When Karen and I first got married, I had a real problem with my temper. We would get in a fight—usually it was my fault—and in our anger we would say some pretty hurtful things to each other.
The big problem was not that we got angry. Every couple gets angry from time to time. The problem was that we never could resolve that anger. The day would end and we’d still be made at each other. We would go to bed and just lay there, back-to-back. Not speaking…but clearly still in a fight.
When that happens, your mind starts going crazy and you can’t help but stew over all the things she said, the things she did wrong, and the ways she doesn’t measure up. The enemy takes your unresolved anger and uses it against your spouse. It magnifies every little thing. The result is slander. He slanders our spouse to us.
John Gottman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington, has identified four predictors of divorce in couples, and one of them is contempt. What is contempt? It’s deep, long-term anger. It’s a bitter, negative, hopeless kind of resentment that can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Resentment doesn’t occur instantaneously but instead is the result of a long build-up of frustration, disappointment, and conflict. We all get upset sometimes. That’s natural in any relationship. What we need to guard against in our marriages is letting that short-term anger marinate until it turns into contempt.
That is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 4:26–27, when he writes, “Be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” In other words, don’t be surprised when you get angry. But when it does happen, don’t hold onto it. Talk things out today.
Talking about conflict is like letting fresh air into your relationship. Have you ever been in an enclosed space—I’m thinking of a seventh-grade boys’ locker room—where something smelled really, really bad, like sweaty sneakers in a tiny locker? What happens if you take those sneakers outside, take a step back, and breathe in the fresh air. The odor dissipates. You hardly notice the stench.
That’s why it’s important not to let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t bottle it up overnight. Get it out in the open—kindly, gently—and discuss the conflict with your spouse.
It’s OK to be angry. Just don’t bury your anger deep inside. Unresolved anger will damage your marriage and it will damage you.