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Posts tagged ‘unhealthy anger’

Marital Distress: Why Do I Have to Be the One to Change?

SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis/The Huffington Post

You’re really mad at your partner. You’ve explained your point of view a million times. S/he never listens. You can’t believe that a person can be so insensitive. So, you wait. You’re convinced that eventually s/he will have to see the light; that you’re right and s/he’s wrong. In the meantime, there’s silence. But the tension is so thick in your house, you can cut it with a knife. You hate the distance, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re mad. You’re really mad.

You try to make yourself feel better by getting involved in other things. Sometimes this even works. But you wake up every morning facing the fact that nothing’s changed at all. A feeling of dissatisfaction permeates everything you do. From time to time, you ask yourself, “Is there something I should do differently,?” but you quickly dismiss this thought because you know that, in your heart of hearts, you’re not the one to blame. So the distance between you and your partner persists.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you and your partner been so angry with each other that you’ve gone your separate ways and stopped interacting with each other? Have you convinced yourself that, until s/he initiates making up, there will be no peace in your house? If so, I have few things I want to tell you.

You are wasting precious energy holding on to your anger. It’s exhausting to feel resentment day in and day out. It takes a toll on your body and soul. It’s bad for your health and hard on your spirit. It’s awful for your relationship. Anger imprisons you. It casts a gray cloud over your days. It prevents you from feeling real joy in any part of your life. Each day you drown yourself in resentment is another day lost out of your life. What a waste!

I have worked with so many people who live in quiet desperation because they are utterly convinced that their way of seeing things is right and their partner’s is wrong. They spend a lifetime trying to get their partners to share their views. I hear, “I’ll change if s/he changes,” a philosophy that ultimately leads to a stalemate. There are many variations of this position. For example, “I’d be nicer to her, if she were nicer to me,” or “I’d be more physical and affectionate if he were more communicative with me,” or “I’d be more considerate and tell her about my plans if she wouldn’t hound me all the time about what I do.” You get the picture… “I’ll be different if you start being different first.” Trust me when I tell you that this can be a very, very long wait.

There’s a much better way to view things when you and your partner get stuck like this. I’ve been working with couples for years and I’ve learned a lot about how change occurs in relationships. It’s like a chain reaction. If one person changes, the other one does too. It really doesn’t matter who starts first. It’s simply a matter of tipping over the first domino. Change is reciprocal. Let me give you an example.

I worked with a woman who was very distressed about her husband’s long hours at work. She felt they spent very little time together as a couple and that he was of little help at home. This infuriated her. Every evening when he returned home from work, her anger got the best of her and she criticized him for bailing out on her. Inevitably, the evening would be ruined. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work was to deal with problems the moment he walked in the door. Although she understood this, she was so hurt and angry about his long absences that she felt her anger was justified. She wanted a suggestion from me about how to get her husband to be more attentive and loving. She was at her wit’s end.

I told her that I could completely understand why she was frustrated and that, if I were in her shoes, I would feel exactly the same way. However, I wondered if she could imagine how her husband might feel about her nightly barrage of complaints. “He probably wishes he didn’t have to come home,” she said. “Precisely,” I thought to myself, and I knew she was ready to switch gears. I suggested that she try an experiment. “Tonight when he comes home, surprise him with an affectionate greeting. Don’t complain, just tell him you’re happy to see him. Do something kind or thoughtful that you haven’t done in a long time…even if you don’t feel like it.” “You mean like fixing him his favorite meal or giving him a warm hug? I used to do that a lot.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” I told her, and we discussed other things she might do as well. She agreed to give it a try.

Two weeks later she returned to my office and told me about the results of her “experiment.”

“That first night after I talked with you I met him at the door and, without a word, gave him a huge hug. He looked astounded, but curious. I made him his favorite pasta dish, which was heavy on the garlic, so he smelled the aroma the moment he walked in. Immediately, he commented on it and looked pleased. We had a great evening together, the first in months. I was so pleased and surprised by his positive reaction that I felt motivated to keep being ‘the new me.’ Since then things between us have been so much better, it’s amazing. He’s come home earlier and he’s even calling me from work just to say hello. I can’t believe the change in him. I’m so much happier this way.”

The moral of this story is obvious. When one partner changes, the other partner changes too. It’s a law of relationships. If you aren’t getting what you need or want from your loved one, instead of trying to convince him or her to change, why not change your approach to the situation? Why not be more pragmatic? If what you’re doing (talking to your partner about the error of his/her ways) hasn’t been working, no matter how sterling your logic, you’re not going to get very far. Be more flexible and creative. Be more strategic. Spend more time trying to figure out what might work as opposed to being hell bent on driving your point home. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same old thing over and over and expecting different results.

Look, life is short. We only have one go-around. Make your relationship the best it can possibly be. Stop waiting for your partner to change in order for things to be better. When you decide to change first, it will be the beginning of a solution avalanche. Try it, you’ll like it!


SOURCE:  Living Free

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath.” Psalm 37:8 NIV 
“In your anger do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26 NIV

The Bible tells us to refrain from anger.

It also tells us to be angry, but not to sin.

Although this first sounds like a contradiction, a study of the scriptures reveals that there are times when anger is accepted and appropriate – and other times when it is not. The Bible teaches that it is what makes us angry and how we express it that determine whether anger is right or wrong.

Throughout the Old Testament we read time and again of God’s anger – always directed at people’s sin. And in the New Testament, Jesus expressed his anger and cleansed the temple of the greedy money changers who were showing dishonor and disrespect and defiling and disrupting God’s house.

And so we know that there are times when anger is the most appropriate behavior. But what about when we become angry for selfish reasons … or express our anger in spiteful ways? In your anger do not sin.

What is the source of your anger? Do you get angry when you are denied something you want? Or because someone didn’t respond to you the way you desired? … Or are you angry because God is being dishonored? What is making you angry … and what are you going to do about it? The answers to these questions will determine the right and the wrong of it.

Lord, forgive me for the times I’ve become angry for the wrong reasons and the times I’ve expressed anger in hurtful ways. I pray that you will help me not to sin in my anger. In Jesus’ name …

These thoughts were drawn from …

Anger: Our Master or Our Servant
 by Larry Heath.

The Gift of Healthy Anger

SOURCE:  Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D./AACC

What do you think of when you hear the word anger?

Whenever I ask for a word association to anger the responses are invariably 99% negative. Why do so many couples have a totally negative view of anger?

Is all anger bad?

Can this unwelcome and potentially destructive emotion be considered a gift rather than a time-bomb?

In over 35 years of doing marriage and family counseling I’ve found that while few couples come for marriage counseling just to deal with the emotion of anger in over 3/4ths of the cases one of the key components of a marriage-threatening issue is unhealthy anger.

Why is unhealthy anger so powerful?

The surprising truth is that when a couple understands anger and learns how to express it in healthy ways, it can be an ally and actually lead to increased trust, greater intimacy and stronger relationships. As a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor I’ve spent thousands of hours with couples stuck in their effort to grow due in part to their unwillingness to learn how to deal with their anger.

There are several reasons why it is important for us to understand the emotion of anger:

1. Anger Is A God-Given Emotion:

Everyone experiences some form of anger. Anger is the second most frequently mentioned emotion in the Bible and the majority of references to anger refer to God’s anger. While this God-given emotion was damaged and distorted by sin, we can learn how to express this emotion in ways consistent with what God has modeled for us.

2. Anger Is A Frequently Experienced Emotion:

The emotion of anger is experienced much more frequently than most people would like to admit. When we begrudge, disdain others or when we are annoyed, repulsed, irritated, frustrated, offended or cross we are probably experiencing some form of anger. Research tells us that most people experience the emotion of anger a minimum of 8-10 times a day.

3. Anger Is One Of The Most Powerful Emotions:

Healthy anger can provide tremendous energy to right wrongs and change things for the good. If we have been hurt or wronged it is easy for us to experience anger. The next step is that our human nature wants revenge. When we allow our anger to be in control it can easily distort our perspective, block our ability to love and thus limit our ability to see things clearly. There are significant benefits in allowing ourselves to experience and express anger appropriately. There are also potentially devastating consequences in allowing ourselves to be controlled by our anger.

4. Unhealthy Anger Has Tremendous Potential For Harm:

Not only is anger an uncomfortable emotional state, it is also a potentially dangerous one. Uncontrolled anger can lead to destructive actions such as emotional, verbal or even physical abuse and violence. Most of us have only learned unhealthy ways to deal with our anger. When we stuff, repress, suppress, deny or ignore it we become a walking Mt. St. Helens ready to explode. When we “let it all out” and dump on those around us we can weaken trust, destroy relationships and reputations, compromise integrity and devastate the relational landscape of our of life.

5. Healthy Anger Has Significant Potential For Good:

The stories of anger we usually hear about in the news are examples of when people have allowed their anger to get out-of-control and take charge. That’s why it’s so easy to forget that anger can have a healthy side. Anger is always a secondary emotion caused by a primary emotion such as hurt, frustration or fear. Healthy anger can serve a signal, an alarm or a warning sign that something is wrong, that a boundary is being violated, that we are in danger, that there has been an injustice.

The energy of anger, when wisely invested, can actually provide greater focus and intensity and lead to greater productivity. Martin Luther said: “When I am angry I can write, pray and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations are gone.”

For many Christians both the experience and expression of anger has become a habit. Habits can take some time to change. The good news is that with God’s help we can change, we can grow, we can be more than conquerors. As we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and apply the promises in God’s Word we can take the old unhealthy ways of reacting and develop new, healthy and biblically-consistent emotional responses.

God has given us that choice. We can allow ourselves to be controlled by our anger or we can, with God’s help, choose to invest that emotional energy and pursue “healthy” anger. Healthy anger involves identifying those primary emotions that are driving it. It involves open, honest and direct communication. It involves speaking the truth in love. It involves taking the time to listen and choosing to understand. It involves investing the energy God has given us to declare truth, to right wrongs, and to help ourselves and others “become conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29)

In Daniel 1:8 we are told that Daniel “purposed in his heart” not to defile himself with the kings meat. And he didn’t. We can purpose in our hearts not to allow our anger to control us but rather to put our anger as well as our other emotions under God’s control. Remember that anger is energy and with God’s help we can choose whether we are going to spend it or invest it. While we may have minimal control over when we experience anger, we have almost total control over how we choose to express that anger.

As we learn how to listen to the message of our anger and the anger of others, as we learn how to identify and respond to those secondary emotions of hurt, frustration and fear rather than react to the secondary emotion of anger, as we choose to harness and direct our anger-energy in healthy and positive ways, as we choose to communicate it in biblically-consistent ways . . . we will increase our emotional and relational intelligence (ERQ) and actually increase our ability to give and receive love as well as increase the trust and intimacy in our important relationships.


Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D., is a husband, father, Executive Director of The Center for Relationsip Enrichment and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University. He is the author of over 20 books including Mad About Us, over 250 professional and popular articles and is a on the AACC Advisory Board.

Handling Anger in a Healthy Way

SOURCE:  Gary Chapman, Ph.D./AACC

Uncontrolled anger can destroy your marriage!

The feeling of anger is not sinful. Even God feels anger (Psalm 7:11). Great social reforms have been motivated by anger. But uncontrolled anger has destroyed the lives of thousands.

All of us get angry when we feel that we have been wronged. Such anger is never condemned in scripture. In Ephesians 4:26 we read: “Being angry, sin not. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” We are responsible for controlling our behavior when we feel angry. The husband or wife who lashes out with harsh words or hurtful behavior is sinning.

So how am I to control my behavior when I’m angry?

The first step is to restrain your immediate response. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11). Your immediate response to anger will likely be a sinful one. Thus, we must think before we act. There are numerous ways to keep from responding too quickly.

When I was a child my mother said, “When you get angry, always count to ten before you say anything.” Mom’s advice was good, but I suggest you count to 100 or 1,000. You might also take a walk around the block while you are counting. One lady told me that when she felt angry, she would water her flowers. “The first summer I tried this I almost drowned my petunias,” she said. The key is to do something to stop the flow of hurtful words and abusive behavior. Take a “time out” and you are less likely to sin.

While you are in your “time out,” let me suggest you examine your anger.

Ask yourself questions such as: “Why am I angry? Is it what my spouse said? Is it what he/she did? Is it the way they looked at me?” One husband said, “She gives me that look and I get knots in my stomach.” The most important question to ask is “Did my spouse sin against me?”

If they sinned, then we should be angry. That is godly anger. However, much of our anger is distorted – things simply did not go our way. We did not get what we wanted. This is not godly anger. If our anger is distorted, we need to confess our selfish response, accept God’s forgiveness, and release our anger to Him.
On the other hand, if your anger is legitimate, arising from the sin of your spouse, the biblical instruction is clear. We are to lovingly confront our spouse with their sin (Luke 17: 3-4). God Himself gets angry when people sin. His response is always to convict, discipline, and correct (Hebrews 12: 5-8). He is our model.

God’s purpose for anger is that it motivates us to lovingly confront. We dare not sit idly by and make no effort to help our spouse turn from sin. When I say lovingly confront, I am not talking about yelling and screaming at your spouse.

In my book, Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Powerful Way, I suggest that couples write the following words on an index card and put it on the refrigerator door. When you feel angry toward your spouse, get the card and read it to them.

Here’s what the card says: “I’m feeling angry right now but don’t worry, I’m not going to attack you. But I do need your help. Is this a good time to talk?” It brings a little humor into the tenseness and it reminds you of what you are not going to do (lose your temper). It also asks for their help in dealing with your anger.

Recently a young lady said to me, “My parents raised me on that anger card. It has been on our refrigerator as long as I can remember. Any time a family member is angry with another, we grab the card and read it. I never knew where she got the idea. But now that I’m getting married, I’m planning to have a card on my refrigerator door.” May I encourage you to follow her example? It may become one of your family traditions.

The purpose of confronting is first of all, to determine whether your spouse has indeed sinned against you, or if you misunderstood their words or misinterpreted their actions. If it has simply been a misunderstanding, then your confrontation has served its purpose and the anger dissipates. However, if it becomes clear that your spouse has indeed sinned against you, the godly response is for them to confess their sin and you to forgive them. When this happens, anger has served its godly purpose. It led you to constructive action which resolved the issue in a healthy manner.

If the spouse is unwilling to confess their sin, the scriptures encourage us to pray that God will convict them of their wrong and then confront them again, seeking reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-16). If they continue in their sinful behavior, the scriptures indicate that we should release them to God and release our anger to God. This was illustrated by Christ Himself. Peter says of Jesus, “When they reviled against Him, He did not revile but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1Peter 2:23). We are then instructed to “treat them as a pagan” (Matthew 18:17). What do we do for pagans? We pray for them, we love them, we return good for evil. In so doing, we may be God’s instrument for bringing them to a place of repentance.

Don’t allow yourself to be eaten up with anger.

Anger was designed to be a visitor, never a resident. If we harbor anger, it turns to bitterness, and bitterness turns to hatred. And we find ourselves taking revenge and trying to make our spouse pay for their sin. That is never our responsibility. God says, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay” (Romans 12:19). In God’s plan, anger is designed to motivate us to take constructive action; always seeking reconciliation. It is never His desire that we should lash out with harsh words and abusive behavior. Learning to control and direct one’s anger in a positive manner is one of the most important lessons we will ever learn. Learning it will greatly enhance our marriages.

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