Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
It is one thing to let out a yelp when you hit your thumb with a hammer. It's even understandable when, after a scary fender bender, you mutter a few words under your breath. Perhaps you've even been known to scream at the neighbor's dog for using your yard as a bathroom.
Anger is a normal emotion and we're all quite familiar with it. The small percentage of people who cannot relate to this emotion, in all likelihood, have developed other mechanisms for quelling this uncomfortable emotion—alcohol consumption, sleep, withdrawal, distractions.
This article is especially for those of you who feel stuck in their anger. For you, anger is a constant companion. Your mate does things, says things, thinks things that simply make you mad. While you are able to push it down, being pleasant to your work mates, you know there's a cauldron of MAD gurgling in the pit of your stomach. What to do about it?
Consider this letter from a man recently who admits being stuck in anger.
Dear Dr. David. While my wife and I don't fight all that often, and things are actually pretty good at times, I'm always angry. She notices my anger and says I've got to do something about it or our marriage is at stake. I'm not sure what to think. Sometimes I think she is right—I have an anger problem. At other times I watch what she does and think any red-blooded man in my shoes would be angry too. She does so many things that I think are unreasonable and inappropriate. Of course, she disagrees. So, if I argue with her about the reason for my anger, I'm wrong and accused of being angry. If I shut up, I simmer with anger and nothing changes. So, I'm stuck and would love your feedback on our situation. ~ Angry and Admitting It
Let's get some things straight about our emotions. That should help you decide your course of action.
First, emotions are God-given and are neither right nor wrong. What we do with our emotions are right and wrong. Reading Scripture reveals every character—every one, including Jesus, displayed emotions. It is our thoughts, motives and actions that are deemed right or wrong. (Hebrews 4:12)
Second, our emotions are a natural by-product of our thoughts and attitudes. Why are you constantly angry? Be careful. Don't quickly assign blame to your wife. While she may indeed do things that annoy you, what do you expect from her? Your emotions/ anger suggests things are not going the way you think they SHOULD.
Third, anger often suggests not only that we believe things SHOULD be different, but is a DEMAND that things be different. There is nothing wrong with wanting things to be different, especially regarding situations that are annoying, frustrating and challenging. But, to demand things be different is to play God. This path leads only to further anger.
Fourth, your anger can lead you to problems needing resolution. Many couples are caught in a round-robin situation of fighting about the same issues time and again. Make a list of issues needing attention. Are they legitimate concerns? If so, do you and your wife have a game plan for eliminating them from your marriage? Unresolved problems are like a cancer eroding the integrity of your marriage. Negotiate on the issues, finding a place of agreement and then agree on a solution.
Fifth, don't shut up or blow up. Rather, express your anger assertively. Agree on a time with your mate for discussing short accounts of issues. Angry outbursts are nearly always divisive, rarely leading to exploring and solving problems. Own your anger, looking beneath your anger for other hidden emotions, such as sadness, hurt and rejection. Practice the art of expressing emotions, rather than critical judgments.
Finally, agree to only talk about issues when your emotions are regulated. Issues are never discussed effectively when you feel explosive. There is no such thing asn"clearing the air" with explosive anger. Hurtful words are often spoken, blame is cast about and your anger is only intensified. We are called to be people of kindness, tenderness, filled with the Spirit. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)
Anger is one of our thorniest emotions, often revealing much about our nature. While we justify emotional outbursts, we can sense how divisive and devastating we can be when we let our tongues overrule our brain. We must master the art of being slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
Feel free to contact me on our men's workshops, Men's Ways of Knowing, dealing with anger and character issues.
October 27, 2009
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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