Many couples enter marriage with the mistaken belief that it is a ‘blissful state of life’ which will last forever. There is no greater myth than this. Living ‘happily ever after’ only happens in fairy tales. Spouses bring to their marriage union not just love and understanding, but also their likes, dislikes and pet peeves. Disagreements are therefore inevitable. They must be resolved expeditiously as anger can be toxic to marriage. Anger is the primary enemy of marital happiness. However, if handled effectively, it can make the marriage bond stronger.
Trigger Points that can make a person angry.
• Lack of understanding of the basic differences between man and woman. Both have different temperaments. Trouble starts when one cannot appreciate or acknowledge differences, and tries to change the other person. The woman must learn that man responds differently to situations and must appreciate his cool stability in a crisis. The man must be aware of the woman’s emotional investment in home and family and not criticize the intensity of her emotions. The competitive drive in man often exceeds that of a woman. He derives his sense of worth by being successful in his profession. He would like his wife to understand that he needs to recover from the stress of work before he can give her his full attention.
• Man can be too controlling and selfish. He may be a bully or be sexually insatiable. He may incapacitate her with his ‘smother love.’ He idolizes her but also isolates her. Such a person is called a ‘pumpkin eater.’ He is blind to her potentialities and refuses to recognize her as a capable and competent person.
• Woman can be nagging or complaining or craving for full attention all the time. She feels that her husband does not understand her needs and is critical of her cooking and domestic duties. He shows no appreciation of all the work she does.
• Arguments over bringing up children. There may be differences in enforcing discipline.
• In-laws who are critical and demanding.
• Displaced anger. For example, the boss is angry with his secretary. She takes it out on her subordinate. He vents his frustration on his wife. The wife berates her child and the child ill-treats his dog with a kick. This is known as the Displaced Anger Syndrome.
Different manifestations of Anger.
1. Silence: Anger is simmering inside the mind but without any overt expression. Un-addressed issues become cumulative and are expressed as physical or psychological illness. A woman who believes it is unladylike to express anger, cries, sulks, feigns illness, burns the food or goes into depression. Sometimes anger is sublimated through physical exercise or through creative outlets like painting or music.
2. Confrontation: Trading angry words or insults which might be regretted later. But by then, the damage is done. 10% of angry husbands get abusive.
3. Confessing that one is angry and the reasons for being angry. Letting the partner know the cause of anger and discussing how this situation can be defused, is half the battle won. Anger can be used in creative ways to resolve problems and bring about reconciliation.
How to manage Anger in a marital relationship.
• Introspection: Acknowledge and expose the cause of your anger. Does your temper fly up at the slightest provocation? Have you misconstrued as criticism what your spouse said in fun? Is your anger justified? “The first and best victory is to conquer yourself,” says Plato.
• Communication: Express the reasons for your anger. Be specific and focus only on the incident that has made you angry. Don’t dredge up old incidents. Don’t underestimate the problem but listen patiently to what the other person has to say. Don’t indulge in self pity. Communication must not be caught up in circles of blame. As Robert Schuller says, “Don’t fix the blame. Fix the problem.”
• Respect: Accept the other person’s perspective. “Respect is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the way in which he or she is unique. Respect is the act of love by which married couples honour what is unique and best in each other,” says Anne Gotlieb.
• Commitment to the marriage and to each other. “Most spouses don’t act out of malice towards each other. They are taking care of their own immediate needs,” according to Michaleen Craddock. Resist the impulse to talk of separation and divorce. Instead, attack the problem and seek reconciliation. Partners in healthy marriages are kind and respectful to each other even when situations are difficult. Couples who know how to fight constructively will survive marital conflicts. Psychiatrist Frank Pittman says, “There is no way to win against your spouse. You both win or you both lose.” So it is important to stay united and fight against the common enemy – Anger.
• Humility: Love does not insist on having its own way and winning all the time. If you are at fault never hesitate to say you’re sorry. Avoid finger pointing. Marriage may provide you with a convenient scapegoat. But it is better to swallow your pride and admit that you are wrong. Some people use coloured stress cards to gauge the level of their anger. These are cards that are chemically treated to be sensitive to heat and moisture, and measure a person’s stress level. The thumb is placed on the card for ten seconds. If the colour is green or blue, anger is in the temperate zone. If yellow, one is angry but still in control. Red denotes irrational anger and black is uncontrolled rage.
• Tolerance: Make allowances for each other’s foibles and idiosyncrasies. Be flexible in your emotional roles. Learn to enjoy life with your spouse. Negotiate what is open to compromise. Neither partner will be able to meet all the needs and aspirations of the other. No marriage is perfect.
• Love: A successful marriage is falling in love with your spouse over and over again. It has to be a daily exercise. Love is a choice. Loving actions are always followed by loving feelings. Marriage means a lifelong devotion to the person you have married.
Judith S. Wallenstein in her book “The Good marriage – How and why love lasts,” says, “The sense of being part of a couple is what consolidates modern marriage. It is the strongest rampart against the relentless threat of our divorce culture. To become partner-focused means continuously adjusting to each other.”
The Biblical admonition “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Do not give the devil a foothold,” is by far the best advice on managing anger. Make sunset your deadline to stop fighting and loving again.