I began to share about my anger issues and the damage they had caused to our marriage as I sat nervously in the counsellor’s office. He had known me in my youth, long before I met my husband. He said he was surprised to hear about this behaviour, as I’d always come across as a relaxed person. Honestly, I agreed. Before I was married I didn’t have anger issues. Where had all this come from?
Disney movies and romcoms didn’t prepare me in the slightest for what was to come
My ideas about love and romance were formed by all the Disney movies and romcoms I binged in my youth. Yes, my understanding of what it took to love and commit yourself to another human being had the depth of a toddler pool. It didn’t prepare me in the slightest for what was to come, as they don’t go past ‘happily ever after’ in Disney movies: Boy meets girl. Boy fights for girl. Boy gets girl, and together they begin a life of marital bliss, right?
I’ve only recently realized that I am of the fiery variety, personality wise. I like to be the boss. I have strong ideas about the right way to do things. My way. That passion and drive can organise events, run ministry groups and lead teams. But they also have incredible power for evil.
My husband likes to please people. His driving desire early in our marriage was to make me happy. So we quickly fell into a dynamic that I felt worked. I was the boss, and my gentle, servant hearted husband was there to meet my every need. And when he made a mistake or failed to meet my high standard, it got nasty. I would use my mood, words and tone like carefully sharpened weapons to punish, manipulate and ensure this would not happen again. This was our reality for years.
It took a blunt conversation with my sister for me to finally realise that my husband’s cries for help were legitimate, because on my end, there wasn’t a problem. I was getting everything I wanted. Finally face to face with reality, I knew I needed help. The next day I started looking for a marriage counsellor.
And things started to change. I remember joyously telling a friend that it would now take me less than a week to admit that I was treating my husband badly and ask for his forgiveness. Crazy as it may sound, I felt I deserved a medal. It was huge for me.
But my struggles were still very real. My anger felt like a lion, crouching in the long grass, ready to pounce at any moment. I tried all kinds of things—I even contemplated hypnosis—to help me overcome it. I was searching for a silver bullet, a quick fix for this painful problem. And I came to dead end, after dead end. What about God? I often wondered. Isn’t he meant to help with this stuff? Eventually, I gave up.
One day over a meal, a friend began to share about his struggles with anger early in his marriage. I was captivated. How did a window smashing teen transform into the gentle, loving husband I knew today? I had to know his secret. I explained our situation, hanging a final glimmer of hope on my burning question: what do I have to do? I remember his response like it was yesterday. Pray and fast.
I had been grieving over the effect my anger was having on me—not because it was offending a holy God
Not the answer I wanted! I hated fasting. It made me hangry. Couldn’t he just lay his hands on me and pray for me to be healed? In desperation, I gave it a go.
It took a week. A week of bathing myself in the truths God has given us about anger in his Word. A week of turning my hunger for food into a desperate hunger for God to come and change me. A week of realising I had been grieving over the effect my anger was having on me—not because it was offending a holy God and affecting my life-giving relationship with him. And, in the midst of it, God impressed on me that I needed to change my thinking towards my husband. He gently shed his light on the dark corners of my heart and revealed the lies I was telling myself about my husband to fuel my destructive behaviour.
Exposure and Grace
For the first time in my life, I felt truly exposed, and I experienced sorrow over my sin. The truth was ugly, but now that it was out, the gospel came alive to me. Before that day I’d only ever seen it as a doctrine to be believed to get me into heaven, but now it was truly good news, bringing me a joy I’d never known. I was finally able to face all of my mess because of the cross. That week started me on a journey of learning to see my sin as utterly sinful, unprofitable and destructive. Up till then, I had still believed the lie that there was something to gain from my anger–it helped me get my way, gave me power. But human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires (Jas 1:20).
Do I still get angry? My husband will tell you, yes. For a time I was disappointed, wondering why God wouldn’t just take the problem away. Wouldn’t that give him the most glory?
In this life, he is glorified in my weakness. In my desperate daily reliance on him as I face this battle, this moment to moment choice of where I will let my mind go. One way breathes life into my marriage. The other, death.
I used to think God couldn’t help me with my anger so I couldn’t even face it. I now know better. I am a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come and I can choose to repent and start loving others by God’s power at any time. Such wonderful gifts are given freely to all who choose to love and follow Jesus. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me nearly three decades of going to church to discover this. I finally understand that the power of the gospel is unlike anything else. It alone allows me to face the depths of the wickedness of my heart, only to turn in wonder upon its glorious remedy. It alone has brought life and healing to my marriage and my soul.