I work with a lot of couples. Most of these couples will come to me for counseling because their relationship has deteriorated and they are growing more distant and unhappy with each other. They want a good marriage, and in many cases are working with their spouse to build a good marriage.
They frequently do not know how to move forward toward a good marriage. Which is why they come to me. They are looking for help.
There are patterns that have developed in how they relate to each other that have become the norm and are in many cases so familiar that my clients are oblivious to them.
One such pattern that I deal with regularly is what I call grenades.
A grenade is a statement that not only addresses real issues, but it does so with criticism and even contempt. If you are on the receiving end of a grenade you know it immediately. Grenades blow up. They wound, if not kill. When I see a grenade thrown and watch it blow up I also see the hurt that passes over the victim’s face for that split second before it turns to anger, hatred, despair, or rejection.
One problem with grenades is that they multiply faster than rabbits. Faster even than hamsters! I watch in sessions as one throws a grenade and the other throws one back almost before the first grenade has exploded. We seem to think that the best defense against a grenade is to throw one back. I can tell you with great sadness that any Mutual Assured Destruction program for grenades does not work.
People throw grenades back and forth until they respond by rejecting and withdrawing from each other or they are simply too exhausted to continue.
The only time I see clients avoid this pattern is in the first exchange. If the person that receives the first grenade stops and deals with the hurt we can stop this cycle.
“You did it again! I knew you would! You always treat me this way. I trusted that you were going to listen. That you were hearing me and what you heard would matter to you. But you didn’t change. You have never loved me!”
If instead of defending or withdrawing when they hear this my client would stop and hear the hurt under the anger, they can defuse this attack.
“I am so sorry that I have communicated to you that you don’t matter. I really want to love you well and I understand that you do not feel that I love you. Can we talk about this when we are calmer?”
Proverbs 15:1 tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
I have found that if we can hear the hurt that undergirds the anger, we can respond with gentleness. When we can understand that there is a wound that has provoked the anger and led to the grenade we can also move toward the other person and bring healing. We need perspective and support to do this, but when this pattern replaces the replicating grenades cycle real change and healing can take place. We need other people to help us to see past our own hurt and to move toward the one throwing grenades. That is where Biblical fellowship is so important. The church can do a lot to promote this fellowship. In our culture today we often turn to counselors for this help.
More to come on how to hear the hurt that is camouflaged in anger. Check back for that article.