If you would have met me in my younger years you would have never pegged me as an angry man. I seemed like a mild-mannered and somewhat non-confrontational guy. I typically went with the flow.
Star (my wife) was attracted to this personality. She was a little fiery and I was a little tamed, but little did we know how this dynamic would play out.
I remember hearing the phrase, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” in Sunday school and I thought that was the best (and only) method of conflict resolution in marriage. So our arguments were short and sweet in the early years. I “covered over” many arguments for the sake of love so that we had “peace.”
I stuffed hurt. I ignored frustrations. I didn’t speak my mind. I avoided hard conversations.
Was there peace in our marriage? Yes, but only at the surface, and only for a short season.
Underneath the surface was a growing pressure that started to become more difficult to manage.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but eventually my internal pressure cooker reached its maximum capacity. Instead of pursuing peace I started to pursue putting Star in her “place.” I wanted her to be quiet and listen to these frustrations that had built up for so long. I wasn’t going to be silent anymore.
My steam started to come out slowly, but it was very hot. I pushed Star’s already-blistering temperature to increase, and very quickly our arguments escalated into World War 3.
I’m embarrassed to think back at the emotional and physical abuse that followed. I never thought I was going to be one of those guys.
The Bible provides an explanation for how my pursuit of peace turned into an abusive rage.
It all started with a godly desire for peace. Peace is a good thing in marriage. In fact, God desires peace in marriage (and in all relationships).
I had recalled the Bible verse from Sunday School correctly. It isloving to cover over a multitude of sins. But that is only part of God’s instruction for pursuing peace. He also says to speak the truth in love to each other (Ephesians 4:15), take the log out of your of your own eye (Matthew 7:3-5), confess your sins to your brother (James 5:16), and restore your brother (or spouse) gently (Galatians 6:1), just to mention a few.
I was obeying one of God’s instructions on relational harmony but ignoring all the others. I didn’t have a complete understanding of what biblical conflict resolution looked like.
But my anger was not only a result of a problem with my mind. At the deepest level, I became angry because of what was going on in my heart. Specifically, what my heart wanted, or as James 4:1-2 explains, what my heart desired.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”James 4:1-2
I desired peace and I was willing to do whatever I had to do to get it. What I desired in my heart wasn’t wrong, but I desired peace so bad I was willing to compromise my love for Star and my love for God to get it. Ironically, my angry outbursts were actually attempts to establish a peaceful marriage.
Let me be clear. I am not justifying my anger. My anger was wrong. It was abusive. It was sinful. I was 100 percent at fault for my actions towards Star. A godly desire does not ever justify a sinful means to achieve it.
But the first step to working on your anger is to understand your anger and where it comes from. For all of us, it starts with understanding with increasing clarity what we are wanting, or desiring, in our hearts.
James 4 not only helps us understand where anger comes from, but it also helps us understand the solution for our anger: “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
When I didn’t get the peace I wanted in my heart, I decided to take control of getting peace instead of trusting that God could and would provide me the peace I desired. My anger resulted from unsuccessfully trying to get what I desired with my hands as opposed to placing my desire in God’s hands. I decided to do things my way as opposed to God’s way and it almost resulted in the death of my marriage (Proverbs 14:12).
Thankfully, Star ran from my abuse; in fact, if you are in an abusive situation you should do the same with the help of godly advisors. And God provided some wise counsel to re-orient me. I started to ask God to help me understand his ways of pursuing relational peace. I also asked God to help me believe that in the absence of relational peace in marriage I could turn to Him for my ultimate source of peace (see John 16:33).
As God helped me understand how to pursue horizontal peace in marriage, and believe that vertical peace with God is the only kind that is lasting, things began to change.
In me first. Then, in my marriage.
What’s Your Story?
- What desires do you struggle with that cause you to be demanding or controlling?
- How have you tried to fulfill these desires through your own efforts?
- What would it look like to pursue God’s methods for pursuing those desires?
- How can you look to God rather than to people and circumstances to fulfill these desires?
Pray together: Pray that God would give you insight into how your desires have fed conflict in your marriage. Ask Him to forgive you for how your anger has affected your spouse and the people you love the most. Ask Him to give you the strength and humility to ask them for forgiveness and for restoration to take place.
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.