Addressing anger issues doesn’t just make marriage better. Resolving anger makes marriage possible.
Take out adultery, spousal abuse, and addiction–the obvious wrecking balls for marriage. What remains as the leading cause of marital destruction? Anger.
When anger defines interactions, people instinctively flee or fight back–creating distance and separation. Not the oneness that characterizes healthy marriage. Yet, anger plays an important role in relationships. Couples can use anger healthily. When they do, relationships thrive.
How anger helps. . .
Dr. Scott Turansky, family expert, notes, “Anger is a wonderful tool for detecting issues that must be addressed.” People feel angry for a reason. When anger rises, it serves as an signal that something is going wrong. Anger cues people to look for the source of their anger, so they can create resolution. Anger helps people track the issues that need attention.
When Mary called to say she be late to dinner, Joe felt his temper spike. “What was going on?” Several incidents sprang to mind:
- Mary forgot to meet him for lunch on Tuesday.
- She failed to respond to his phone calls the last two days, and
- On Friday, she told a joke at dinner which left everyone laughing–at his expense.
Recognizing this pattern helped Joe focus on the state of their relationship. The anger signal motivated him to create time with Mary to address real issues.
How anger hurts. . .
Dr. Turansky goes on to say, “Anger is a wonderful tool for detecting issues that must be addressed. But, anger is a terrible tool for resolving them.” Imagine Joe angrily confronting Mary as she walks in from a long day at work. He blasts her for the last week’s conduct. He demands that she give the respect he deserves.
How effectively would that approach resolve their issues?
When people use anger to fix problems, they destroy the relationship.
- Destroys trust. People seldom trust people who attack
- Triggers a flight or fight response. When people feel attacked, they can’t hear what the other person is saying. Even legitimate, well-articulated concerns. They focus solely on getting away or shutting the other person down.
- Creates distance. Distrust and self-protection cause couples to pull apart–not together.
Once anger has done it’s job of signalling issues, it goes back into the relationship toolbox. Other tools address the issues. Caring questions. Gracious expressions of concern. Open dialogue to find common ground.
As Mary comes through the door, Joe could first connect by asking about her week. “I’ve noticed you putting in a lot more hours. What is going on with your work?” This opens the door for Mary to share her experience of the week. If there has been more stress or higher demands, Joe’s perspective might change.
If the job seems good, Joe could open dialogue on his perspective by offering, “I’ve felt disconnected when you’ve been late or forgotten lunch. I’m noticing my own anger. Could we talk about that?”
Anger signals the need to talk. Other tools create the solution. As Joe moves from anger to these, he opens the door to re-connection and resolution.