Alrighty, I need to put this out there because honestly, I’m appalled with the lack of understanding of healthy emotions.
Anger is healthy.
Is it pleasant? No. Is it fun? No. Is it necessary? Completely.
Piggybacking this on my post on pain (Mrs. Divorce Minister Speaks), in order to empathize and really change the way we handle pain, we have to change the way we see anger. Anger is a part of the pain of adultery and it’s a response that surfaces when our safety and wellbeing are threatened. It is entirely appropriate, necessary and healthy. The faithful spouse has every right to be angry. When you discover the tenants you’ve been renting to poured cement down all the toilets are you going to be angry? Of course! They just made your life a whole lot harder and way more expensive. Why on earth would you not be angry when you discover the slew of women your husband just slept with?! Or the HPV virus you’ve now contracted because of your spouse’s major sexual irresponsibility? Or that your husband is using your young son to pick up girls?
When I’m reading the stories on Chump Lady, the comments on this blog, listening to the crap that friends are currently going through with the traditional counseling route, what I keep hearing over and over again is how the faithful spouse is out of line for being angry.
“You shouldn’t be getting so angry.” “There’s a better way to detach than anger. You need to forgive and move on.” “What you need to do is learn to self-soothe.” “Whoa, you’re angry. You must be abusive. You’re a threat.” “There’s no need to get so worked up now, calm down.” “You sound angry and defensive. You just need to wait until you have more years between you and this. You’ll see.”
First off, Active Listening 101: denying what the other person is feeling is NOT showing empathy, it’s NOT going to get them to calm down and it’s NOT listening. (For more on active listening check here or here , or here).
Second off, if they can’t feel anger, what exactly is it that you’re expecting the faithful spouse to feel? And who are you to deny their expressions of grief (of which anger is one) and tell them how they’re supposed to feel after the trauma they’ve just gone through?
Anger is a GOOD thing. You’re supposed to be angry when your life is wrecked by infidelity. That’s a normal and appropriate response to getting screwed over. It shows that you’re human.
Yes, there’s a reason we need to be careful of anger because it’s not the best state for making decisions. Ephesians 4:26 says “in your anger do not sin.” But notice, in that verse, anger isn’t the issue, the sin that we could fall into from it is. It doesn’t say “do not be angry.” I’m not advocating throwing chairs, vandalizing property, physically attacking someone, verbal abuse or doing anything extreme or stupid. That stuff is out of line.
If you do a search for verses on anger, there seems to be more verses that talk about being slow to anger etc than talking about how it’s a good thing. (I personally feel the church has done a (unintentional?) disservice to people as because of those verses, the message most commonly taught is that anger is bad, you sin if you get angry). BUT, those scriptures don’t count the multitude of other verses that describe God getting angry.
God gets so angry that he actually wipes out all humans except for the ones safe with Noah. With the Israelites, God gets so upset with their idol worshipping after he saves them from Pharaoh that in Exodus 32:9-14, Moses actually talks God down from His initial stance of wanting to destroy them all over again. Not once does Moses say God shouldn’t be angry, he says “hey now, let’s not kill them.” God relents from killing them but he doesn’t let them get away with anything. In verse 35 God sets a plague on them for their idol worshipping.
Anger is an emotion, emotions are good, God gets angry quite a bit in scripture and there is a purpose for righteous anger. Psalm 7:11 (NLT) “God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day.” In a post of hers, Lisa Harper makes a good distinction in determining if anger is righteous or not: is our motive to be right or to be righteous? If our outrage brings people back to loving, healing relationships with the Lord, it’s righteous anger. Adultery is the place for righteous anger. It is NOT a neutral topic. The author of The Shack attributes the survival of his marriage after his affair to his wife’s anger. The faithful spouse needs to be angry. Not only is it vital to their own healing but if the cheater is ever going to truly repent, they need to be shown righteous anger. The person with the most authority to righteous anger is the faithful spouse. Don’t strip them of the power they rightfully hold.
Healthy relationships have arguments, they raise their voices and a door gets slammed occasionally. I’ve thrown a shoe down the stairs, a stuffed animal across the room. Slamming your hand hard on the table, dropping a glass lid in the sink so it breaks, smashing your wedding china on the sidewalk in the backyard, (or smashing it with a hammer on the table as Tim Keller’s wife did), are other examples of things that are probably uncomfortable to be present for but aren’t necessarily out of line.
My mom got so sick of my brother being glued to his Xbox that eventually she finally carried through with her threat and he came home to see his Xbox sitting on the front step–It had been smashed with a hammer. And no one dared tell my mom she was out of line with her actions, it never crossed our minds. Quite the contrary, the looks my brother got said “well you should have listened to your mother. You were out of line. Looks like you better save up to buy a new one.” In fact, I’m willing to bet that “Ha! Oh snap!” probably went through your head as you were reading the situation.
The aftermath of adultery is far worse than that of a smashed Xbox, yet the responses get so twisted and backwards. Instead of my mom getting backed up for enforcing a boundary she gets told how out of line she is, boys will be boys, she shouldn’t be so angry and they’re going to call CPS because she’s clearly unhooked. Instead of my brother actually learning a lesson he gets told he did absolutely nothing wrong and who is anyone to try and take away his Xbox from him?
Angry moments can be uncomfortable, but they’re okay. Of course the cheater is going to be uncomfortable if they see the faithful spouse get angry. They’ve been shutting down their conscience and can’t fathom how they’re even remotely responsible for anything. Not being defensive or crying wolf would actually require them to drop the lies they’ve encompassed themselves in and face the reality of the destruction they’ve just caused. It’s easier for them to just cry wolf, try and control the narrative and say that their safety is threatened. Who in their right mind would be upset over adultery? That’s just so out of line. They can’t face the anger because it’s righteous anger. Facing it means they’d have to own up that they messed up big time.
Jesus had righteous anger when the temple was being used as a store instead of as a house of prayer. Mt 21:12-13 (NIV) “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Whoa, Jesus was so angry he turned over tables. And I highly doubt he was gentle about it either. Do you think anyone dared approach him saying “whoa, you’re angry. You are so out of line?” Yea right.
A slammed door or hard hand on the table doesn’t make the faithful spouse a threat to anyone’s safety. Couples that aren’t experiencing infidelity still yell. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that anger is automatically bad. Allow the faithful spouse to be angry. They have righteous anger. They need a safe space to vent. You’ll see a range of emotions when they’re given the freedom to express it. It may start out with them yelling and end with them in tears. That’s healthy, normal and OK.
Part of creating that safe place means open communication between the faithful spouse and the one listening. If the faithful spouse has had issues with anger in the past, or even if they haven’t, they can probably tell you what the signs are that they’re losing control and in turn, tell you what you can do to still keep them in check while letting them vent. If you’re the person listening, it’s ok to ask them ahead of time to give you an idea of what them getting angry looks like. You should also let the faithful spouse know what your response to anger is so they know what to expect from you.
If they’ve already started a rant, it’s okay to say “I see that you’re getting really angry. What do you want from me?” They’ll probably clue you in on whether they just need to vent or whether they’re asking for advice. Chances are good that what they need is your presence, nothing more. If the cheating spouse is also present, the counselor needs to be upfront in giving the faithful spouse permission to express their emotions without interference from the adulterer/ess. Again, the cheater needs to see anger from the person(s) wronged.