Anyone who’s been married more than five minutes understands that you bring into your marriage the ways you learned growing up. That includes where you leave your shoes, if you eat ketchup on your eggs, and how you handle your anger. As Americans, most of us have trained ourselves culturally to keep our anger in check, and inside. Check out this article all about that in The Atlantic.
Keeping it all in works until something happens and it all explodes. Alternately, some people explode all the time because they don’t know any other way to communicate their feelings.
Is it okay to feel angry?
Nothing’s going to make you angrier than living with another person. Well, that may be an overstatement. I mean, traffic can be insane, also your boss could be a jerk, and there’s always rude people, stubbing your toe, and self-checkout machines. The problem is that your anger can do the most damage to the person you’re living with—in this case, your husband.
Anger itself is just anger. Everyone feels anger—even God. That said, always being angry, or having a hot temper, is not like God. God is slow to become angry and James 1:19 says we should be, too. So, you use deep breathing techniques to calm down, or you punch a pillow—whatever, so that not EVERYTHING makes you mad. Talking things through with your husband can help, too, especially if you’re angry about something he didn’t do.
However, when you’re angry with him—you can’t just breathe it away. How you express that anger is important to making or breaking a marriage relationship. Giving way to a hot temper won’t strengthen your marriage. It will just make your husband either rage back or go away—emotionally. Neither screaming at each other nor avoiding each other is a great way to foster healthy communication.
In fact if someone’s anger is too out of control it can become abusive—used in a way that intimidates and controls other people. Back to 1 Corinthians 13 – abusive anger is not love because: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Hmmm, doesn’t sound one bit angry to me.
Keep little things little
The problem is that marriage can sometimes act like a teakettle set to boil. Second by second adds more stress and tension, just like the little things that irk you, i.e., his dirty socks on the floor, his surprise meeting that leaves you alone for the evening, your frustrations at work, etc. then something happens and the teakettle steams out, shrieking with a loud whistle.
I guess the bottom line with anger is that you have to make sure its never taking root in your marriage. You have to bring up the problems, the annoyances, etc., as they are happening. If you don’t, they can start to fester and turn your insides angry—and that’ll come out. Caution, however, when you decide to address issues that are upsetting you, here are three great principles to help keep things calm:
1: choose a good time to talk – As soon as your husband walks in the door may not be the best moment to hit him with your gripes or with anything else—especially something heavy, like the stereotypical frying pan. It may be a good idea to give him a heads up that you want to talk about some things. That may help him prepare and not feel blindsided by complaints.
2: Speak clearly. I don’t mean clear your throat and add some volume. I mean state facts as facts and then explain how his actions make you feel. Example: “When you called and said you forgot you had a meeting last night, it made me feel like you forgot about me.” This is a skill of emotional intelligence that you’ll probably spend your life perfecting. When you ______, I feel _______.
3: Tune In to yourself. Part of understanding how to nurture and communicate in a relationship is understanding how you are feeling in the first place. Figuring out the connection between what people do and say and how that changes your emotions is a skill. Figuring out exactly how you’re feeling is a skill. If you’re angry, you have to ask yourself why you are feeling that anger. All of this takes practice, time and placing a value on understanding yourself.
4: Fight fair. If you do have a bone to pick, don’t be mean. Choose your words carefully, with kindness. Words are like petting a cat—they move better in just one direction and once you say them you can’t unsay them. Don’t attack. Don’t lash out with low blows, insults or old issues. Keep to the current subject. Express your feelings clearly and how his actions or words affected you. You don’t want to win a fight. You want to clear up your anger.
5: Let the little stuff go.
Rebecca Barnes is the director of curriculum for Summit Kids Ministry at Flatirons. She’s been married to Ron Barnes almost 25 years and has three daughters. Her oldest daughter will be getting married this year, so she’s been thinking a lot about marriage lately.