This guest post by Susan Gadd is part of our “Marriage on The Rock” Front Porch Friday series.
Today, I’ll tell you about Termite #1— a dangerous pest that has destroyed far too many marriages (I spoke about on last week’s Front Porch Friday). If you are committed to building your marriage and other relationships on the Rock, Termite #1 must be exterminated.
Termite #1: Unresolved Anger
Nothing will damage a marriage any quicker than the termite of unresolved anger. When discussing reasons for divorce, people normally include things like: finances, in-laws, money, etc. But those things are usually not the real problem. They are only symptoms of the real problem which is often unresolved anger. Unresolved anger is a serious problem because it can blind you to the truth about yourself, and to the real issues in your life.
Gardening in a mine field
Proverbs 29:22 says, “an angry man stirs up dissension.” There is nothing more stressful than being – or living with – an angry person. They aren’t usually mad all the time, but you just never know when they are going to go off or what will set them off. But like the Bible says, they do tend to “keep things stirred up.”
The spouse of someone who has unresolved anger feels like they are gardening in a mine field every day. In a marriage like this, two people can even have a half-way decent relationship, yet they experience ongoing issues that just never seem to get resolved. Most of the time, these issues shouldn’t call for heated feelings, yet they always seem to provoke an inappropriate outburst.
The telltale sign of unresolved anger
Here’s a clue: If the reaction or over-reaction is out of proportion to the problem, be warned: unresolved anger is beneath the surface and it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. If this is a problem in your life, you may simply be reacting to someone or something in the present that is triggering a memory of someone or something in your past that caused you pain. And more than likely, you are not even making the connection.
Left-over anger can be expensive
Most of the unresolved anger in life predates present relationships. It is “old” anger left over from childhood or adolescence.
Gary Smalley says, “When you are in a relationship with someone who retains old anger, you feel as if you have just eaten a meal at a restaurant and then been handed a bill for $10,000. You explain to the waiter that there is absolutely no way your bill could be that high or that you could have possibly eaten that much. But the waiter says, ‘Your bill is $10,000 because we want you to pay for everyone who has eaten here today.’ That is exactly what people with unresolved anger do. They make the people in their life today pay for all those in the past who have offended them.”
Are you stuck?
Unresolved anger freezes your emotional maturity level near where it was when a hurtful offense occurred.
For example: Say, your parents divorced when you were twelve-years-old. You were hurt, fearful, frustrated, and angry, but you never dealt with that offense, so you got stuck at the emotional level of a twelve-year old. You may have the body of an adult, but emotionally act like a wounded twelve-year-old. The problem with this is that twelve-year-olds make terrible husbands and wives.
You may have had an experience or multiple experiences in your past where you were abused, rejected, or humiliated. Sometimes it only takes a look, a word, a joke, or a silence to have those experiences come rushing back.
Exposing the root
Dr. James Dobson says that when something bad happens, anger is not the feeling you will experience first. Anger is always born out of fear, frustration, hurt, or some combination of the three. When anger is dissected, it is all about unfulfilled expectations.
- You’re frustrated because you haven’t received what you expected from other people, or from life.
- Hurt comes when you don’t hear the words, or receive the actions you expected, when your emotional needs go unmet.
- You get fearful because you expect something bad to happen, or because you fear that what you expect, won’t happen.
At its root, anger is really a control issue. Feeling fearful makes you feel out of control, so you use anger as a way to cope with your fears and try to regain the control you feel you have lost. Anger can take many forms. It is not always aggressive and explosive. You may be passive, sarcastic, or detached, but still be a very angry person.
4 consequences of unresolved anger
Allowing unresolved anger a place in your life is a choice that comes with some serious consequences:
- Unresolved anger causes relational problems because it doesn’t allow you to let other people get close to you. It blocks your ability to give and receive love, so it becomes impossible for you to ever be intimate emotionally with your mate as God intends for you to be. This is miserable for the one who loves you, because it is impossible to please, or get close to a person who has unresolved anger in their life.
- Unresolved anger will distance you from God, as well. God offers you an intimate, loving, personal relationship with Himself, but that will be very hard for you to enjoy or accept, if anger has darkened and hardened your heart.
- Unresolved anger also results in a lowered sense of self-worth. The cycle of anger and low self-esteem fueling each other, can produce emotional problems. The greater the pain you carry inside from past offenses, the greater the temptation to engage in addictive behaviors like drugs, alcohol, sex, food, or work to get relief.
- Unresolved anger can also cause physical problems like backaches, headaches, neck pains, ulcers, stomach and digestive problems, as well as heart disease.
How to escape the prison of unresolved anger
Unresolved anger is like a videotape of past offenses which keeps playing over and over in your mind, doing enormous damage to you and to everyone around you. Unresolved anger can imprison you, and make you miserable, and miserable to live with.
Please don’t misunderstand, anger is not a sin. In Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” God says that it is okay to GET angry, it just isn’t okay to STAY angry. After every experience in life, you can move in one of two directions:
- God’s way – getting BETTER.
- The world’s way – getting BITTER.
Ultimately, it is your choice. You can escape the prison of unresolved anger, but it is up to you.
The bottom line to build your marriage on the Rock
To build a marriage on the Rock, you must purpose in your heart to do things God’s way; not your own way, and not the world’s way. This means you will:
- Understand God’s definition of love and make the CHOICE to sacrificially love your husband for life.
- Take full responsibility for all the CHOICES you have made in the past and will make in the future.
- Admit where YOU’VE been wrong, and make the CHOICE to change if necessary.
- CHOOSE God’s way to deal with unresolved anger by moving forward and becoming better not bitter.
If unresolved anger is eating away at the framework of your marriage or other relationships, you can exterminate it. With God’s help and by His grace, you, your marriage, and all of your relationships can become stronger — even better — than ever.
Susan Gadd is a wife, mom, grandmother, and Bible teacher. She and her opposites-attract husband Emory have been married 47 years, and they have enjoyed teaching and mentoring hundreds of couples for over 25 years at Sagemont Church in Houston, Texas.
Copyright © 2013. Susan Gadd.
All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Watch Session 3 of Marriage on The Rock — “Unresolved Anger: Marriage Termite #1” – with Susan and Laurie now!
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