Tips for Mixed-Faith Marriages: Consider Anger Management Part 2
8. Like all feelings, anger can lie to you. Like I mentioned in the previous post, confirmation bias is a thing. And it doesn’t matter how smart or “rational” you think you are… you’re affected by it. Most of us think we are making “rational” decisions… hugely underestimating the effect emotions have on our choices. This is true of believers and non-believers. We are all primarily emotional creatures. And although critical thinking is hopefully a part of it, it is never the entirety of our experience. See “the Righteous Mind” if you’re interested in more reading about this. I also did a great podcast with Lisa Butterworth on cognitive dissonance that covers this topic on Mormon Mental Health Podcast (Emotions vs. Logic... Frenemies?).
9. Anger likes the blame game. This is where anger gets displaced. Instead of focusing on ourselves and how anger could be informing us, it’s far easier to blame our spouse, the "church", the podcast you just listened to, your parents, your entire upbringing, etc. Be willing to sit with your anger and what it implies for you... but be cautious of it's main effect being a blame game where you deflect responsibility or where you're resisting to see the entirety of a situation and its many complicating factors.
10. Anger likes “either/or” scenarios. It hates the “yes/and” approach… because the yes/and approach forces anger to become nuanced. Nuanced anger is usually more tepid than either/or anger. Not as powerful or justifiable or "feel good" in the way anger can be.
11. Make attempts to balance anger in your life. Faith transitions can be fairly life consuming… after all they are hitting you at the very core of your identity. At the same time, they don’t define you. Look for ways to find more balance in your life. If you’re primarily a podcast listener of people who find fault with religious communities... it might be time to diversify. If you’re a scripture reader or only look at things that are faith affirming... it might be time to diversify. Don’t stay stuck… move into new territories. Look for other themes. Figure out what you most value and move towards spaces where your energy goes to those things.
12. Find safe ways and places to process anger. At times this can be your spouse… because cluing each other into our innermost feelings can be a way to become closer and increase emotional intimacy in the long run. But do not solely rely on your spouse because you will become a burden. And don’t use your spouse if you both reliably fall into toxic conflict when you try (time to find a good marriage therapist). Find support groups, professionals, friends and family (who will not fuel your anger) and literature/audio resources that offer safe spaces to not only “vent” but to also move into solution-focused arenas. I like the book called "The Dance of Anger"... even though it's directed at women, I think anyone would benefit from the read.
13. Find ways to have boundaries with your anger. Have set times or ways that you agree to have “anger” show up. Have strategies where you can tell anger you need a break. Practice both distraction strategies (i.e. coping mechanisms that take your mind off of anger like exercise, taking a shower, watching a show, having sex, playing with your kids, etc.) and mindfulness strategies (i.e. “leaning in” mechanisms like sitting with anger in a meditative way, practicing daily meditation, practicing non-judgment as you experience anger, doing a body check to see what your physiology is telling you, etc.).
14. Just a side tip from your friendly sex therapist: as long as you’re following the principles of sexual health (i.e. consent, non-exploitation, honesty, and mutual pleasure) angry sex can be hot, passionate, stress-relieving and a lot of fun.
These tips 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."