In this culture with the stressors of Covid and other illnesses, the economy, and global uncertainty, many couples internalize their stressors and “stuff their emotions.” This is true in nearly every marriage and family, regardless of their socioeconomic status, faith or where they live.
We have spent over 15 years coaching military marriages and have learned they face stressors civilian families often do not. Military families move an average of every two to three years, and face unpredictable schedules of deployments and separations. Research has shown that active-duty military families can have a “spillover” effect of anxiety that flows from the marital system into subsystems and even extended family systems. Whether you are in a military family or a civilian family, learning how to resolve conflict is foundational for healthy living. We read in Proverbs, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly (Proverbs 14:29 NIV).” And often that displayed folly comes from unresolved conflict.
Identifying Types of Anger in Marriage
Unhealed hurt from a conflict in your relationship can trigger anger. Anger is a secondary emotion, typically following hurt, disappointment or fear. It’s what grows out of the offense and the hurt when they are not dealt with quickly or in a balanced way. Unleashed anger only makes things worse in a conflict and becomes another hindrance to resolving it peacefully.
When we talk about anger in a marriage relationship, we share what we call the “baked potato syndrome.” Picture a big, brown russet potato in the oven. You turn on the heat and the potato begins to warm. Given sufficient time, it bakes to a fluffy white inside, ready for butter, sour cream, chives, and bacon bits. However, if you forget about the potato and let it bake too long, it could explode and make a mess in your oven. This illustrates what can happen when offenses, hurts, and anger are allowed to heat up through lack of loving action. The result can be an explosive disaster.
You will be better equipped to deal with anger in your marriage if you understand the different types of anger and identify why you respond the way you do. There are three varieties of the “baked potato” of anger: situational anger, displaced anger, and chronic anger. Each one has a different cause.
- Situational anger – Some anger responses are situational, triggered by specific events. You can almost predict it. When a certain something happens, one of you reacts with anger. Behind every eruption of situational anger are offenses and hurts that have not been resolved. The sooner you close the loop on offenses and hurts, the less damage you will suffer—or inflict—from anger.
- Displaced Anger – Another variety of anger is one counselors refer to as displaced anger. Rather than confronting and dealing with the direct cause of the anger in a situation, the offended spouse expresses their feelings indirectly. Displaced anger may not be as damaging as other forms, yet it still leaves a painful open loop in the relationship.
- Chronic Anger – A third type of anger resulting from unhealed hurts is chronic anger. When an open loop is not closed in a timely manner, the hurt and anger are often shoved to the background and ignored. Because it is unresolved, this anger can flare up again and again. Buried wounds and anger generate an assortment of psychological and physical stressors that can ruin a person’s perspective on life and eat away at the soul. People with chronic anger are like loose cannons, ready to blast away whenever someone unwittingly lights the fuse.
Closing the Loops of Unresolved Conflicts
Unless you and your spouse learn how to work through your hurt and anger, you will likely find yourself on an emotional roller coaster that never slows down. Stuffing anger into some dark corner of your heart may temporarily help you skirt past a conflict, although the anger doesn’t go away. Venting anger through a verbal tirade, an argument, screaming, crying or slamming doors may help you let off a little steam, yet it won’t solve the root problem and you will explode again and again. The longer you allow the cycles of stuffing and exploding to continue, the more you will hurt yourself and your spouse.
Much of the hurt and anger you experience in your marriage relationship are the result of unresolved conflicts between you and your spouse. They are all part of open loops, and the longer the loops remain open, the greater will be the turmoil in your marriage. Closing every loop as soon as possible is vital to divorce-proofing your marriage. And dealing with those hurts and resolving them will help you and your spouse grow closer in your relationship.
*Our book, Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage, can help you understand different conflict styles and teach you how to move toward forgiveness and healing!
Gary Rosberg, EdD, and Barb Rosberg, BFA, are sought-after Executive Life and Marriage and Family Coaches, John C. Maxwell certified international speakers and trainers, award-winning authors, broadcasters, and well-known international marriage conference presenters. Together, the Rosbergs are co-founders of The Rosberg Group, where they provide marriage coaching, as well as one-on-one executive life coaching. Authors of over a dozen books, including 5 Love Needs of Men & Women and the Gold Medallion winning 6 Secrets to a Lasting Love, Barb brings decades of wisdom from coaching and teaching alongside Gary’s 25,000+ hours of counseling to coaching executive couples. The Rosbergs use their gifts of insight, humor, and wisdom in coaching couples “up” to become the best they can be. Their nonprofit ministry, America’s Family Coaches, has impacted marriages across the United States and globally for almost 35 years. They serve first responder and military marriages in their home state, and in particular, wounded warrior couples. Married since 1975, Gary and Barb have two married daughters and 12 grandchildren, and reside outside of Des Moines, Iowa. See more at: www.TheRosbergGroup.com