I have been working a lot with couples who are battling anger with their spouses. This is so common today that you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, duh, aren’t you a counselor? Don’t you realize that people get angry?”
Yes, I am a counselor. Yes, I am all too familiar with how common anger issues are.
I am also aware of how destructive angry behavior is and how hard it can be to overcome it.
Anger is an issue that is often provoked by our circumstances, but it is never caused by them. In spite of the frequency with which we say “You make me so angry” the truth is that my anger is not the result of anything outside of me. My anger comes from my heart, or my soul, and the answer to dealing with it must include seeing myself clearly and committing to two things. I must commit to repentance, and then I must commit to change.
I have been working on how to help people change and turn away from angry behavior. God has been doing good things through that work.
As I work with couples one of the things that has been very useful is shifting from speaking about what the other person is doing, feeling, saying, etc. and instead speaking from my own experiences and interpretations. There has been some important work in both neuroscience and sociology that actually reinforces Biblical patterns of behavior and notes the success rates for this obedience to Scripture.
As I work with my clients to use “I” statements and to ask questions instead of using “you” statements and making judgments, I watch the client change and I watch the relationship change.
The pattern we are working on is to be able to effectively talk about issues without being critical or condemning. Proverbs 15:1 tells us that “A harsh word stirs up anger, but a gentle answer turns away wrath”. When we are angry we typically vent our frustration and criticize the other person. That fuels a cycle in which they are now hurt and they respond with criticism. This is a very destructive pattern and one that we must stop both to be righteous and also to effectively build our relationship.
If we instead are gentle and talk about our concerns, with the hope that the other will hear us and will deal with our hurt, something remarkable happens. I watch as couples who have battled each other for long periods of time begin to change how they relate and both parties become different people.
I will write more about this soon, but I encourage you to listen to your words. Are you often saying “you did…” or “you said…” or “you hurt me…”? If you are, I encourage you to work hard at sharing what you are feeling, what you are hearing, and how the other person can care for you in the midst of your hurt.