Tips for Mixed-Faith Marriages: Consider Anger Management Part 1

The fourth tip I offer is:

Consider anger management and watching for displaced anger. What and how?

1. We all have a right to the feeling of anger. Anger after all is only a feeling… and a secondary feeling at that (meaning it’s predecessor is some form of fear or pain/sadness). And remember “Inside Out?” Anger is the cute, little red guy. He’s not that scary, right? (If you haven’t watched that movie… watch it! Great emotional intelligence education.) Like all feelings… anger has a right to exist. And there are justifiable reasons to be angry. Even within the context of Christianity with the “perfect” Jesus, we have the example of righteous anger being wielded in the temple where He has a fit with those disrespecting sacred space. Well… faith transitioners are angry. Their sacred space of identity, assumed truth, community and upbringings has been disrespected. Believing spouses are angry. Their sacred space of home, testimony and life expectations has been disrespected. We are all throwing righteous fits… and with good reasons. Let's just be willing to start there.

2. Many religious cultures are uncomfortable with the feeling of anger. We are taught that “contention is of the devil.” Tension and anger are seen as human weaknesses meant to be controlled and packed away. And so when faced with these normal feelings we are often ill-equipped to manage them. We are good at “sweeping things under the rug" becoming conflict-avoidant and passive-aggressive instead of direct. And because we are generally nice people, we also would rather protect each other than cause conflict (offering protection-style marriages instead of intimacy-style marriages). So anger is either ignored, dismissed, shelfed or shamed. And how do we generally feel when we are ignored, dismissed, shelfed or shamed…. ANGRY! So, can you really blame anger if it comes back to bite you in the butt every time it's not addressed?

3. Anger is a great informant. The whole point of “Inside Out” is that each feeling has a role. A job. A reason for existing. Anger is a great information giver. It can clue you in to ways that you are being mistreated… or things that are not fair/just. It can offer you insights you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. If you're willing to notice patterns of anger, you might start better understanding certain things that trigger you, things that are not healthy for you to be a part of, or messages that have had shaming effects on you.

4. Anger is a great motivator. Often times we are not moved to action until we feel the motivation driven by anger. Anger can offer the “last straw” that no longer makes your status quo okay. We are creatures that resist change. Change is hard. Even good change. So anger can act as a catalyst towards shifting or getting us to move away from the typical patterns or lifestyles or relationships that have become toxic or unhealthy for our wellbeing. Healthy boundaries are a great product of anger.

5. Anger is an important part of the grief cycle. Faith transitions are chalked full of grief… for everyone involved. And so it stands to reason that you are all going through your own versions of the grief cycle. And feeling anger is not only a normal part of that process, but a necessary part. A part that will more quickly help you arrive at "healing" rather than detract from it.

6. Anger has consequences. Because anger triggers our defense responses… it primarily functions in what is commonly referred to as our “reptile brain.” Yup. Pretty much what you’re visualizing. A reptile brain is tiny. And it’s mainly functioning from a space of pure survival. This part of our flight/fight/freeze response can be triggered in nano-seconds, increases your adrenaline, brings blood to your extremities (i.e. not your brain), and lowers your IQ. Yup. You’re usually stupider when angry. Sorry to break it to you. And because we act stupider when angry… over time, this can have huge implications within the relationships we care most about. Even if your anger is “righteous”… you’re going to have to figure out a way to manage it if you expect people you care about to stay willing to engage with you. In worst case scenarios anger can become violent and this can never be seen as acceptable behavior... particularly in the cases of domestic violence toward a spouse or child.

7. Unchecked, anger can be paralyzing. Getting stuck in an anger phase can color your view of the world by placing too much importance on only certain parts of your experiences. We call this hypervigilance or confirmation bias. You only pay attention to those things that confirm what you’re angry about. It can play a role in developing or exacerbating mental health disorders such as clinical depression and anxiety disorders.

Stay tuned next week for part 2 for seven more bullet points.

In the meantime, this tip and many others are included in the book called One Family, Two Views: How to Fortify your Mixed-Faith Mormon Marriage.

Although this book is geared towards Mormon families, any couple going through a faith transition would find the general principles helpful.

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST has been in practice as a mental health professional for over 20 years, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, and sexuality. She writes a blog called "The Mormon Therapist," and hosts the podcasts "Mormon Mental Health," and "Mormon Sex Info." She also produces "Sex Talk with Natasha."

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