I love my wife dearly. I believe that she is a gift from God, who has made me a better man during the 17 years we have been married. I will confess that those 17 years have not always been a fairy tale where the young lovers live happily ever after. There have been more than a few frustrating days and fights. It’s strange how easy it is to be angry with someone who you care for so deeply. I often hear people say that they are far meaner and find it easier to be angry toward their loved ones than they would be toward strangers or acquaintances. Anger is powerful and can be dangerous to relationships. It is important to deal with it appropriately and effectively, lest it take root and grow into bitterness that poisons the whole relationship. The following are simple, Biblical steps to take in dealing with anger.
- Pray for your spouse. It seems like Christian advice all too often begins with: “Have you prayed about it?” Which, I’ll confess, simply produced eye rolls in me for many years. For many years my attitude was: “I don’t want to pray, I want to do something productive.” Though I would never have vocalized it, because Christians are supposed to be serious about prayer. It’s easy to give prayer lip service, but to not take it all that seriously. My attitude toward prayer has since changed. Interestingly, I began to value prayer primarily in response to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:44, directing believers to pray for enemies. During a time of frustration with coworkers, I found myself praying for them. I carried a great deal of anger toward these individuals, but as I prayed for them over the course of weeks, it became easier to simply let go of offenses and forgive. Prayer changed my heart and my attitude. If praying for my enemies and those who offend me alters my attitude toward them, the same principle should apply to my family. If I find myself frustrated with my spouse, praying for her ought to be the first response. Further, the more I pray for her the harder it will be to get angry. Prayer alters our hearts to reflect Jesus’, creating a different attitude to direct our response.
- Deal with it quickly before your anger becomes resentment. A while back I cut my hand, not badly. Just a small cut. Because I am a guy, I simply ignored it. However, instead of getting better it got infected. The little cut grew red, swollen, and painful. The only solution was to lance it and drain the infection, which was unpleasant. The same thing happens with anger. Anger that we ignore and just swallow can grow into resentment. Resentment is old anger that shades our perspective on people and situations. Resentment can slowly grow into a constant state of low grade hostility. The surest way to tell if you have a resentment is if you frequently revisit old offenses and stew in them.
- Serve your spouse. You could probably make the case that you ought to be serving your spouse anyway, but when you are angry it is particularly important to do this. I recently heard someone say that prayer is good, but prayer accompanied by changes in our actions is really powerful. If you are praying for your spouse during a time of anger, serving them should follow close behind. In Romans, Paul directs us to serve our enemies: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;…” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. It may be an overstatement to call your spouse evil, though I am sure the word could have been applied to me more than once during my marriage. The general principle applies well. Serving others when they don’t deserve it is the ultimate in imitating Christ. It is a discipline that can provide opportunity for our hearts to change. In the past when I have served those I disliked and was praying for, everything changed.
- Evaluate your expectations. Often, anger toward a husband or wife begins with unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to develop unrealistic expectations for those around you. Your spouse doesn’t read minds, no matter how loud you think things at them. They won’t have the energy they did when you were in your 20s. Your husband won’t wake up tomorrow speaking poetry and looking like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel. Your wife won’t suddenly become hyper-sexual. The house won’t be always be perfectly clean. The honey-do list won’t be done before you even make it. They aren’t necessarily going to be excited about the same things you are excited about. Nobody is going to want to volunteer to get up at 2 AM and feed the baby. Expecting your spouse to suddenly be someone they aren’t, particularly if they don’t know you expect it, is unrealistic and will only lead to frustration and anger.
- Talk it through. I didn’t start with this one for a very good reason. It’s one of the most important things to do when dealing with anger, but it only works when you come into the conversation with your heart in the right place. It’s entirely too easy to devolve into a fight when you discuss things you are angry over. It is especially the case when you are still a little hot under the collar. Anger makes communication impossible. The previous steps are helpful because they tend to shape our attitude going into the conversation. It is important to eventually reach a point where conversation can take place. Some marriages have issues that prevent any discussion or dealing with the problems at hand without them devolving into shouting matches. In these cases, it’s best to back up and work toward an environment where communication can take place. It may require counseling or intentionally working to improve communication skills. Communicating needs to be a major objective in every area of marriage, particularly conflict. Without it, the relationship will whither and die.
- Recognize your role in relation to Jesus. The description of duties for husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 is often subject to confusion. Paul spends half the chapter comparing the relationship between a husband and wife to that which exists between Christ and the Church. Instead of focusing on this dynamic, discussions on the passage focus on “who is in charge”, “what are MY rights in this relationship”, or “what am I owed by my spouse.” The problem with these discussions is that they shift away from the truth that marriage is to reflect Jesus and the church. Husbands are to love their wives sacrificially and selflessly. Wives are to respect their husbands as with someone who has given up everything for them. Fighting over rights and what they owe me is foreign to this model. When we grow angry, it’s vital to remember our role. Husbands represent Jesus. That’s no small thing. Wives are to love their spouse like the church loves Jesus. What if he/she doesn’t deserve that? You and I don’t deserve the grace that Jesus offers us on the cross. Remember, these our our roles, not what we demand of them.
- Forgive. At the foundation of it all is forgiveness. The solution to anger is forgiveness, which is hard. It requires the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts to the point that we can let go of resentment and anger. It is modeled in Christ and the church and ought to be what we strive for in our marriages.