We get angry to get our way. When we express it, we are confronting a conflict between ourselves and the obstacle. When we bite our tongue, we are avoiding it. The former is the Hammer. The latter is the Doormat. Both lead to strife, anxiety and stress. How do you get around this seemingly impossible dilemma?
My first marriage crumbled because of this dilemma. For the first five years, I confronted my wife and we had regular doses of conflict. One time, I got particularly angry and slammed a drawer shut in the bathroom so hard that the cover panel came loose. She got scared and frankly so did I. Expressing my anger always felt like an uncontrollable beast within me. Hence I shut down. Over the next five years, I used logical, unemotional discussion to resolve conflicts. The consequences of that choice were severe.
My mind was constantly racing. I became even more analytical than I already was. I also ‘lost’ many of my conflicts. Emotion (hers) always seemed to trump logic (mine). How do you argue with feelings? It’s a bit like the parenting move where the kid asks, “Why?” and the parent replies, “Because I said so.” Argh.
Making matters worse, I noticed that we don’t tend to appreciate our wins. We take them for granted as if our partner finally saw the light and things unfolded as they should have in the first place. Duh. Therefore we focus on our losses…with resentments.
We know this is true if we sprinkle subtle digs and innuendos throughout conversations on hot topics. I slipped into that just this past weekend with my wife as she complained about working on our kitchen renovation. I do about 95% of the work and hearing her complaints pushed my buttons. I chose to say nothing in the moment as I have learned to pick my time and place for raising hot topics.
That night I expressed my ire and suggested (insisted) that I do 100% of the work just to avoid the complaints. I can’t say that I was led by the Spirit but I did feel at peace with the outcome. I have learned to make my choices and accept the consequences, something I failed at miserably in my first marriage.
In those days, I would accept defeat but resent it. Each defeat built upon prior defeats. A pile accumulated inside my own inner bottled up emotions, not unlike a canister of compressed and explosive gas. Health problems arose for me like crazy in the form of “itis’s” such as colitis, bursitis and tinnitus. Inside, I was sinking towards depression with fearful trepidation.
For her however, things kept getting better and she expressed this regularly. How do you rain on that with all your own crap? I should have but I didn’t. Instead, I blew the marriage up in one fell swoop, shocking her beyond belief. Not pretty and not the way it ought to be.
The way it ought to be is that we face each conflict as it arises so that we don’t have baggage and we get better and better at resolving them. The only way I know of to do this without feeling resentful is to practice the First Rule of Inner Peace. “First get neutral and then you will see clearly what to do.” If you are a regular reader of mine, you know what this means.
Red lights and alarm bells now go off in my head if I am tempted to respond to someone who upsets me without taking the time to first get neutral. It is a discipline whose rewards vastly exceed the time and effort needed. Peace first, results second. It’s that simple and that difficult.
Jesus said, “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…” Anger itself is the expression of our judgment towards another and our flesh-based desire to have things go our way. Jesus warned that our judgments will come back at us in the measure we use. (Matthew 7:2)
Investing time to take the plank out of our eye before we respond to others is a practice that resolves conflicts, heals our inner being and deepens our faith and trust in the Lord. God reveals his active presence in our lives when we get neutral because we are surrendered on that issue. Wisdom and courage are our rewards.
Please share or comment if this has been helpful to you as others may be facing this soul-destroying challenge.
In his peace,