Fools give full vent to their rage,
but the wise bring calm in the end.
-Proverbs 29:11, NIV
The other day this dynamic was brought to my attention in a discussion with Mommythree. It was after my post: “God Wants Passionate Pastors.” Our interaction got me thinking.
I wonder how many of us, faithful spouses, have experienced “anger baiting” by our adulterous spouse or former spouse. To this day, I am convinced this was exactly the tactic my ex tried to employ in front of a Christian marriage counselor. Thankfully, it did not work. (God gave me the grace, strength, and serenity to endure some rather horrific situations in that counseling room.) However, I am sure–personal opinion here–she was trying to get me to explode with anger so that she could triangulate the counselor and label me as abusive with this third party present.
Mommythree’s comment made me realize that this tactic is not just limited to adulteresses. Adulterers employ this tactic as well, apparently. It is sad how successful such tactics are with those in the counseling setting–be they secular or pastoral. It strikes me as funny that anger gets such a strong response from Christian counselors/pastors whereas infidelity or adultery–even–is viewed as almost a non-event. This is another example where non-sin (expressing anger over a wrong) is treated as the sin while adultery is merely treated as a symptom.
It’s like a pastor saying,
Whoa! I see why your spouse is fearful. You’re too angry. (Never mind that your spouse just revealed and then blamed you for their adultery.) It’s your anger that is the problem needing addressing here.
Let me be clear: We need to remember not to sin in our anger expression (see Eph 4:26). Just because someone did something wrong to you does not give you permission to do something wrong back at them. It’s not a blank check.
Also, as Mommythree learned and shared, it is wise not to give full vent to anger but to respond calmly. Do your best not to play into this trap. Scripture is correct, obviously, in instructing us not to just let one’s anger go full force. We need to learn to control our emotions and express them in safe, proper ways.
However, that does not mean anger is “wrong” or even unwarranted. I would be more worried, as a pastor and chaplain, if you were not angry at some point when you discovered your spouse was lying and committing adultery. Anger is a healthy emotional response to such betrayal and violation.
All that said about proper responses–I am speaking to pastors here–sometimes the faithful spouse is not given the space to recoup from a bombshell lobbed at them in the pastor’s office. Recognize that this can be purposefully done in order to get you–the professional–to focus on the faithful spouse’s anger as opposed to the wrong done to them by the adulterous spouse.
Don’t fall for this.
Let me give this as a metaphor:
Suppose someone deliberately stomps on your foot and you shout out in pain (plus possible outrage over this wrong). Do we then criticize you for shouting? No. We look at the person who maliciously and purposefully stomped on your foot.
Adultery is worse than a foot stomping.
Sometimes an adulterous spouse may try to anger their spouse purposefully in order to take the focus off their adultery. They may try to “anger bait.”