How can I prevent myself from getting so angry in an argument that I say horrible things to my loved one that can damage our relationship? What steps can I take to keep from getting to that point? What can I do to make things right?
These are great questions! I appreciate your heartfelt desire to get your anger more under control.
Anger is a tough emotion to get a grip on as believers and has the potential to produce many problems in our relationships. However, anger itself is not inherently bad or sinful. That is an important concept to understand.
Both the heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus, display their righteous anger/indignation on a number of occasions in the Bible. But their expression of anger is always for the right reasons and is directed toward the right people for sinful thoughts and actions. The capacity to experience and express anger is part-and-parcel of our basic humanity and God-imaged status.
Ephesians 4:26-27 (ESV) states, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” There are certainly times when anger is warranted—even in a disagreement with a loved one. The problem comes when our anger morphs into unholy rage or wrath that is manifested destructively.
It is critically important to possess enough self-awareness that we are able to identify physical symptoms of anger’s presence, whether it be a tense neck and shoulders, sweaty palms, clenched fist or jaw, racing heart, blurry vision, tension in the chest, flushed face, etc. At the first indication of such symptoms, it is important to ask oneself: “What is it that is causing me to feel threatened and angry?”
It may be your values, core beliefs, personal expectations or your pride that is feeling endangered. Once the “threat” is correctly identified, ask yourself whether you have rightful cause for feeling angry. In other words, are you becoming cross for the right reasons or are your feelings illicitly based in immaturity, selfish-desire or simply having a short fuse and quick temper?
In order to facilitate this important internal conversation with yourself, it may be necessary to take a “time-out” for five to fifteen minutes (or perhaps longer). Politely excuse yourself from the conversation by saying, “I need a few minutes to gather my composure and process what you are saying so that I can respond appropriately. Before I say something I don’t mean that I’ll surely regret later, please allow me some time to weigh out your perspective and express my own.”
Buying time to gather your thoughts and cool off is a key preventative measure in avoiding explosive and/or harsh words. If you can at this juncture, leave the room and take a few deep breaths and cleansing exhales to calm down. If you’re driving, you may ask for a few minutes of silence to think and reflect. Then take the time necessarily to evaluate your loved one’s perspective and pray for wisdom in how to respond in the best possible way.
When you do return to the room to talk (or at least check back in mentally) you will be in a far better place emotionally to speak calmly and coherently about whatever the topic at hand is. Rather than being combative and launching a reckless attack, speak about how the argument or their treatment of you is affecting your emotions and personal sense of well-being. Remain rational and keep your cool. Imagine Jesus is standing with you and the other person, witnessing each and every interaction, because he in fact is doing just that.
There are those times that you will have to agree to disagree if you’re caught in a stalemate and no forward progress is being made to persuade the other person or, in turn, be persuaded by them. If they get loud, speak softer so they have to lower their voice to hear you. Above all things, always remember the Golden Rule to treat them the way you would want them to treat you (see Matt. 7:12). Remain respectful, kind and loving. Be the first to apologize if you have already said or done anything hateful, cruel and unbecoming of a Christian.
One last thought: if anger is something you struggle with on a perpetual basis, it may be prudent to seek some wise spiritual and psychological counsel from a competent minister and/or professional therapist. It is likely there are some deeper factors at work within you, which are contributing to your anger management struggles.
Dr. Ryan Fraser