When I hear these words from a married couple, I shudder. My response is always the same. With an obviously questioning look I ask, “Never?”
And the couples’ responses are always the same, “No, never.”
And then comes the kicker for most which goes something like this, “We really don’t have anything to fight about.” or “We just agree on everything.” or “Since we love each other so much, we don’t fight.”
This was certainly true concerning Sam and Susan — I have changed the names to respect confidentiality. They attended one of my three-evening workshops on conflict management. On the first evening, I couldn’t help but notice Sam sitting on the back row with his arms crossed. He looked angry, but I wasn’t sure because he didn’t say anything. On the second evening of the workshop his body language was much clearer. I was certain that he was angry, but since he didn’t say a word, I had no idea why.
By the third evening of the workshop, he couldn’t contain himself any longer. Mid-sentence, he stood and interrupted me. “I don’t believe any of this.” I wasn’t particularly surprised by the explosion as I had wondered how he had contained himself for so long.
Looking confused (one of my specialities), I asked, “What don’t you agree with?”
“None, of it. Nothing.” Now that he had finally begun to vent, he could hardly contain himself. “Anger is a sin. Good Christian people don’t get angry.”
I thought about pointing out that he seemed really angry at the moment, but better judgement prevailed. I did point out that good Christian people did get angry; that even Jesus occasionally was angry. My words fell upon deaf ears. He turned to the beautiful woman sitting next him. “Tell him.”
Now it was her turn to look confused. She didn’t need to say a word. She didn’t need to.
He was on fire and ready to vent. “Susan and I have been married for 23 years and have never had a single fight.”
“Never?” I asked.
“Never,” he replied.
I turned my eyes to Susan obviously seeking some sort of reality check. She looked at the floor and then looked up, gazing nowhere in particular, and nodded her head, “That right. We have never had a fight.” I felt sad. In 23 years to never fight. Such shallow intimacy. How disappointing.
About six months later, I learned that Susan had been deeply involved in an affair with one of the deacons in the same church. At that point, Sam came to me for help. To say the least, the experience had humbled him. He told about the day Susan walked out of his life for good.
Although from an affluent home, Susan wanted nothing but one suitcase of clothes from their 23 years together, including their three sons who were 17, 15, and 13 years old at the time.
“This world of pretend isn’t for me,” she calmly stated with the relief that seemed to be 23 years in the making. Then, as she started to close the door behind her, she hesitated and then turned to Sam smiling.
Sam was still searching for a small glimmer of hope. Was this it? “By the way,” she casually voiced as if she might be giving the time of day, “Our youngest son isn’t yours.” Seems he was the product of yet another of many affairs. She closed the door — in every way imaginable — and calmly walked out of his life.
Was she angry? YES. And like many individuals who don’t feel free or safe enough to share their anger, she found an effective, yet destructive outlet. Her story is not unlike others who turn to any number of destructive outlets because they believe they can’t be honest with their anger.
Anger is just a feeling, like sadness, happiness, shame and anticipation. What makes anger problematic is not feeling anger, but dealing with that feeling in destructive ways. The next four Sundays, I will look at three very destructive ways of dealing with anger — exploding; blaming; and stuffing anger. I will then follow with a column on tools for constructively dealing with your anger.