Question: What should I do? I want a peaceful home, but there are “fireworks,” from my spouse when I least expect it.
The angry spouse is characterized by ongoing hostility, emotional outbursts, and simmering resentment. Typically, this person was raised in a home where at least one, if not both, parents struggled with this same anger and hostility in their hearts.
In a marriage, anger becomes an emotional cover for underlying unresolved hurt and pain. It seems for men to be the “sin of choice” for dealing with these difficult underlying emotions. It offers the angry spouse the illusion of feeling in control of threatening situations. In its milder form, the angry heart spills out daily sarcasm and subtle put-downs in the marriage. In its more severe form, verbal and physical abuse occurs. (You need to talk to a pastor or Christian counselor immediately, if that is true.)
A spouse with an angry heart cannot experience emotional intimacy because their wall of hostility keeps their mate (and others) from getting too close. The result is a frustrating and lonely marriage for both partners.
Ironically, many times the angry spouse likes to disguise his anger by saying, “You make me so angry.”
(Reread Why Is My Spouse Angry? on the causes of anger. You are not the cause of their anger.)
Anger is nothing new. Jesus said if we carry sinful and relationship-killing anger in our hearts toward our spouse, it’s the equivalent of spiritual homicide. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother (spouse) will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
Anger can be subtle, all the way to neck-bulging, or even go apoplectic in rage fits. The awful truth is that all degrees of the spectrum are deadly to marriage and intimacy.
But, what if there’s only one soft heart? That’s the $1,000,000 question. So often, we get asked the question “what do I do, if my spouse ruins life with hourly, daily or weekly anger fits?”
Part One of the Answer: Never underestimate the power of one softened heart to influence the other heart.
While there is no guarantee that one softened heart will call out a softened heart in the other spouse, it is the best opportunity we have to see it happen. This we might call “The Weber Grill Principle of Marriage.” In our fair city, Weber grills were first produced, and in fact several popular restaurants exist by the same name. Savory food is prepared over a real charcoal and barrel-like stove; just to walk in the door is to catch the delectable scent of a summer backyard barbeque in progress.
What is the Weber Grill Principle of Marriage? It’s described by Solomon in the book of Proverbs, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (25:21-22). This same passage is repeated and expanded upon in the New Testament by the apostle Paul, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, `It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: `If you enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).
Your enemy at this moment might be none other than your husband or wife. In their hard-hearted state, they may have said or done things that have hurt or even devastated you. The Bible says it’s precisely at this moment our soft heart is to take over our words and actions. (That doesn’t mean that you don’t set boundaries.)
We are to live at peace as far as it depends on us. We are to leave the matter of justice, wrath, and repayment to God. Contrary to our fallen human nature, we are actually to reach out to our hard-hearted spouse with acts of unmerited grace and kindness. If they are hungry, we are to offer them food. If they are thirsty we are to give them something to drink.
What’s the grand purpose God has in mind behind this unexpected and undeserved care and compassion we show our hard-hearted spouse? “In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.” That’s the Weber Grill Principle of Marriage. As we show our spouse unmerited kindness and love, it will have the same impact as if we took a Weber grill filled with glowing charcoal briquettes and dumped them out on our spouse’s head.
Now that may sound rather mean, if not vengeful to do. It’s not; instead it symbolizes the power of kindness to bring searing conviction to an otherwise stubborn and callused heart. It may also refer to the unusual practice in the ancient Near East of a person carrying around a basket of smoking-hot coals on their head. They did this to symbolize their deep contrition and genuine repentance over wrongs they had committed. Our acts of unexpected mercy, grace, and compassion extended to our spouse will impact their hardened heart. Let us stress again, while we are encouraging a soft heart to stay soft, we definitely are not encouraging spouses to remain in an abusive environment. Again, if this is where you find yourself, you need to call your pastor or Biblical counselor today.
Perhaps the ultimate example of retaining a softened heart in the face of an evil heart, is Christ’s example on the Cross. At the moment of His greatest physical agony He prayed, “`Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up His clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, `He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One (Luke 23:33-35).
A soft heart is the opposite of an angry heart. What’s the use of maintaining a soft heart when our spouse’s heart is as hard as cement?
A soft heart maintains our open and intimate relationship with God.
A soft heart sets the right example for our children.
A soft heart will open your life up to unexpected blessings.
A soft heart creates the best opportunity for our spouse’s heart to change.
A soft heart accumulates eternal rewards stored for us in heaven.
The Scriptures tell us our real reward is not in this life, but in the world to come. Hebrews 10:35 assures us, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Jesus makes the same promise in the book of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (22:12).
There may be right now no visible reason or tangible encouragement to continue keeping our heart soft toward our spouse. We may have reached the point where a change of heart on their part seems all but impossible. It may be that we are ready to give up and walk away from the relationship. Could we encourage you to continue to maintain your soft heart for no other reason that it will one day be richly rewarded when Christ returns to earth? Difficult as it may be to grasp, magnificent, glorious and eternal rewards are accumulating for us in heaven as we continue to unconditionally love or respect our spouse. Is that just imaginative or wishful thinking? Listen to the clear teaching of Paul, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
It may seem like all our gestures of kindness, acts of compassion, and attempts at love have been wasted on our spouse. Their heart seems as far from yours as the east is from the west. Yet, according to God’s Word something very valuable, even eternal has been occurring. Our eternal reward for obeying the command to love our wife or respect our husband (Ephesians 5:25-33) has been steadily building.
It reminds us of the true story of a pastor who never earned more than $20,000 a year in his entire career, yet he married and raised a family on that modest income. He lived quite simply, and at the same time put away a portion of his salary into his savings (that continued to earn compounded interest). Near the end of his active ministry he approached a financial consultant in his congregation with a simple question. “What should he do now with his accumulated life savings?” The consultant was shocked when he learned the pastor had more than one million dollars in the bank.
The same compounding interest principle holds true in the reward we will receive in heaven, if we keep our hearts soft toward our spouse, over a lifetime. The returns may not be immediate or impressive to start with. Yet, our faithfulness over a lifetime will produce a huge and lasting reward. We will one day hear the words from Christ Himself, “…’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).’
It reminds us of a principle we learned years ago from an E. Stanley Jones devotional book, “You cannot do the right thing, and ultimately have it turn out wrong. Nor can you do the wrong thing and ultimately have it turn out right. God’s moral universe will not allow it to happen.”
If we choose to keep our heart soft toward our spouse even when their heart is not, it can only turn out right in the end. The integrity of God’s Word guarantees it. As Numbers 23:19 declares, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” Hang on! The answer is three parts, so we’ll have more on this topic on Friday. We will cover how to soften your own heart and how to set boundaries with an angry spouse.
Dear God, We pray even this day that you, the Lord of the universe, would work to soften even our hearts. For your honor and glory, Amen