Functional families talk. In healthy relationships, the communication lines stay open no matter what.
Dysfunctional families, on the other hand, don’t talk. Anger is often the culprit. It shuts down conversation. Husbands or wives become defensive and refuse to hear legitimate complaints. Or they let anger simmer until it turns to contempt.
That’s what happened in the first years of my marriage to Karen. One of the only constants in our relationship was anger. We would internalize our disagreements and go for a month or two in relative peace…until we had a huge, explosive fight.
Then we’d make up and tiptoe through another few weeks until the next blow-up. The cycle repeated. We fought so much we became numb to it.
That’s a dangerous way to live.
Did you know unresolved anger actually causes health problems? A University of Michigan study of hurting marriages discovered that these husbands and wives had a 35 percent higher occurrence of disease—and lived four years less than couples who dealt with anger in a healthier way.
Chronic anger literally decreases your lifespan.
Does this mean you should keep anger out of your marriage? Not at all! Great marriages have anger. Jesus displayed anger. In Ephesians 4:26-27, the Apostle Paul suggests that anger is a typical human experience: “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”
He is instructing us to recognize the inevitability of anger but also to deal with it appropriately. I believe anger causes you to become one of two kinds of people: an intimidator or an internalizer.
Intimidators: These people are like whistling teapots. They are boiling over and everyone knows it. Always angry and sometimes out of control, they become characterized by rage. The people around them to fear their anger.
This described me in the early years of our relationship. If someone crossed me, they would pay a price. That made me verbally abusive toward Karen. Of course, this devastated our relationship.
Internalizers: These people take the opposite approach. They bottle up their anger. They refuse to talk about their feelings or hide their emotions. This described Karen, and it frustrated me to no end. I knew something was wrong, but she wouldn’t talk about it—until she reached a point where couldn’t hold it in anymore.
I once heard about a couple who had been married for ten years before the wife ended it with an abrupt divorce. She left behind a note about how miserable she had been. The husband was devastated. “She never complained one time,” he said. “She never told me anything was wrong.”
That’s because she had internalized anger toward him for their entire marriage.
Neither of those approaches—intimidation or internalization—are healthy in a marriage. Everyone gets angry, for a variety of reasons. The key is to talk about it. Admit your anger, then share your feelings with your spouse. If you or your spouse have a complaint, cultivate a relationship of honesty so you can share it in safety.
Most importantly, don’t internalize your anger or unleash it inappropriately. Either approach gives a foothold to sin. Without proper communication, a marriage marked by destructive anger will never enjoy true intimacy.
Jimmy Evans // Marriage Today