By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
One of the most encouraging books that I have read on marriage and relationships is by the best-selling author Gary Smalley, who has sold millions of videos on how to strengthen our vital relationships. John Gray, the well-known author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, comments: “If you want a lasting love relationship, I highly recommend Gary Smalley’s guide to forever love”.
One of the keys to his memorable books is that Gary teaches you how to fall in love with life all over again. Everything he writes has to do with the age-old struggle between the life-giving principle of honour and the life-draining emotion of destructive anger. The average person, says Smalley, has little or no idea how damaging that forgotten or ignored anger can be. Worse yet, most people don’t even know how much destructive anger they have buried inside, much like unexploded landmines left in the middle eastern sands. Once buried, our anger does its worst damage, wreaking havoc on our physical and emotional well-being. Facing our anger is indispensable to Making Love Last Forever.
Anger, says Smalley, is a secondary emotion, not a primary feeling. It arises out of fear, frustration, hurt, or some combination of these three. Anger is actually a coping strategy to attempt to banish fear from our lives. Sometimes our parents have non-verbally taught us that perfect anger casts out all fear, when the truth is that only perfect love casts out all fear.
Smalley comments that anger can be thought of as a sticky, bad-smelling dangerous substance that can be compressed and stuffed into something like a spray can. Angry people tend to go around spraying their anger on other people. The spray is felt by others as meanness, insensitivity, and general offensiveness. Most angry people have no idea that their angry spray stings others like hydrochloric acid. Unresolved anger is the No. 1 enemy of Making Love Last Forever.
Some of us as men pride ourselves that we are not as other husbands, who physically beat up their wives in drunken rages. Yet even if our anger never turns violent or illegal, unresolved anger can still prove destructive. All of us want to feel connected in our primary relationships. But one of the most common results of deep anger is relational distance, an unwillingness and inability to let others get close. It is as if we are living inside a relational box of thick plate glass. Yet we keep wondering as men why our wives won’t become more intimate.
Unresolved anger, says Smalley, is not only destructive to our families. It is also destructive to our personal health. Many of the backaches, neckaches, and headaches that send us complaining to our GPs are actually the outworking of buried anger. Anger studies were done on medical doctors and lawyers over a 25 year period. By the age of fifty, only 4 percent of the low-ranked easy-going lawyers and 2 percent of the doctors had died. Lawyers who had ranked high on anger had a 20 percent mortality rate; doctors 14 percent. Studies are also showing that angry people are more susceptible to heart attacks – the leading cause of death in North America. Hostile anger can boost heart rates, raise blood pressure and lead to increased clogging of the arteries. What’s worse, says Smalley, is that the risk of heart attack seems to be greatly increased during the two hours following a bout with anger.
Why do we get angry anyways? Smalley suggests that we get angry because either someone is taking something away from us that we don’t want to lose, or else we’re being denied something we want to gain. By facing and grieving our losses, we break the power of anger to make our lives miserable.
Part of healthy grieving is the willingness to lay aside bitterness, the willingness to say like Jesus: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Another key to grieving, says Smalley, is to search for “hidden pearls” in any offense committed against you. The idea here is that some good can come out of any bad situation – if you’ll just look for it. That’s why the Good Book says that all things work for the good for those who love the Lord. Grieving our losses is an irreplaceable key in Making Love Last Forever.
I recently watched a most disturbing and enlightening movie entitled “The Field”. It was about an Irish farmer who dedicated his life to providing for his family’s future. But again and again his anger rose up to destroy everything and everyone that he loved. Given my Irish heritage, it was a strong warning to me that I had to face the anger in my life, or it would one day destroy me.
Unresolved anger can cripple us in so many ways. Anger keeps us distant from the very people we want to care for. In contrast, love builds bridges of trust and forgiveness. Sometimes anger even keeps us distant from God himself. Smalley has found that the greater the unresolved anger, the more difficulty that person has in developing a meaningful spiritual life. Studies after studies are confirming that a healthy spiritual life in a marriage reduces divorce rates, increases marital satisfaction, and lowers the level of relational conflict.
My prayer for those reading this article is that each of us may discover the keys to Making Love Last Forever.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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