The Pain of Anger and Freedom of Forgiveness
“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Anger destroys relationships, but did you know that anger can heal them? Let us explain. The difference is in how anger is handled. Unresolved anger causes deep-rooted bitterness and resentment that can do major damage to any relationship. But resolved anger through forgiveness is often one of the most effective ways to restore your relationship toward intimacy.
Anger is just one letter short of the word danger. When turned outward, anger destroys relationships and careers. When it’s turned inward–as it often is–it wreaks havoc on a person’s psychological and physical health. Issues like depression, anxiety, autoimmune diseases, and lack of trust can all stem from repressed anger. Some would even say anger turned inward can cause cancer and heart disease. A chiropractor told us, “All day long I work on bad backs and sore necks. Many of them are caused by accidents, but most are caused by stress and unhealthy anger.”
If you remain angry with your spouse, you lose the ability to walk in the light of God and thus the ability to know and experience the love of God. Extremely angry people seem to be spiritually blind and unable to draw near to God. Winston Churchill once said, “A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.” Handling the powerful emotion of anger in a healthy way will no doubt be a determining factor in your marital relationship. Our friend Gary Chapman, in his outstanding book on the subject of anger, presents five steps to handle what he calls “valid anger”:
1. Consciously acknowledge to yourself that you are angry. This will make you aware that you are in touch with what is making you angry.
2. Restrain your immediate response. Here is where we need to avoid the common destructive response of speaking before we consider the damage it might do to the other person. It was Will Rogers who said, “People who fly into rage always make a bad landing.”
3. Locate the focus of your anger. What exactly was it that brought this on? Often anger is fed by feelings of disappointment, hurt, rejection, and embarrassment.
4. Analyze your options. It is always better to decide ahead of time if your anger response will be healthy or harmful.
5. Take constructive action. Should you confront in love or let it go? Deciding how you will respond to your anger is always better than being spontaneous with your anger.*
Notice that today’s Scripture says, “In your anger do not sin.” Anger is not the sin; it’s what we do with the anger that can turn it into sin. One of the great proverbs reminds us, “Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back” (Proverbs 29:11 NLT). We find that connection and intimacy are found when we can honestly and openly share with each other our anger, fear, resentments, and remorse, as well as our forgiveness and appreciation. Before there is freedom in a relationship, there is often pain. Take the high road; face your anger, pain, and fear in order to find forgiveness and freedom, which always draw a couple together.
*Gary Chapman, Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2007), adapted from page 35.