express emotions like anger. But when your spouse expresses that emotion, you must respond in an emotionally healthy way.
DON’T CRITICIZE OR GET DEFENSIVE. Criticism is a constant environment of negativity—disapproval of someone based on their perceived faults. Defensiveness is not even allowing your spouse to complain. When a complaint is made, a defensive person turns the tables, saying “no, you’re the problem.”
Both criticism and defensiveness are major predictors of divorce.
DON’T LET ANGER AGE. In Ephesians 4, Paul writes that we should not let the sun go down on our anger. He means we need to deal with it quickly rather than simmering in it. Anger that festers and turns old gets worse. It becomes contempt.
Long-term anger turns into bitterness. It becomes poisonous. It hardens your heart toward the person who made you angry in the first place.
REJECT STONEWALLING. This is when you get so angry, you say, “Don’t talk to me.” Communication shuts down: Don’t talk to me about the children. Don’t talk to me about money. We need to be able to complain to each other and talk things out.
That’s what healthy couples do. Dysfunctional families don’t talk. When anger arises in your marriage—and it will—talk to each other. Admit it and be honest. Be open to each other’s viewpoint. Most importantly, don’t let your anger age into something that can truly damage your marriage.