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The Devastating Effect of Chronic Anger on Relationships

  • Dr. Neil Clark Warren for the eHarmony Research Library
  • 2003 18 Mar
The Devastating Effect of Chronic Anger on Relationships

There's really no flattering way to put this. I am a very angry person. I find that in my daily activities I experience a chronic, anger towards the world. Even when I am at peace and content it only takes a small inconvenience or frustration to send me spiraling down into hours of anger. I don't lash out...yet. But I'm actually holding off on a romantic relationship because I'm scared of how I will eventually act. Can you help me?



I want to start by praising your good judgment. A relationship can only be as healthy as the emotional health of its weakest partner. In this case, your anger management problem would make a relationship extremely risky. I must tell you that of the many divorce autopsies I have performed in the past 35 years, anger issues have been a significant contributor to the vast majority of cases. It is an epidemic.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind." You mention how your anger often comes upon you quickly, in a flash. I believe it is important that you learn some techniques to dissipate your anger just as quickly.

It is this subject of anger that has occupied my attention for years.  I have experienced more than my share of anger in my own life, I have read thousands of pages of research and theory about it, I wrote a book about it, and I have spoken hundreds of times concerning it across the country.  Let me share with you three conclusions I've drawn out of all of this.

The secret is to make sure that you have become an expert at dealing with this emotion in your life.  In order to become an expert, you have to work hard at it when you are not angry.  You need to understand that anger is always produced in response to hurt, frustration, and fear.  Moreover, you need to recognize that the goal of anger is to reduce this primary pain in your life, to make it unnecessary for you to have to re-experience the suffering that produced the anger in the first place.

If you will become an expert in managing your anger, you can do tremendous things.  In the Bible, God is portrayed as the angriest person of all.  There are 455 uses of the word anger in the Old Testament.  375 of them refer to God's anger.  And in the New Testament, Jesus is frequently angry.  Before some of his greatest miracles, the scripture indicates that he was filled with indignation.  If you can become as good at expressing your anger as was God or Jesus, as well as the prophets and the great church leaders, you will be able to channel the power of anger toward great ends.

Finally, the faster you are able to deal with your anger in relation to someone else, the better.  The Apostle Paul says, "Do it now!"  "Don't let the sun go down on your anger."

What Paul is saying is that anger has a way of becoming acidic to your inner self and to any relationship in which it occurs. Thus, you want to utilize this "physiological preparedness" now to deal therapeutically with the hurt, frustration, or fear that has occurred within your interaction with a valued other. If you don't, you take some awful chance of the anger turning mean on you.

But if you do manage it quickly and skillfully, you will discover that your anger can promote a resolution of your conflict which will result in a richer and richer relationship.  Deal with it early, skillfully, and respectfully! You will be amazed at how powerful you can be in turning a difficult moment into a moment of meaning and fulfillment.

"If you are angry, deal with it immediately." (Ephesians 4:26)


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