Maggie and I once proudly said that we had never fought in our relationship. "I mean, how can you really yell at someone you love?" But we soon realized that our track record had nothing to do with our holiness. It was a personality thing. In truth, we fought as much as the next couple. In marriage, we just preferred cold war to open war. (Sadly, parenting is another story.)
Every sinner struggles with anger. When someone says "I'm not really an angry person," usually that person is defining anger too narrowly. Early in our marriage, Maggie and I thought anger only came in the yelling, fire-breathing varieties. But marriage and parenting taught us that anger exists at many temperatures.
Identifying all the different varieties is important for growth in holiness because you can't apply the solution if you don't accurately name the problem. Below is a partial list of types of anger. What's your preferred villain?
This is what we typically think of when we think of anger. Frustrations build and build until The Destroyer can't take it anymore and she becomes a monster. "Ultimate Destruction" ensues. Anger is only satisfied by violence -- physical or emotional. People just need to get out of your way until you're done venting.
Conflict is all about what we do when we don't get our way. The sulker throws a pity-party for himself and expects everyone else to come along. Maybe he hopes to guilt others into fixing his problems. Or maybe he believes, "If I'm not happy, no one's happy." Regardless, the sulker can paint himself into a corner because to stop the pity-party is to acknowledge that the offense wasn't a big deal. That's why it's usually not done until the morning.
The Cold Shoulder refuses relationship. "You didn't meet my expectations. You're dead to me." The cold shoulder seeks to hurt another person with loneliness and isolation. She wants you to feel the tension. It's also a threat of what will happen if you continue to hurt her -- abandonment.
Misery loves company. If his day is ruined, shouldn't her day be ruined, too? The Spiteful goes out of his way to make life difficult. So maybe he'll intentionally neglect to take out the trash like he always does. He suddenly "gets tied up" when its time to bathe the kids so she has to go it alone.
The Passive Aggressive
This person thinks everyone should already know why she's angry. So, she's going to punish her husband by making him awkwardly discover why himself. Not only does he need to apologize, he needs to feel stupid for messing up in the first place.
This person gives up on a relationship completely. Maybe he used to be angry, but now he's given up the fight. He's hopeless that anything will change. He feels stuck. The loner is emotionless, unattached, depressed. He's just going through the motions. Underneath the apathy and unwillingness to engage is anger.
Reasons For Our Madness
As you think through this list, you'll probably realize that you are all these villains at one time or another. Your preference depends on the relationship and the situation. What's surprising to me is just how calculated we can be in our anger. There's a reason to our madness, even if we're not all that conscious of it.
This weekend, I'm preaching on conflict in relationships. As it approaches, think through the past few weeks. What does anger look like for you? What's a typical situation with your spouse, kids, friends or coworkers that brings conflict? Set the scene. Describe your feelings. And ask the Lord to teach you this weekend how to change.
What other types of anger did I miss?