Recently someone sent me this message:
After a stroke, my husband started experiencing extreme times of anger. I never know what will set it off.
An example: I mistakenly bought whole milk instead of 1%. He was livid. Throwing things down (not at me) and cursing.
1. I don’t trust him as much to take care of me.
2. I walk on eggshells and try to keep my mouth closed and ignore it until it passes. I don’t engage him or validate his tantrum.
3. My stress level is off the charts. I feel a failure and if I can do nothing right.
I realize this example is related to a medical situation. But the aftermath of anger is the same no matter what the source, cause or reason. It damages the relationship.
Anger and the Family Series [Part 1]
This is Part 1 of a series titled: Anger and the Family.
The Series in a Nutshell:
The statistics of how anger impacts the family are staggering. When I announced this series to our list, I received stories of struggle, frustration and depression about how anger has affected their relationship.
Watch the Part 1 Video here:
Take note of these:
- 1 in 5 adults have ended a relationship with someone because of ‘how they behaved when they were angry.’
- 64% agree or strongly agree that people are getting angrier.
- 45% of the workforce lose their temper at work
- 27% of nurses have been attacked while on duty
- 33% of Britons are not on speaking terms with their neighbors.
- 50% have hit or thrown their computer.
- 1 in 7 adults have sought medical treatment for stress.
- 31% said it was difficult to balance work and family
- 53% consider anger a major concern
- 74% feel keyed up or on edge
- 61% have difficulty relaxing or feel irritable
- 56% have difficulty sleeping
- 55% worry too much
And perhaps the most troubling of all:
- In Britain 1 in 3 marriages end in divorce
- 4.7% of adults are classed as dependent on alcohol
- 1 in 12 women are on antidepressants
- Less than 13% of people with anger issues have sought help.
Obviously, stress and anger are issues that impact family life.
A Warning and Disclaimer
Before I continue, let me set some boundaries and parameters for this series.
Let’s clarify WHO we are talking about.
First, this is not about the chronic abuser. Our advice is get out. Period. End of story.
Anger and frustration are normal human emotions. We all experience them at times.
Anger is a valid emotion. It’s only bad when it takes control and makes you do things you don’t want to do.
– Ellen Hopkins
There is a difference in someone (woman or man) who is experiencing anger, and someone who is angry. An angry person is NOT a person having negative emotions or the normal ‘experience of frustration.’ They are by nature, mean. Their character is bad.Anger is a valid emotion. It's only bad when it takes control and makes you do things you don't want to do. Ellen Hopkins Click To Tweet
One woman defined it this way:
I was abused in my first marriage for 19 years. Hubby number 1, was and still is a Professional BLAMER, CHEATER, HATER, LIAR and OPIATE ABUSER, Negative Narcissist. Who Loves being angry as a lifestyle choice.
Second, this article is not written to the people who are by nature mean, angry narcissists. Those who have an angry lifestyle.
This is for the families who are experiencing anger in the home. The men that are mostly good, but angry. The women who are primarily good, but angry.
Finally, we draw a distinction between anger and abuse. While in reality the line is fine and may be indistinguishable, for this article we will make that distinction.
Ancient Greeks differentiated between a short-term anger that doesn’t stick around (ὀργή or orge ) with a long-lasting anger that’s permanent (μῆνις or menin).
We will be discussing orge.
A family is a complex emotional system where every member affects other members. (Ron Huxley)
The more intense the anger, the more likely destructive behavior occurs.
With that in mind, let’s explore…
How Anger Will Unravel Your Relationship
It should be pretty obvious that unresolved anger hurts others and damages our relationships. Too often we pass it off as something less than it really is. We minimize it’s effects of the family.
Here’s 10 ways it impacts our relationships in a negative way:
1. It Destroys Emotional Safety
In the story above, all of the ‘side-effects’ of an angry spouse are concerning, but the one that I find most disturbing is #1: “I don’t trust him…”
Trust is the foundation of a healthy marriage. It’s what makes us feel safe. When we trust someone, we feel secure with them. Without it, we stop functioning in love.Trust is the foundation of a healthy marriage. It’s what makes us feel safe. When we trust someone, we feel secure with them. Without it, we stop functioning in love. Click To Tweet
You cannot give yourself to something you do not trust!
Think about that statement. How can you give yourself to someone when you do not trust they have your best interest at heart? It’s impossible.
And how can you believe they have your best interest when they explode with anger or feel constant stress. It changes the dynamic of the relationship.
Love is built on trust. That’s why it’s our #1 core value at The Healthy Marriage.
It’s hard to feel safe in an environment that is angry. It erodes your ability to be open, transparent and free.
An angry house makes you shrink in fear. You constantly feel anxious waiting for something to go wrong and an explosion to happen.
It’s unsafe and risky to be open.
2. It Breeds Rejection
Studies show that the brain can recall emotional pain easier than physical pain.
For example, when you try to remember a time when you were hurt physically, the brain will serve up details of the event, but very few emotions.
You may remember the date of the event. Who was with you. What happened and how you responded. But your brain can’t serve up the ‘feelings’ associated with the physical pain you experienced.
Emotional pain is different. The brain is more than willing (and able) to recall the feelings of rejection, isolation and loneliness. It not only remembers the details, but the feelings. Very vividly.Emotional pain is different. The brain is more than willing (and able) to recall the feelings of rejection, isolation and loneliness. It not only remembers the details, but the feelings. Very vividly. Click To Tweet
This is why anger is so detrimental to relationships. It produces a sense of rejection. We ‘remember’ the feelings of rejection.
If your spouse is constantly upset and irritated, it’s hard not to take it personal. It’s possible. But difficult.
Because we have opened our heart to our spouse (we become one), their treatment of us affects how we feel about ourselves.
In other words, anger threatens our sense of belonging. We all have a need to belong. Anger sends the message that you are not acceptable the way you are. This in turn makes us feel rejected.
3. It Creates Fear
Fear has many faces. It’s not always terror, dread or panic. It can often manifest as distrust.
Chapman University did a study on key factors of fear. They discovered that personal safety and concern about the future were the top two factors detected.
What causes fear?
To understand fear, we must understand desire. Fear happens when desire is unmet.
When your spouse is angry, it signals your emotions that you are unacceptable. Thus rejected.
You desire acceptance and love, but the rejection indicates you are not, so you fear the future (will I continue to be rejected?) and don’t feel emotionally safe (can I trust my spouse to be there for me?).
I want you to think about the statement above.When your spouse is angry, it signals your emotions that you are unacceptable. Thus rejected. You desire acceptance and love, but the rejection indicates you are not, so you fear the future (will I continue to be rejected?) and… Click To Tweet
Fear is the opposite of love.
Love means you are safe to be you.
Fear means you feel apprehension to be yourself because you will be rejected (because you have been rejected).
It is a vicous cycle.
4. It Builds Walls and Creates Distance
Ever heard of the Porcupine Effect? It is sometimes called the hedgehog’s dilemma.
Here’s the picture.
On a cold night a group of porcupine’s desire to stay warm so they try to come together and help each other. As they move closer together, they stick each other with their sharp spines.
What they want they cannot accomplish. This is their dilemma.
Happens with anger in marriage.
We desire acceptance, value and intimacy. Anger acts like the sharp spine on a porcupine. He keeps others away. The very thing we want, we cannot have because anger pushes it away.We desire acceptance, value and intimacy. Anger acts like the sharp spine on a porcupine. He keeps others away. The very thing we want, we cannot have because anger pushes it away. Click To Tweet
5. It Increases Sexual Temptation
This is a sticky side-effect.
There is never an acceptable scenario for unfaithfulness. Ever. Period.
Yet temptation occurs when anger pushes our spouse away.
Think of this way…
When are you most vulnerable to any temptation?
When you are lonely, isolated and rejected. Right?
When your spouse continually sends the signal (by their anger) that you don’t measure up, and aren’t everything you need to be, you seek ways to feel better about yourself.
This is why drugs and alcohol can be problematic. If they are used to ease pain or medicate feelings of rejection, we can easily abuse them.
When you feel set aside by your spouse, you are more vulnerable emotionally. The desire to be loved and approved sets the stage for sexual temptation.
Sex is not just about physical pleasure. It’s about connection. Unresolved anger breaks that connection and creates potential for a ‘perfect storm’ of temptation.When you feel set aside by your spouse, you are more vulnerable emotionally. The desire to be loved and approved sets the stage for sexual temptation. Sex is not just about physical pleasure. It’s about connection. Unresolved anger… Click To Tweet
Related article: How to Make Your Marriage Work Again
6. It Decreases Sexual Satisfaction
The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality conducted a study to explore the influence of anger on sexual satisfaction.
Henderson-King and Veroff’s (1994) study of newlyweds revealed that sexual satisfaction and adaptation during the first year of marriage were predicted by the number of episodes in which a partner felt good because she/he could be assertive in relations with the partner and felt valued.
How valued and free (secure and safe) the partner felt determined the level of sexual satisfaction in the relationship.
Where unresolved anger reduces emotional security and a partner’s sense of value, sexual satisfaction is low.
Related article: Does Your Spouse Feel Valued
7. It Produces Loneliness and Anxiety
This goes along with the previous two points.
It’s the porcupine effect.
Anger causes us to feel pushed out. It leaves us feeling disconnected from our source of love and acceptance.
Howcast has an excellent video on this issue.
8. It Erodes Respect
One woman wrote this:
We’ve been together since 1992. Temper and jealousy emerged within the second year. Public displays etc etc.
I excused it because he was young. Anyway, it goes up and down, up and down, but it is EMBARRASSING and I do not respect him.
It is very difficult to love and respect an #$%^#$ *$#@ in a four year old in A 45+ YEAR OLD BODY.
Warning to others though – the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
You can hear the hurt and frustration in her words. Chances are, they are locked in a rejection loop that will continue to repeat itself until they get professional help. Unfortunately, based on her comments, her husband is not willing to seek that help.
The lesson I want you to see is anger destroyed her respect for her husband.
Respect is a lot like emotional safety. When it is absent, it’s impossible to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
Your marriage will rise and fall on the degree of respect, security, acceptance and trust in the relationship.
9. It Impedes Decision Making
Harvard Professor Jennifer Lerner says emotions automatically trigger a set of responses. These responses include physiology, behavior, experience and communication.
Each emotion carries with it motivational properties that fuel carryover to subsequent judgments and decisions. Emotions not only can arise from but also give rise to an implicit cognitive predisposition to appraise future events in line with an “appraisal tendency,” or a goal-directed process through which an emotion affects judgment and choice until the emotion eliciting problem is resolved.
In plain language:
Strong emotions like anger cause us to see things differently; and clouds our view of future events.
So, when a spouse gets ‘ticked off’ because you didn’t do something they expected you to do, there is a strong possibility they will see future events as failures. Another vicious cycle ensues.
10. It Cuts Your Life Short
A study conducted by Amelia Karraker, Robert Schoeni, and Jennifer Cornman (Source) measured the psychological effects of anger, income, smoking, cognitive ability and conscientiousness on mortality. The data was collected from over 35 years of research on over 27,000 men (ages 20-40 between the years 1972 and 2007).
Their findings were interesting:
“We find that while follow-through, anger, and cognitive ability are all associated with subsequent mortality when modeled separately, when they are modeled together and baseline demographic characteristics are controlled, only anger remains associated with mortality.
In other words, anger increases mortality (death) more than any of the other stressor’s.
Someone once said, ‘Harboring unforgiveness, bitterness and anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.’
This study validates that idea.
And it’s not the only study done on this subject. The Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College London noted 25 studies investigating the correlation between anger and Chronic Heart Disease.
They concluded anger and hostility are associated with Chronic Heart Disease in healthy individuals (not just those with preexisting heart problems).
It should be clear by now how devastating unresolved conflict and anger can be on a marriage.
How do you know if your marriage is locked in this cycle?
How To Know If You Have An Anger Issue
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy lists these indicators:
- Becoming angrier than is appropriate in regard to mild frustration or irritation?
- Feel guilt or regret over something said or done in anger?
- Experience social conflict as a result of angry outbursts (lawsuits, fights, property damage, school suspensions, etc?)
- Have family and/or friends who express concern and suggest getting help?
- Deal with chronic physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal, difficulties, or anxiety?
What does that look like in everyday life?
- Criticizing, belittling, putting down
- Lack of patience
- Irritability and short temper
- Blaming everyone and everything else
- When you get angry you shut down or withdraw
- People avoid you
- Partner, kids, family members are afraid to talk to you
- People feel like they’re walking on eggshells around you
- Others experience you as a Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde
If you detect any of these in yourself or your partner, it’s time to get help.
Where To Get Help
Here’s a list of resources that will help you deal with anger whether you are the one angry, or your behavior is impacting your family in a negative way. These are links to Amazon. You can read my affiliate disclosure here.
All Books on Anger by Ronal Potter-Effron
Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion by Gary Chapman
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, PhD.
If your marriage is having serious problems and you don’t know what to do next, I recommend Dr. Lee Baucom’s program, ‘Save the Marriage System.’ He is a counselor with years of experience helping couples navigate the stages of marriage crisis.
Wrapping It Up
While we all experience angry feelings at times, unresolved anger can have devastating effects on the family. It can destroy your relationship.
In this article we dealt with these issues:
- 1. It Destroys Emotional Safety
- 2. It Breeds Rejection
- 3. It Creates Fear
- 4. It Builds Walls and Creates Distance
- 5. It Increases Sexual Temptation
- 6. It Decreases Sexual Satisfaction
- 7. It Produces Loneliness and Anxiety
- 8. It Erodes Respect
- 9. It Impedes Decision Making
- 10. It Cuts Your Life Short
Next Article [Part 2]: What’s Causing Your Anger Issues?
How has anger effected your relationship?
What do you do when your spouse gets angry and acts out?
How do you manage your own anger issues?