Ten years into marriage, we had one of the biggest fights of our marriage. Though we were not conflict rookies, the intensity and stickiness of our anger unnerved us. It was as if this single event somehow epitomized every deficit in our marriage. Month after month, we hunkered down in our foxholes and lobbed verbal grenades at each other.
After almost a year of this unproductive behavior, we reached out to wise friends for help. Without being aware of it, we had been minimizing and avoiding our disappointment and anger. As a result, we never learned what these feelings were trying to teach us and endlessly looped around the same half-dozen fights. Sound familiar?
In the context of marriage, if we find ourselves disappointed and angry, we have four options: divest and/or quit, pretend that everything is fine (which is dishonest), try to change our spouses (which never works), or ask God to use the anger and disappointment to transform us so we can love our spouses independent of their behavior. If we want our marriages to thrive, we really only have one choice.
How do we arrive at that final option? First, we need to make a paradigm shift. We often assume that disappointment and anger indicate there’s something wrong with us, our spouses, or our marriages. Such conclusions may cause us to feel shame and, as Mike Mason points out, “to pull back from the full intensity of the relationship, to get along on only the basic requirements.”
In order to give more of ourselves rather than pull back, we need to reframe anger and disappointment as holy invitations rather than dire pronouncements. Then, as we press into these disquieting feelings, we can accomplish three important objectives: discern what drives them, decipher the message they intend to communicate, and develop reality-based expectations.