How To Cultivate Healthy Anger in Your Marriage
Greg and Karen had been married for two years and both expressed a deep love for each other and a strong commitment to their marriage. When they called for counseling, they expressed a desire to improve their communication, but it didn’t take long for one of their core concerns to emerge.
It was in the middle of our first session when Greg finally opened up. “For many years I’ve struggled with the emotion of anger. It seems like I can go along for awhile and it doesn’t bother me, and then all of a sudden, I lose my temper and say things I’m usually sorry for later.” And I’m not the only one in my family with an “anger problem.” My father, who is a wonderful Christian man, has for many years had a reputation for being “hot-headed.” He doesn’t get angry very often but when he does, watch out.”
After a brief pause, Greg continued, “I didn’t realize it was as bad as it is until Karen and I got married.” He then began to relate an all-too-common story of little hurts and frustrations building into painful expressions of unhealthy anger that wounded the person he loved most. We explained to Greg and Karen that most newlyweds are surprised to discover that marriage probably generates in couples more anger than they will experience in any other relationship. When two people live together with a commitment to increasing closeness, vulnerability and intimacy, the potential for fear, hurt, frustration and misunderstanding is enormous. So is the potential for the emotion of anger.
After a deep and thoughtful sigh, Greg slumped down in his seat and asked, “Is there any way I can get rid of my anger?” Our response caught him by surprise. “Greg, the problem isn’t the emotion of anger. The problem is that you don’t understand your anger and haven’t learned how to cultivate healthy anger.” He immediately responded, “Healthy anger . . . you’ve got to be kidding me!” He continued, “I’ve heard anger referred to in many ways but never in the context of it being healthy.” If you are like Greg, and most people that we’ve worked with, you would have had the same response.
In our experience, most people tend to view anger only as a problem, something negative, something to be avoided. Why is it that of all the various emotions, anger has such a bad reputation? Why is it that so many people have a totally negative view of the emotion of anger? Is all anger bad? Is it always a sin to be angry? Is it possible for the energy of this “enemy” emotion to be constructively redirected? Can anger be used to mobilize us rather than neutralize us? In what ways can this unwelcome and potentially destructive emotion be considered a gift rather than a time-bomb?
What do you think of when you hear the word anger? In the workshops we’ve led dealing with emotions, we will often ask for a word association to anger. The responses are invariably 95% negative.
In my (Gary) more than 25 years in the ministry, I’ve spent hundreds of hours with people stymied in their effort to grow and live effectively because of their failure to acknowledge, accept and understand the God-given emotion of anger. With the “religious taboos” on anger, many Christian couples are particularly blind to the hidden agenda of anger. Instead of naming the emotion and facing it squarely as a fact of life they try to sit on it, shut it out and silence it.
Dr. Gary Oliver has over 30 years experience in individual, premarital, marital and family counseling and for the past 20 years he has had an extensive nationwide teaching ministry.