No marriage is immune to feelings of anger. Karen and I get angry with each other, but we have learned how to process that anger. We’ve learned to talk through things—to let it out—rather than letting our anger fester.
Unresolved anger doesn’t just cause relationship problems. It also causes health problems. A University of Michigan study found that people in bad marriages have a 35 percent higher incidence of disease and live an average of four years less than those in satisfying marriages. Chronic anger can diminish your lifespan!
There are two important steps to dealing with anger.
The first is to admit it. Don’t deny it. Don’t bottle it up. Some people are intimidators. When they’re angry, you know it. They’re like teapots that start whistling when they come to a boil. I was like that. When I got mad, I became verbally abusive. It devastated our relationship.
But Karen was an internalizer. She wouldn’t discuss her feelings. That was one thing that made me so frustrated: I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t get her to talk about it. After internalizing her emotions for a couple of months, she would finally explode. We were both extremely unhealthy.
I once heard of a couple where the wife left the husband after ten years. The man said, “She never complained one time. She never said anything was wrong. Then she left a note telling me how miserable she was.” She divorced him but had never told him how she felt. Dysfunctional couples don’t communicate.
The second step is to cultivate an atmosphere of honesty. Your spouse has to know they can share anything—opinions, emotions, everyday stuff—without paying a price. If you’ve ever thought “I could never say that. My spouse would go ballistic!” then you may be in a dysfunctional relationship.
You have to allow your spouse a safe place to talk, whether they are sharing something that makes them happy or something that has made them angry.
Marriage researchers have identified four predictors of divorce. The first is criticism and a negative atmosphere in marriage. The second is defensiveness. Defensive people refuse to listen and don’t give their spouse the right to complain.
The third is contempt, a form of long-term anger that hasn’t been processed. The final predictor of divorce is stonewalling. This is when communication completely shuts down.
Do you see the relationship between all of these? They are types of anger that have not been properly dealt with. In marriage, you have to keep the communication lines open. You have to be able to say, “Honey, you are free to complain to me. We may have to talk things out but I won’t throw a fit and I won’t shut down.”
If you want to be in a functional, healthy relationship, you have to talk. Period.