Helping Families Love Well
T he famous American humorist and actor Will Rogers once said, “People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.” It’s hard to deal with an angry person and it’s even harder when the angry person is your spouse.
Anger, only one letter away from “danger,” is poison to the soul and corrosive to the bonds of marriage. [Tweet this] You may have heard the idea, often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The Bible says that anger is foolish (Ecclesiastes 7:9), destructive, cannot produce right (James 1:20), and should be abandoned and avoided (Psalm 37:8-9). And with good reason. But what can you do when your spouse is an angry person? Thankfully, the answer is not “nothing.”
But let me be clear about one thing: I’m not talking about being merely “prickly” about things. That’s when you’re dealing with someone suffering from short-term annoyances, frustrations, and bad temperament. The best way to handle a “prickly” spouse is by avoiding these common trigger points. What I’m talking about is full-on anger.
When you’ve realized that your marriage has some ongoing, regular patterns of anger that need to be dealt with, I recommend wrestling with these three things:
- Wrestle Realistically with the Roots of Anger.
- Express Honestly the Effects of Anger.
- Deal Patiently with the Anger in Others and Yourself.
Wrestle Realistically with the Roots of Anger.
Too often, the anger itself is the focal point of our energy, reaction, and conflict. But to deal with anger in self or others requires understanding the root of the anger. Author Joyce Meyer says that “Anger is the fruit of rotten roots.” Anger is a symptom of a deeper problem, but it’s so damaging that it too often covers up that deeper problem. And it can lead to long-term bitterness that requires extra work.
The roots of anger can be recent or historically deep. Anger can stem from selfishness, self-loathing, disappointment, unmet expectations, abuse, injustice, offenses real and perceived, jealousy, frustrated or unreachable dreams and goals…the sources seem endless. And that’s why wrestling with the real root is important. If you can help your spouse with that wrestling, all the better. If they are resistant to your help, you should encourage them to do some solo soul-searching or get some counseling help to figure it out. But it is a critical step.
Express Honestly the Effects of Anger.
Anger creates a lot of collateral damage. An angry person never just makes themselves miserable. Anger in a marriage and family can create feelings of bitterness, hostility, fear, resentment, revenge, and complete abandonment in other family members too. And on top of that, in people who struggle with anger, there is often a general self-awareness of the destructive effects, making them angrier at themselves which only intensifies the anger.
Do not sweep the damage under the rug. Be honest with yourself and, as you have the opportunity, with your spouse about the harm that anger is doing. It’s best to have those conversations when emotions aren’t high in the heat of the moment. A gentle approach, one that communicates “I’m trying to help you and us,” is more effective than an angrily shouted checklist of hurts.
Deal Patiently with the Anger in Others and Yourself.
A friend of mine shared some of the best advice I’ve heard for dealing with anger, and it applies for when I’m angry or I’m dealing with someone else’s anger. He first noted that responding quickly…trying to move FAST to a resolution, usually leads to a bad outcome. And I couldn’t agree more. Patience is an essential tool when dealing with anger.
Some wise scripture in the book of James says that we should be slow to speak and slow to become angry. Whether we are the angry one or on the receiving end, patience allows us to deal with it more objectively, more introspectively, more honestly, and more effectively.
Anger is not always solved overnight, but you should still not let it linger, either. Reconciliation does not always occur quickly. But taking these steps and making even small moves can give you hope in your journey when you’re dealing with an angry person in your family.
What other steps do you find helpful in dealing with an angry spouse or person in your life? Share your ideas below.