Listener Letters: Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
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Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
FamilyLife Today® hosts Dave and Ann Wilson tackle the tough questions from listeners. Hear their advice about dealing with an angry spouse.
Listener Letters: Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 5th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. When we hang on to an offense and allow resentment to fester, that leads to anger; and anger does not produce the righteousness of God. We’re going to talk more about that with Dave and Ann Wilson today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We started doing something new—we’re just trying this out. At our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, we’ve been inviting people in the audience to write down questions; and we’ve been spending some time, as speakers, answering those questions. It’s been pretty interesting; you’ve seen the questions that have come in.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: I want you guys to sit and answer all the questions, and I’ll listen to you as you answer them. [Laughter]
Dave: I’m the guy on stage, who says, “My wife would love to answer that question.”
Ann: He does say that, actually.
Dave: I do.
Bob: Some of these are challenging questions that come in, but they reflect the reality of what’s going on in a lot of marriages. I thought, today—we’re not at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—but we’ve got some of the questions that have been sent forward. I thought, “Well, let’s just tackle some of these.” We’ll do it spontaneously, the same way we do it at a Weekend to Remember; okay?
Bob: Here’s the first question I’ll toss your way. Here’s a wife, who writes and says, “My husband and I have been to a marriage counselor. When I make my husband mad, he can say the meanest things I’ve ever heard. The counselor we saw said, ‘Well, those things were said out of anger; so you just need to let it go.’” She says, “How do I forget those things and just ‘Let it go’?”
There’s a lot in that. First of all, she said, “When I make him mad,”—I just stop and say: “I’m not sure you make him mad. He gets mad all by himself.”
Dave: Oh, yes.
Bob: This is where we blame shift; and we say, “You made me mad.” No; when you get mad, it’s not that somebody made you mad; you chose to get mad.
Ann: It’s so funny, Bob. I remember when Dave and I were in a counseling office with our friend. I said to him, “Dave makes me feel so hurt when he…” And he stopped me, just like you did, and said: “Dave doesn’t make you feel that. You are feeling that, so take responsibility for your own feelings.” It was just like, “Oh, okay.”
Dave: I like that comment.
Bob: But let’s start out with this premise—here’s a husband and wife in conflict. She says something to him, and then says something mean—says something that’s angry/degrading. He may look back and say, “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry I said that.” But what he said is still in her ears; and she’s still thinking, “That’s how he really feels!” What do you do with that, as a wife?
Ann: It’s hard to lose that; it’s hard to get rid of those words—they replay over and over. If he says something nice—because we’ve kind of lived this—when he says something nice, you think, “Does he really think that?—or is he really still feeling what he said earlier about me?”
Dave: I actually think my wife sent that question in, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: Have you done that?
Dave: Yes; it does remind me of early in our marriage—I don’t know how long in. I remember Ann came to me with something in the kitchen. I remember the kids were little; they weren’t around at the moment, but I blew up/just got angry. She just looked at me—I’ll never forget this—she said, “You know, every time I bring up something about our marriage, that’s what you do—you just blow up. I’m just not going to bring stuff up anymore.” And she turned and walked away.
I responded really maturely—I yelled, like, “What do you mean I blow up?!” I just yelled like that.
Bob: You just blew up.
Dave: I blew up again. She turned and went, sort of like, “Exhibit A.” That was a starting point in our marriage, especially for me, to go: “Wow! Do I really respond in anger that often that she doesn’t want to bring things up?” Long story short—I went on a journey to say, “Where is this anger coming from?”
I did a study. One of the first things I learned—and we teach this at the Weekend to Remember—is anger is a second emotion. I had never heard that—like: “What do you mean?” It was just this simple; it’s like—when you’re in a situation, that you have an emotion that’s not real comfortable to you, you will skip that emotion and go right to anger. I realized I was doing that all the time.
Here’s an example: It isn’t always easy for me—and maybe a lot of men—to process the emotion of emotional hurt. I may walk in, and Ann may be in tears [due to hurt]. [Whereas] she walks in: I’m angry—it’s the same thing—I’m hurt by something she said or did or something in my life—but I skip that; you know, “Big boys don’t cry” type deal, which is ridiculous—but I’m responding in anger. I never knew that.
Anyways, I looked through my life. I’m like, “Man, I do that quite often in my life; and I go right to the second emotion.” Obviously, one of the first things I wanted to learn to do was: “How do I process emotions like fear, or frustration, or emotional hurt?”
Bob: Think about it: “Hurt makes us vulnerable.” If I say to you, “This hurts,” what I’m saying to you is, “If you want a weapon against me, here’s what you do; and you can hurt me.” I don’t want you to know that; and so, instead of expressing hurt, I’m going to get angry as a way to say: “Back off,” and “Never do that again—I’m putting you on notice: ‘If you do, you’re not going to like it.’” I’m trying to hurt you back because of the pain that I’m feeling.
I think, behind a lot of anger, there’s woundedness/there’s hurt. I’m not trying to minimize or excuse the anger; because “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God,”—[James 1:20]—that’s what the Bible says. We’re to be angry, but not to sin. When you lash out against somebody else, you’re sinning against that person.
But when we can stop and go, “Okay; there’s something behind that,”—when I can see that my wife is angry, and think to myself, “There’s something behind that,”—that anger is the presenting issue; but “What is the hurt that’s behind that?—that I can help heal?” rather than escalating the anger by saying: “You are going to hurt me, I’m going to hurt you right back,” / “You throw that grenade; I’ll throw another one your way that’s a bigger one than the one you threw at me.”
Ann: All that does is build walls, because you continue to hurt one another with your words. Words are volatile in a marriage relationship and in any relationship. We become self-protectors; we protect our hearts, and then there’s no relationship anymore.
For Dave and I, I was really thankful that he looked into it; because it started to soften his heart. It started to get him to look into his past. That’s the key—I think we all have to go into our past and think: “Where did this come from?” and “Where did this pattern start?—where I started protecting my heart and lashing out in anger.”
Dave: I realized that it’s like we all have an extension cord—you know, that anger/that emotion is plugged into something. You have to trace back down and go: “What really is this? I think it’s my wife’s comments,”—it may have something to do with that, but that sparks something. When you dig down and go: “Ohhhhh; so she said this in the kitchen. What I really felt was disrespected. That plugged into a whole different thing, so I felt hurt: ‘You don’t believe in me. You don’t think I’m a good husband. I’m letting you down.’” Instead of processing that and starting there—boom!—you respond in anger, and you get nowhere.
It’s very interesting for me, as I continued to study this—and this was like over a year—I also learned about the types of anger. One of them is called “chronic anger.” It’s the kind of anger, where the extension cord doesn’t go back to something that was said today; it goes back decades, or somewhere you were hurt in the past. I realized, “Oh my goodness!” I’m sure Ann was like: “Duh! I’ve known this since we were married. You have an issue with your dad. He walked out of your life. You’ve never forgiven him, and you’ve never dealt with this. Until that’s dealt with, this anger thing is always going to be flaring up and out of control.”
That led me to a journey on forgiveness. Again, I’m not saying I’m never getting angry, again, in my life; but man, oh man, it changed the atmosphere in our home.
Bob: Yours was displaced anger. You were lashing out at Ann because you were still hurt by your dad. She stimulated some of that pain in your life.
Dave: Yes; like a trigger.
Ann: I lit the fuse.
Bob: Yes; right.
Let me go back to what this wife wrote at the Weekend to Remember; because she said, “Some of the things he has said—the counselor says I need to let that go because he said it in anger.” Well, do you let it go?—or do you go back and do you address it? How do you get closure on hurtful things that you’ve said to one another, as husband and wife?
Ann: I know, for me, it’s hard to deal with those alone—with the words that are coming up. I think it’s good to have discussions when the anger and the emotion aren’t so high. I think I would probably go back to Dave. I’d probably write out some of the things and say: “This is what you said about me—you said that I’m a crazy”—whatever—“Do you feel that about me? Is there something that I’m doing that you feel that that’s true about me?”
Then I would give him a chance to respond: “Is there any truth in it?” And he could say it in a way that would be helpful instead of hurtful. Or is it just he is saying these things out of his total rage, and anger, and frustration?
What do you guys think? Is that a bad thing?—could that lead to more anger?
Dave: I was going to ask Bob—I’m sure you’ve done that in your marriage.
Bob: I think that’s exactly right. What we often will say to one another in anger or frustration are exaggerated statements, but there’s a kernel of truth behind them. What I think we have to do is recognize: “Okay; this is an exaggeration that comes out of pain/that comes out of frustration. Let’s go back and say, ‘Where’s the kernel of truth?’”
You have to do it with humility that says, “Lord, what do I need to hear out of this? Is there something I need to change?”—not defensiveness, but—“What could be that kernel of truth?” Then let’s acknowledge: “Yes, that was exaggerated. That was overstated. That was said in anger and frustration.” And the person who said it needs to repent of that.
Ann: —and apologize.
Bob: Yes; ask for forgiveness and say, “I don’t want those to be my words, going forward. But let’s get to the kernel of truth: ‘What’s that little thing that might provoke me?’” Again, it’s my issue and how I respond; but “Are there things that we do that are annoying one another that we’re just not aware of?”
Ann: I think I oftentimes would light Dave’s fuse by saying something that was disrespectful. The way I approached him—it would set him off. I think a lot of that was me in the way I would talk to you; it was disrespectful.
I think for us, as women—we have so much power and influence in talking to our guys—of making them feel like they’re nothing: they are not worthy; they are not doing it right. Or we can use our words to encourage them in a way to help them to do it right.
I’m thinking of an example of Dave.
Dave: We had many. [Laughter]
Bob: What’s the one you’re thinking of?
Ann: I’m thinking of a time he was on the phone; because we had made a reservation for friends coming into town, and they had lost the reservation. Dave was on the phone, trying to figure out: “How can we get this reservation back?” I heard him talking, and I walked into the room. I was whispering—because he was on the phone—I was saying: “Give the phone to me! Give the phone to me right now!”
Dave: Bob, I’ll never forget this—this is back before cell phones, so I had a phone in our kitchen that had a 150-foot cord—[Laughter]—it wasn’t that long, but I wanted to be able to walk. I’m running away from her; because she’s following me: “Give me the phone! Give me the phone!” I’m looking at her: “Get outta here! I got this!” I’m talking to this hotel receptionist—I’m like: “I made this reservation. I know you have it in there.” They didn’t have it. I’m getting mad at her; I’m embarrassed—our friends are coming in. Finally, I just throw her the phone.
Ann: And I’m embarrassed to say that I thought: “I can get that reservation. I can do this. You’re too nice; I can get the job done,” which is horrible. Now, imagine what Dave is thinking as I’m pestering him, walking around.
Bob: He’s thinking, “You think I’m incompetent.
Bob: “You think I can’t handle this. That somebody much more astute—
Ann: —yes; “savvy.”
Bob: “—needs to be on the phone here.”
Dave: So, I gave her the phone.
Ann: He threw it down; he huffed out of the room. What happened was—I had no idea how disrespectful that was—that I was making him feel like: “You’re not a man. You can’t do it. Let me do it.”
Dave: By the way, Bob. This didn’t happen last week; this was almost 40 years ago. I said: “You just de-manned me. You just took away my manhood.” That’s when she looked at me like, “Whoa,”—you talk about anger.
The thing we had to do—and I’d say every couple, every parent, every person in the workplace needs to do is—when anger is flaring/when the conflict happens, don’t wait a month. You’ve got to go back—you may need to settle down; you may need to count to ten; you may need to count to one hundred.
A very wise Scripture is Ephesians 4:26, where Paul writes, “In your anger, do not sin.” He says anger is a normal emotion, but it can lead to sin: “Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” What’s he saying by letting the sun go down?—resolve it quickly. When we got married, we were told, literally, it meant: “You’ve got to fix it before you go to bed.”
Bob: So, like two in the morning—
Ann: —three in the morning—
Bob: —and you’re exhausted.
Ann: —and I say to him, “How can you sleep?!”
Dave: I’m like, “The sun went down yesterday. We got until tomorrow night.” You know, it’s like, “Come on.” It’s a principle, but often we let it linger—we don’t address it; we don’t come back and say, “Let’s talk about what happened in that anger moment.” If we don’t, there can be a foothold that’s sort of grabbed; and then we’re stuck.
Bob: The devil grabs those moments, and drives you toward isolation, and puts a wedge and buries a thought deep in your heart that can be a toxic seed.
Ann: Even the woman, who wrote in her letter, where she’s having a hard time getting rid of the things that he said—that’s Satan getting a foothold and saying, “That’s what he really thinks about you.” It’s so much better to go back to one another and resolve it and ask, “What’s really happening?”
Dave: If you can’t, get somebody to help you—get a third party.
Bob: Yes; I think your advice is really wise. If, in the moment your passions are strong, then take a time out. It may be a six-hour time out; it may be a twenty-four-hour time out. But don’t think, just because the passion has diminished, that the issue is resolved. You have to come back in and say, “Okay; we’re in a better place, where we can talk about this now.” I think you can say: “I’m committed to you. I love you. I’m frustrated with where we are right now. Let’s make sure the foundation is there; we’re on each other’s team.”
One of the things we tell couples at the Weekend to Remember is: “Your spouse is not your enemy,”—so: “You’re not my enemy; I’m not your enemy. Let’s put the issue on the table. Let’s not talk about one another. Let’s talk about the issue, and let’s figure out how we can address that issue and still love one another in the midst of that.”
Dave: And by the way, as we all know, there is an enemy; and it’s not your spouse. We’ve talked about the enemy as Satan, who would love to keep this conflict/this anger as a wall—brick by brick—to get you apart. Yet God can work in such a way that you—actually, we’ve done this—has to be hundreds of times in our own marriage—to a place of forgiveness, where you’re able to let it go and trust God.
Bob: I think it’s important for us to say: “Some offenses”—the Bible would tell us—“just need to be overlooked”: “Love covers a multitude of sins,”—where we believe the best about the other person. They do something and we go: “You know. That’s not who they are. I’m going to let it go. I’m going to release it; I’m not going to hold on to that.” Proverbs says, “It’s a man’s glory to overlook a transgression,”—so—“You did that. I’m aware of it; I’m going to overlook it.”
If we tried to address every conflict, we’d spend all day addressing: "You know, you said that; and that wasn’t kind,”—and this and that. Sometimes, we have to pour grace on something and say, “I’m going to overlook it.”
Ann: I would add, Bob, to take account of what you’re thinking about. I know I used to dwell on things that Dave said, what he was doing or not doing. I used to think about it all the time—how unhappy I was and “If he would just do this,” or “…that.” I remember I was actually doing laundry one time. I was complaining, in my head, about Dave; and I felt God intervene in that discussion in my own head. I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me, “Why don’t you pray for him instead of complain about him?” That was convicting. I realized, “If I prayed for him half as much as I complained about him in my head, my marriage would probably be a lot different.”
I think we can do that, as women or men, but especially as women—we can go on and on about their offense, or how they’re treating our children or us; I think that that can really be Satan’s temptation to take us on a path that really does no good.
Bob: Yes; if you find that there is some offense that just stays lodged in your soul, and you can’t let it go/you can’t release it, then you have to resolve it. You have to come together and say: “This is something that is hanging in there; I can’t let it go,” and “We have to talk about it.”
As you said, Dave: “If you can’t talk about it, with one another, without the passion and the anger getting stirred up, get some help—get some friends around you—but resolve this.”
You know, you think about the whole story of the Bible. The story of the Bible is a story about a love relationship between God and the humanity he created—Adam and Eve. He loved Adam and Eve; they loved Him. They walked in the garden in the cool of the day. They loved being together. Then, a conflict arose. They rejected God; turned their back on Him.
The rest of the story of the Bible is God’s plan to continue to pursue and win back that broken relationship. The Bible is about reconciling broken relationships. When we choose to forgive/when we choose to reconcile, we are putting the gospel on display for our kids, for our neighbors, for one another. We are stepping into what is the big story of Scripture.
I want to encourage listeners—one of the issues we address at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway is the whole issue of conflict resolution: “What do we do when anger comes into a marriage relationship?” We talk about this in the Art of Marriage® video series—the small group series or the event series that/where churches can put on their own marriage conference, using the Art of Marriage material. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the Weekend to Remember; about the Art of Marriage. We have a book, by Gary Chapman, called Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion.You can order that book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you have questions you want to submit for us to tackle at some point on FamilyLife Today, there’s a place where you can do that, online, as well. Again, go to FamilyLIfeToday.com. If you’re interested in the resources we have, and you want to contact us by phone, our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I just have to read something to you that’s on our website on FamilyLifeToday.com—something that our friend, Crawford Loritts, wrote about this issue of anger. He said:
My wife Karen and I were arguing.” And Crawford said, “And I had become very angry. I felt like she was not understanding what I was trying to tell her.” He said, “We weren’t shouting at one another, but the intensity level of the conversation had taken a decidedly upward turn.”
He said, “I wanted to get out of our apartment and cool off, so I turned to walk out the door. As I did, I walked by our first child, Ryan, who was a toddler at the time, who was sitting in the middle of the living room floor. As I walked to the door and slammed it behind me, when I did, the glass in the door shattered and sprayed around the living room floor.”
He said, “When I heard that sound of breaking glass, I felt a wave of panic. I remembered Ryan had been sitting close to the door. I spun around to see that my son was surrounded by shards of glass. Miraculously, he had not been injured. I thought to myself, ‘Crawford, your outburst of anger could have hurt your son very badly.’”
He goes on in this article to talk about the impact that our anger can have in the lives of people we love. We have a link to the article on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. I’d encourage listeners—remember what James says in James, Chapter 1: “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, because the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
You know, these kinds of issues are real issues in relationships—the things we’re talking about here. These are challenges that couples experience. Without some biblical guidance, anger can destroy a marriage relationship. Here, at FamilyLife®, our goal is to effectively develop godly marriages and families.
I just want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who, not only listen to this program, but those of you who make this program possible for hundreds of thousands of people who are tuning in each day to receive practical biblical help and hope for their marriages and their families. Thanks to those of you who support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate you, and we’re thankful to be linked together with you in the work of this ministry.
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Be sure to join us tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how important it is for dads to assume responsibility for spiritual leadership in their home, and how you overcome that sense of just being “dad tired” and you get in the game. Jerrad Lopes is going to join us to talk about that. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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