Christian Living


Marriage 911 07/01/16

When the Man You Love Is Angry!

Angry husband

God created us to live in peace. In fact, one of the primary fruits of the spirit is peace -- just after love and joy in the famous passage (Galatians 5:22). I suggest God knew that we would thrive in peace and become anxious in conflict.

I have discovered in more than 40 years of counseling practice that a major determinant of conflict is anger. A little bit of anger goes a long ways to ruin a relationship. Just an ounce of anger creates an environment of distrust and tension. An eruption here, a stern, intimidating voice there -- all of it creates trouble in a marriage.

"I'm not angry!" Thomas said emphatically to his wife, Teri, as we all sat in my office for their Marriage Intensive. They had flown across the country a few days earlier to work with me on their marriage.

"I love my work, and...," looking firmly at Teri. He continued, "you want to believe it's my work that makes me upset, but it's not!"

"What is it then, Thomas?" the middle-aged woman said, sadness emanating from her eyes. "I suppose that means I'm the reason for your irritability. You don't seem happy and I have to dance around your moods. But, when I bring them up, you say you're not unhappy."

Thomas didn't deny being irritable or unhappy this time. He simply let her question sit in the tense air of my office. Waiting for an answer that didn't come, Teri finally looked helplessly at me.

"You see," she said, now talking to me. "This is what happens. I try to talk to him about his moods, but he either becomes even more irritable with me, pointing the finger at me and my moods, or he withdraws. Either way, we end up in another blow out. I can't stand it."

"Teri," Thomas said, turning to face her. "You are not seeing your part of this whole thing. Look at the way you are right now. I can't get you to see you have just as many moods as I ever have. Why is it always about me and my moods? Why can't we talk about you?"

Teri let out a big sigh.

"We certainly can, Thomas," she said slowly. "In fact, if you want to talk about my moods first, we can do that. But I want a chance to talk about your irritability. That is something I can no longer live with. I'm afraid our 25-year marriage is in danger if that doesn't change."

And so it went. Thomas reluctantly admitted he was angry, but never fully owned all of Teri's complaints. His defensiveness formed an impenetrable wall she could never get through. When he did reluctantly own his anger, he clamed it was because of Teri's moodiness and irritability. Round and round the discussions went, the whole time the level of tension rose. Each pointed the finger at the other. Each felt unduly maligned. Each was very unhappy and wondered about the integrity and strength of their marriage.

Clearly both had a point. Certainly there was at least some truth to each other's position. Sadly, the way they discussed the topic, no resolution was in sight. These are the moments that give marriage counselors fits.

Who has what problem? Is Thomas irritable and possibly depressed? Does his irritability occur because he feels picked on by Teri, who won't seem to let the issue rest? Or, is the culprit Teri's depression? Perhaps her anger and irritability are at the origin of their problems?

With each pointing a finger at the other, finding the true source of their problem may be less important than determining a way for them to work together to solve their relational problems. At this pace, if they cannot end their struggle and learn to cooperate, their marriage is in jeopardy.

So, let's consider a reasonable course of action. Here are a few ideas I reviewed initially when working with them.

1. They must stop fighting each other.

While they fight with each other they erode their marriage, and energies cannot be used to do effective problem-solving. Every couple is well-advised not to fight each other, but rather to attempt finding a common problem they agree upon to address.

2. Each must look closely at their own issues.

In this case, Thomas must put aside his pride and look closely at himself to see if there are signs of depression. His irritability is a classic symptom of male depression, and he must step back long enough to consider the possibility that depression is part of the issue. Furthermore, he must take responsibility for his anger and seek ways to deal more effectively with his feelings.

3. Teri must recognize that criticizing Thomas will not be effective in solving problems.

She must stop judging Thomas's behavior, and speak from her feelings. She can share her concern, but not label his behavior. She can voice being frustrated with his irritability and anger, but must do better at specifically identifying concerns. For example, she can set boundaries on him "blowing up" at her, or swearing when angry.

4. Both must agree to stop picking on each other, and hold each other responsible, respectively, for change.

Recognize that this is likely to be a volatile topic, and they must approach the issues gently, possibly with professional support. As with other issues, if it proves too sensitive to tackle alone, don't be afraid to tackle hot topics only with professional support. Together they must agree on the behaviors that must be eliminated for them to experience healthy connection.

Is anger a part of your marriage? We are here to help. Please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com, and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles.

Please send responses to me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You'll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

About This Blogger

Latest Blog Entries

Give Now