“For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.” – Bible
“When anger rises, think of the consequences.” – Confucius
One morning shortly after they were married both Sam and Jill were running late. As they hurried to get dressed Sam discovered he had a problem.
“Jill, I’m out of clean shirts,” he shouted.
Jill was a little puzzled; they both worked and she assumed they shared responsibilities around the house. So she jokingly said, “I don’t think any of mine will fit you.”
But Sam decided his lack of a clean shirt was her fault and yelled “Didn’t you notice I was out of clean shirts?”
“No,” Jill said, “And besides, it’s not my responsibility to keep you in clean shirts; seems to me it’s your problem.”
Sam flew into a rage, complete with all kinds of accusations, condemnations, and obscenities. Jill started to cry and Sam stormed out of the room. Nothing more was said about this incident, but it was just the beginning of many such outbursts from Sam.
The above scenario comes from a book by Dr. Willard Harley, Jr. entitled “Love Busters.” In this book he provides information about the escalating abuse associated with uncontrolled anger in a marriage.
Dr. Harley, a professional counselor with many years of experience, says “I have witnessed many cases of murdered and permanently injured men and women who gave their spouse one chance too many.”
People who have angry outbursts in their marriage don’t see their anger as the problem. They think it’s an appropriate response to their spouse’s behavior. “If she’d just stop being so annoying, I wouldn’t get angry.” In other words, the other person made them do.
Quoting Dr. Harley, “There are reasons for angry outbursts, but there are no excuses.”
Dr. Harley then goes on to say “I’ve recommended separation for many of the spouses that I’ve seen for angry outbursts when they cannot control their temper. When you’re angry, you are not simply upset – you’re insane. You are not reasoning correctly because your brain is flooded with adrenaline.
You think the way paranoid people think – that your spouse is your worst enemy and is deliberately trying to hurt you. Any effort that your spouse makes to reason with you is rebuffed. You are dangerous.”
Usually the angry person doesn’t recognize that his anger is a problem. First of all, as noted above, he thinks it’s justified. And maybe more significantly he doesn’t realize how violent he gets when he’s angry.
As Dr. Harley says, “The fact that the details of the angry outburst are often forgotten or remembered falsely is also typical of a psychotic episode. Insane behavior usually takes a detour around our intelligence and has us behave in very primitive and irrational ways.
“Then it either fails to give us any memory of what we did or gives us an inaccurate memory that makes the outburst seem more rational than it was.”
I use these lengthy quotes because I want to emphasize what many of us are unaware of. As a professional Dr. Harley is telling us that uncontrolled anger is much more dangerous – and insidious – than we realize.
I recently read of two men, in prison because of violent crimes of abuse against their spouse, who were released when the men and their psychologists convinced the judge that they no longer were a threat. Shortly after their release they killed their spouses.
Dr. Harley suggests the following six steps to overcoming angry outbursts:
1. Acknowledge the fact that only you determine if you will have an angry outburst.
2. Identify instances of your angry outbursts and their effects.
3. Understand why your angry outbursts take place.
4. Try to avoid the conditions that make angry outbursts difficult to control.
5. Train yourself to control your temper when you cannot avoid frustrating situation.
6. Measure your progress.
Easier said than done. Next week I will share more insights on avoiding angry outbursts.
Roger Rollins is the executive director of The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. Contact him at 803-640-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.aikenfamco.com.