If you had met me in my younger years, you would have never pegged me as someone who struggled with anger. I was a mild-mannered and 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 tame, 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, ignored frustrations, didn’t speak my mind, and avoided hard conversations.
Was there peace in our marriage? Yes, but only at the surface and for a short season.
Underneath the surface was a growing pressure that became more difficult to manage.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but my internal pressure cooker eventually 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.
Now, in addition to wanting peace, I wanted the respect of her listening to me.
My steam started to come out slowly, but it was boiling. I pushed Star’s already-blistering temperature to increase, and our arguments quickly 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.
Where Anger Starts
The Bible explains how my pursuit of peace and respect became an abusive rage.
It all started with a godly desire for peace. Peace is a good thing in marriage. God desires peace in marriage (and in all relationships). God also wants for there to be mutual respect in marriage.
I had recalled the Bible verse from Sunday School correctly. It is loving 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 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), to mention a few.
I obeyed one of God’s instructions on relational harmony but ignored all the others. I needed 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 happening 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 respect and was willing to do whatever I had to do to get it. What I desired in my heart wasn’t wrong, but I wanted peace and respect so badly that I was willing to compromise my love for Star and God to get it. Ironically, my angry outbursts were attempts to establish a peaceful and respectful 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 understanding it and where it comes from. For all of us, it starts with understanding with increasing clarity what we want or desire in our hearts.
Watch the clip below from a recent marriage workshop we did, where I explain in more detail the root of anger (and all other harmful behavior):
How To Start Working On Your Anger
James 4 not only helps us understand where anger comes from, but it also helps us understand how to start working on your anger: “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
When I didn’t get the peace and respect I wanted in my heart, I decided to try and take control of getting those things instead of trusting that God could and would provide me the peace and respect I desired. My anger resulted from unsuccessfully trying to get what I desired with my hands instead of placing my desire in God’s hands. I decided to do things my way as opposed to God’s, and it almost resulted in the death of my marriage (Proverbs 14:12).
Thankfully, Star ran from my abuse; 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. And instead of demanding respect from Star, I became more focused on giving respect to her by being honest about how I was feeling. I also asked God to help me believe that in the absence of relational peace and respect in marriage, I could turn to Him for my ultimate source of peace and respect (see John 16:33).
As God helped me understand how to pursue horizontal peace and respect in marriage and believe that vertical peace with God and respect from God is the only lasting kind, 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.