Transforming Anger into Understanding

Transforming Anger into Understanding

Sometime in our 30s, Barbara and I had an experience with anger that woke us up to being willing to do something constructive about our negative feelings. Up until then, we would simply react.

The story that leads to our classes and this book began in our early thirties when, late one night, a rare Southern California thunderstorm approached our neighborhood. Barbara had been pressing me to talk about some emotional difficulties in our marriage while I was impatient to get to sleep. Yet, the more she pressured me, the angrier I became. I was exhausted from work and desperate to relax and get to sleep. Every few minutes, a distant flash of lightning flickered in our bedroom, and a few seconds after that, some muffled thunder growled. Barbara insisted that I was uncooperative, unreasonable, and unwilling to talk about the issues, but I kept putting her off by saying that I was tired and to wait until tomorrow after we had gotten some sleep. Still, she persisted, and we both became angrier.


Barbara kept insisting until, finally, we both exploded. I yelled, “You are so selfish,” to which she screamed back, “You don’t care about me!”


Just then, in the middle of our yelling and screaming, a bolt of lightning shook the house with a deafening boom! The huge flash lit up our bedroom like daylight for a moment and showered fiery sparks through the protective metal grating around the fireplace. A message from the heavens? We were stunned into silence and just looked at each other, suddenly realizing the destructive power of our anger.


Right then and there, we both knew we needed to find a better way to communicate and work out our emotional needs.


In every marriage, there are issues that create the same fight over and over again. The fight may take different forms and appear in different situations, but it remains the same conflict at the core. Think about your marriage and your repeated patterns of unhappiness. A deep commitment to resolving those underlying issues in marriage requires each husband and wife to undertake a healing journey as an individual and a combined healing journey as partners.


We ultimately found mentors who taught us new skills that changed the way we speak to each other, and our relationship has thrived since then. How do you learn to speak effectively to your partner when you have differing feelings or points of view if you have never learned? Before getting married, I had many arguments with my parents, and I behaved emotionally undisciplined. Those interactions generally worked out because my parents knew they were in control anyway. After all, the rules were the rules, and they got to decide how life worked in the home. In a marriage, you are equal partners, so the tug of war about who is more right seems like a reasonable but ultimately profitless venture.


This is one of the first skills we learned as we transitioned from our power struggle to a more partnership-oriented marriage experience. We also learned other skills as well. We believe these skills need to be learned when they are relevant because there is motivation to sustain a loving connection that is important to both partners.