I Knew I Could Not Stay Angry and Progress in My Marriage

By on March 5, 2012

When Thomas came to counseling he was very angry with his wife, Jessica.

We talked through his anger and an assortment of other things too.

We talked and talked and talked and talked.

The bottom line was that he was angry with Jessica and he was not planning on changing his attitude any time soon.

Our counseling ceased shortly thereafter.

We remained friends and he remained determined to hold onto his unforgiveness toward his wife. Counseling is not about changing people, but about speaking God’s truth to people.

Whether they change or not is not so much dependent upon the counselor as it is dependent upon the person’s desire and intent on doing what God is asking him to do. Thomas did not want to do what God wanted him to do, at least not during the time we were meeting.

Eventually our counseling came to an end. You can only ask a person to “be nice” so many times. Either the person will seek to become nice or he will stop coming to counseling. In the case of Thomas, he stopped coming to counseling.

One year later

Last week I met with Thomas again. This was the first time I saw him in a counseling context in about a year. We met for reasons other than his marriage, but I did ask him about his anger toward Jessica. He paused. Then he said, “I’m not angry with her anymore. I knew I could not stay angry with her and make any progress in my marriage.”

Isn’t that the way it always goes? What I mean is this: how many people do you talk to like Thomas who truly do not know what to do about their problems? He knew all along that he was angry with his wife and that he needed to change his mind about his angry attitude.

There was no doubt that Jessica was doing some things wrong in their marriage, but that did not matter as far as Thomas changing. Would Thomas be able to stand before Christ and say, “I know I was sinning, but it was in part because of Jessica.” We know the answer to that question. The only excuse to sinning is, “I chose to sin. I am at fault. Nobody made me do it. It’s all on me.”

There were two issues at hand regarding Thomas and Jessica. One of them Thomas could control and one of them he could not. What he could control was whether he wanted to be angry at her. What he could not control was his wife’s choices.

Thomas decided that he would control what he could control. He repented of his anger toward his wife. His marriage is not perfect today, but it is better than it was simply because he decided to change (repent) his mind.

He quit saying but–the justifying conjunction that takes the edge off sin. He stopped invoking other rationalizations for why he was angry. He quit denying the truth about himself and his sin.

Coinciding this time with Thomas this past week was an email I received from a person who had been struggling similarly in sin. This Christian demonstrates how we all know when we’re sinning and even why we sin. What she said below could be mapped over any of our lives.

I was the person who wouldn’t change. Through the work of the Lord through the Holy Spirit and the tenacious and loving confrontation of a Christian sister, the Lord has granted me repentance for the bitterness that I allowed into my heart dating back many years. This spilled over into other areas of my life. My heart was stony and I knew it, but I was stuck in anger.

Will you decide to change?

Each of us have to come to that place where we are going to be honest with ourselves and possibly with others. If we choose to justify our anger or rationalize any of our sins away, we will not make any progress in our relationships, whether that relationship is with God or with others. Our problem is not so much about being dumb as it is about being honest.

Thomas and my email friend both knew what they needed to do. It was a matter of whether they were going to do it or not. Were they going to repent. The good news for them is that they decided that they were going to repent. And God gave them empowering grace for their humility–they changed.

I remember when I was sitting in jail as a 15-year old punk kid. Sometime during that five-day lock-up I decided that I was not going to continue to live the life I had been living. I determined while sitting in my 10 x 10 concrete walled room that I was not going to go in the direction I had been going. I was a pagan who repented the best I knew how.

The interesting thing about this was that I did not become a Christian until ten years later. Though I did not know God and was a decade away from knowing God, I began walking down the road to repentance that day while sitting in jail. I don’t know why it took so long to get to God. I don’t know why it took so long for me to get to the real truth.

It doesn’t matter to me now and it didn’t matter to me then since I did not know that there was a better truth out there. All I knew as a 15-year old kid was that I did not want to live the way I had been living. I made a decision to quit my foolishness. From that point forward I tried to do better.

I turned over new leaves. I make many resolutions. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and all the other things a person does in order to change his ways. I cut my hair. I clean up my language. I stopped smoking weed. I became a hard worker at work. I changed. This path of self-reformation eventually led me to God ten years later.

You’re not a victim – stop acting like it

The point is this: a person who truly wants to change will change without conditions. A person who wants to hem-haw about change and make excuses about change is not interested in changing, but is only talking about change from a damage control or what’s in it for me kind of way.

Initially Thomas came to me for counseling because he was in a bad marriage and his wife was not meeting all of his expectations. He had a legitimate gripe in some ways. His argumentation could be partially validated. But he was also wrong in other ways. He was guilty too.

However, during our time together he talked about change within the context of his wife changing too. He was essentially saying, “Yes, I know I need to change but my wife needs to change also.” That is not how change works.

I used a similar argument when I was a teenager. I could have given you a long list of reasons as to why I was the way I was. Though I knew my guilt and knew that I needed to change, I was able to make a strong case about all the injustices in my life. This kinda rounded the corners off my sin and positioned me for a victim-centered paradigm.

Because there was enough truth in my victimization, there were always people who were willing to show me sympathy. This allowed me to stay in my sin, while not feeling so bad about it. The truth was that I was just like Thomas. Though I had a good argument for what was happening to me, I also knew that I was guilty.

It took a 10 x 10 jail cell to drive that truth through my thick head. I don’t know what it took to drive that truth through my friend’s thick head, but he was right: he knew that he could not stay angry and progress in his marriage.

You’re not a victim so stop acting like it. Nobody has ever done anything to you that is more severe or more damning than what you have done to Christ. The sinless Son of Man died on a cruel tree to rescue you and me from our sins. It is unwise, unkind, and intellectually dishonest to strut around like a victim in light of Calvary’s truth.

Things are still the same

As you think about changing, be sure to adjust your heart about your motives for change. Your motives for change must be because you want to make God’s name great and nothing else. This is an essential key to change.

As I mentioned above when I began the road to change at fifteen I did not get to God until ten years later. My motive was simple: I wanted to change because I wanted to change. I did not say that I would change if my daddy changed or my brothers changed or my life circumstances changed. I changed because I wanted to change my ways. That’s all.

Therefore, if you need to change. Then change. Don’t over-complicate it or over-think it. Just change. Stop your meanness and change. Don’t put conditions on it. Don’t say, “I will change and after I do I expect this or that to happen.” Even as a pagan kid I knew better than that.

There were no conditions. I simply said I’m not going to walk the way I have been walking anymore. I’m gonna walk another way. Though I had no clue as to where that new way was going to lead me or what the results would be, it didn’t matter–I had to change. In my case part of the results was me eventually becoming a Christian.

When I initially made a decision to change virtually nothing else in my life changed at all. My brothers were still mean. My dad was still a drunk. My school teachers continued to judge me for my reputation as well as my family’s reputation. Nobody was reaching out to help me, but that was not the reason I began to change. I changed because I was tired of being the way I was.

Though I could not control what others were or were not doing, I could make a decision–I could change. Do you really want to change? If so, then this is what you need to do:

Step #1 – Be honest. Quit playing the victim card. Tell the real truth about yourself. Don’t add any ifs, ands, or buts to the assessment of your life. For this one time in your life, you are permitted to make this all about you. Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about you.

Step #2 – Tell a friend. Let someone else know how you need to change and why you need to change and hold them accountable for holding you accountable to change. Don’t let them off the hook. Make them speak into your life.

Step #3 – Guard your heart. Watch yourself to make sure you’re not tempted to fall back into old patterns. You may desire for certain things to happen because you have changed. Your personal change does not mean others will do the same.

Step #4 – Gratitude. Thank God daily because He gave you the desire to change and the power to change. Two of my brothers and my dad died because of their sin choices. I am very sad about that. But I am also very grateful that He changed me.

There may be some people in your life who never change, but that should not control you to the point that you won’t change. You can change if you want to. It’s your decision. You have the power to choose between a metaphorical 10 x 10 jail cell or to be free.

 

Originally posted on The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc.

About Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas has been training and counseling in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own Christian training organization in order to assist Christians around the world regarding a better understanding and practice of Christian discipleship. In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. Later he earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow with a nationally recognized counseling group. Today his organization represents clients in over 90 countries as well as all 50 states through his consulting, training, blogging, and coaching. Website: http://www.rickthomas.net/

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I Knew I Could Not Stay Angry and Progress in My Marriage