Don’t Let Anger Sabotage Your Marriage


Anger is one emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It is built into our system and has a purpose for our lives. Thomas Fuller called it ‘the sinew of our souls,’ as long as it is expressed constructively and does not sabotage our marriage.

Charles Darwin was of the opinion that human behaviour contains residuals of responses found in animals or primitive man, required for their survival. Humans having involved into higher beings, these residual responses are hidden in the subconscious, and are activated only when provoked. However, not all scientists concur with Darwin. The perceptual-motivation theory is more balanced and acceptable. It suggests that when an individual appraises a provoking stimulus as pleasant or unpleasant, he emotes according to his judgement.

Anger is a distinct feeling of displeasure at a real or imaginary wrong. It causes the adrenaline to flow, the blood pressure to rise, the face to flush, and breathing to be laboured. It is an extremely powerful emotion with the potential to destroy marital bliss and interpersonal relationships.

Different ways of expressing Anger:

• Open hostility to the spouse. Men who batter their wives are said to be angry, resentful, suspicious and moody. Though they may be well behaved in public, home is the arena where they display their darker side.

But anger is not exclusively a masculine trait. Women too can be angry. Though they may not be physically strong enough to bash their husbands, they can be abusive and insulting. Verbal abuse is very high in urban situations. Its effects last much longer than physical abuse. Many families have a ‘hot temper’ problem.

Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln was believed to have had a raging temper. She was not only abusive but would physically abuse her husband with firewood, or pelt him with potatoes. On one occasion, she even chased him around the courtyard at Springwell, with a kitchen knife. Even after she became First Lady and moved to the White House, the staff was terrified of her sharp tongue.

Anger can even take on a subtle form of smother love, where the husband pampers his wife and does things for her, while totally isolating her and stifling her competence and creativity.

• Crying or wailing when angry is sometimes a woman’s way of expressing anger.

• Remaining silent, stifling anger and letting it build up inside like a smouldering volcano waiting to erupt. This will manifest itself in altered physiological functioning and consequently ill health. A study done by an independent research firm in Wisconsin, analyzed marital discord and its effect on heart disease and overall mortality. They found that those who kept suppressing their anger, activated stress hormones which adversely affected health. Heart attacks, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension can occur. Symptoms of gastric ulcer surface in those who continuously suppress anger. One surgeon said that 97% of his ulcer patients were angry people.

Prolonged emotional tension can also produce behavioural changes. Adolf Meyer describes the role of emotional factors in physical and mental health as psycho-parallelism.

• Damaging attitudes like withdrawal, poor application to work, inability to get on with colleagues and also difficulty holding down a job.

Results of Uncontrolled Anger.

  1. Marital Conflict: Anger threatens unity and stability of families. In some families quarreling is a habit. Both spouses may have short fuses. The children begin to ape their parents.

  2. Strained relationships: Anger patterns can get destructive and ugly.

  3. Child abuse: Angry parents can viciously attack their children. The incidence of child abuse by parents is escalating, and is not restricted to lower socio-economic groups. Children who grow up in such an atmosphere turn into angry adults. They react in three ways – passive resistance by silence and non-cooperation, retaliation or open rebellion.

What causes anger?

• Frustration: Feeling of being misunderstood or taken for granted; Needs are not met. Sometimes anger may be disproportionate to the actual provocation.

• Fear of violence, illness, loss of job, or loss of loved one.

• Hurt by the indifference of the one you love. It may be emotional, physical or relational.

• Exhaustion: Overburdened with work, stress, lack of appreciation and injustice.

Anger Management in the home.

  1. Understand Anger: It is an inherent component of all relationships. Oliver and Wright in their book “Pressure Point,” say that “disagreement in relationships are inevitable and a fundamental part of achieving intimacy.” So one needs to find healthy ways of expressing anger. Spouses must understand and appreciate their differences. Such an attitude will lead to intimacy.
  2. Fight constructively: Couples must learn to ventilate anger without tearing each other’s self esteem to shreds. Those who learn to fight constructively will ensure the longevity of their marriage. However, frequent disagreements are bound to weaken the bonds of love.

  3. Honesty: Accept that you are angry. Analyze the reasons for your anger. What triggered it off?

  4. Avoid arguments in the heat of the moment. Sort things out when you are in a better mood. Ask yourself whether you are also to blame. Denying your part in the disagreement makes resolution of the problem difficult. Healthy arguments testify to a strong marriage. But the blame game is dangerous. Disagree without hurting each other.

  5. Control your tongue. Breathe deeply and psyche yourself to relax. “A fool gives vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”(Proverbs 29:11) Sometimes, moving away from the scene gives a better perspective of the problem. Yoga and meditation have helped people to take control of their temper.

  6. Listen to each other. It is very important to understand the other’s point of view. “Couples who vent their anger and do nothing to get at the cause are committing marital suicide,” says Broderick.

  7. Sublimating one’s anger through physical exercise, creative activity or some other form of recreation helps to diffuse anger. Such activities take the sting out of this explosive emotion and help one discuss matters in a quieter frame of mind. Negotiation and resolution of problems are then possible.

  8. Resolve never to go to sleep with anger in your heart. Make up with your spouse before you turn in for the night. As the Bible says, “In your anger, do not sin; Let not the sun go down when you are angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26, 27.)

  9. Forgiveness will lead to restoration of broken relationships. Harbouring grudges imposes a heavy burden on the heart. The hurt becomes magnified and unbearable. By forgiving, we stop hurting ourselves and the other person. Abraham Lincoln was able to live with his abusive wife because of a spirit of forgiveness. It made him patient and tolerant.

Forgiveness must also mean letting go of the offence and making a promise never to use it as a weapon in every subsequent quarrel. Forgiveness is difficult. It can only be done by God’s grace. “Forgive as the Lord forgives you.” The feeling of peace that follows is indescribable.

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