This week’s question: I can't say my husband is abusive or that I have a destructive marriage, but we do have a very stained one. My husband is a very angry man. We have been together 32 years and it just gets harder to deal with his temper, outbursts, and horrible language. He has never been physically violent toward me or the kids (who are grown and on their own), but throws and slams things.
We are in counseling now and the throwing part has gotten better. The constant rage and language are not directed at me but just in general at anything and everything else. It's like living in a landmine. I never know what, when, or how often he will explode.
It's like a rollercoaster in our home. I work part-time but stay away a lot longer, even when I'm out running errands and such because I just don't want to be home. When I am home, we are talking less and less and even in separate rooms a lot of the time.
My husband really doesn't seem to see a problem and feels he has a right to be angry. Sometimes he doesn't even know why he is. Am I just being too sensitive or over reacting? If so, please give some advice as to how I can stop letting this bother me so much.
Answer: Let me address your first questions. You wonder if you are too sensitive or overreacting? No! Living with an angry person takes its toll on us physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.
Daniel Goleman, the author of the book Social Intelligence writes, “Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain-and so the body of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.”
In other words, emotions are contagious. As a child, my younger sister Pat and I always got into trouble because once one of us started giggling, the other couldn’t help giggling too, even if we had no idea what was so funny. Likewise, living with someone who regularly emits negativity and anger (even if not directly targeted towards you) makes one extremely vulnerable to feeling pessimistic and negative.
Again Goleman writes, “When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us – explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt – they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions” Please don’t underestimate the immediate as well as long-term consequences of living with someone spewing chronic anger.
Research now proves strong links between the kinds of relationships we have and our physical health. Goleman writes,
“Our social interactions operate as modulators, something like interpersonal thermostats that continually reset key aspects of our brain function as they orchestrate our emotions.
The resulting feelings have far-reaching consequences that ripple throughout our body, sending out cascades of hormones that regulate biological systems from our heart to our immune cells. Perhaps most astonishing, science now tracks connections between the most stressful relationships and the operation of specific genes that regulate the immune system.
To a surprising extent, then our relationships mold not just our experiences but our biology…
That link is a double-edged sword: nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our healthy, while toxic ones act like a slow poison in our bodies.”
Therefore you are affected by your husband’s anger and that is just a fact.
But it’s not just secular research that sounds the alarm bells about the toxic affect of living with a chronically angry person. The Bible has much to say about the negative effects of living with an angry person.
God warns us to be careful about the friends we choose because they influence us and affect us (Proverbs 12:26). For example, he cautions us not to associate with angry people lest we become like them (Proverbs 22:24-25), and that socializing with violent people will take us down destructive paths (Proverbs 1:10-15; Proverbs 16:29). The apostle Pal tells us that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).
God’s Word also encourage us: as we gain wisdom, our bodies will get healthier and our stress levels will decrease (Proverbs 3:78; Proverbs 4:20-23, Proverbs 14:30)
God never minimizes the damage that sin causes to bodies, spirits, and minds, which is why he teaches us how to treat one another. Sin’s destruction isn’t merely personal, it’s interpersonal. It’s foolish to think we can remain in close proximity to angry individuals and stay immune to its toxic effects. It’s like thinking we can live with someone who smokes cigarettes and not experience the effect of second hand smoke. It’s not possible.
But I’d like to also like to briefly address your husband’s thought that he has a right to his anger. It’s true. When we don’t get what we want or things go awry we tend to feel angry. This isn’t true only for adults, but also for children. When babies aren’t getting what they want they cry, not just a sad cry but sometimes an angry cry. “Mom, I want my food NOW!” But part of maturity is learning to contain and express anger in constructive and not destructive ways.
Not only does your spouse feel entitled to his anger, but he feels entitled to express it in sinful and damaging ways. That is not okay. God’s word says that “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and sow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19,20). Paul also says that in our anger, we should not sin. (Ephesians 4:26) and goes on to say, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it ay benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29).
Instead of feeling like a helpless victim during your husband’s rants, I think you need to be a better steward of YOU and set a boundary for yourself when he gets this way. Stay away like you have already been doing. You can say something like, “You may feel totally entitled to your anger, but the way you express it is not okay and it negatively affects me. I’m going to leave the house (or the room) until you can calm yourself down.” Invest in some good noise cancelling headphones, put them on, go for a walk, go to your bedroom or get out of the house when he is like that. His unrestrained anger will negatively affect his health but you do not need to allow it to negatively affect yours. Take steps now to distance yourself from it when he erupts. Hopefully he will learn that when he doesn’t have an audience for his anger, it gets pretty boring to rant and rave all alone.
Friends, how would you protect yourself from someone’s anger when it’s not directly targeted towards you but you still feel like you are living in a war zone?
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