“What can I do about losing my temper with my wife and children?” Ensign, Oct. 1980, 36–37
Clark Swain, associate professor of marriage and family studies, Boise State University, Idaho, and marriage and family counselor You’ve already done one thing right—you have taken it seriously. A lot of people in your situation simply say, “I have a bad temper,” and expect other people to accommodate them. There’s nothing genetic about a bad temper; it comes from imitating others and from not controlling oneself.
How can we wisely manage anger in our marriage and family relationships? Here are some suggestions:
1. Acknowledge your anger. I’ve found that it’s not very helpful to pretend I’m not angry when I am. Instead, saying clearly, “I am feeling angry” or “I’m feeling mad at you” opens the door to overcoming my anger.
2. Restrain your anger. If necessary, spend time counting to ten, and repeating to yourself such scriptures as, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty” (Prov. 16:32). The truth is, we cannot communicate with another person when our temper is out of control; we hurt him, instead.
In contrast to this, at least one school of thought teaches that the way to get rid of anger is to intensely express it. I have found that just the opposite is true. Marriage and family researchers have discovered that the possibility of physical violence goes up in direct proportion to verbal violence—both from what a couple say and from how loudly they say it. This is why it’s so important to restrain our anger after we have admitted it. Strongly expressing an emotion such as anger increases the intensity of that emotion. In a marriage, we want to increase feelings of love, not hostility. If one person will lower his voice, the other will usually do the same.
3. After admitting your anger and restraining it, carefully and kindly explain why you’re angry. This doesn’t mean accusing or threatening. Instead, simply explain why you became angry. I counseled with a couple whose marriage and family relationships had been chronically damaged by the wife’s misuse of anger. She had a habit of shouting at her husband and children while throwing kitchen utensils and other household items to the floor. Then she would refuse to explain to her family the reason for the angry outburst. She gradually learned from marriage counseling how to admit the fact that she was feeling angry, how to restrain her anger, and how to explain why the anger arose.
It is a good idea for a couple to temporarily get away from each other if one or both of them are falling apart at the “anger seams.” Elder LeGrand Richards of the Council of the Twelve, who performed our temple wedding, told us, “Whenever you feel like arguing, take a walk outdoors in opposite directions. If you will do this, you’ll both get a lot of fresh air and become great outdoorsmen.” There’s truth beneath the humor. The physical exercise can change our emotional state as well as give us time to think through the problem and let the intensity of the emotion fade away.
Memorizing certain scriptures can also help us increase our ability to love and decrease our angry reactions. Paul said,
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger … be put away from you. …
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” (Eph. 4:31–32.)
And James tells us, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20).
Jesus said to the Nephites,
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Ne. 11:29, 30).
4. Remember to forget. One time, just as I was leaving for work, I shouted urgently at my wife, Eleanor. She answered, “It’ll be a long time before I feel like loving you again!”
That night I edged warily into the house, not knowing what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised when she cheerfully said, “Hi, dear!”
“Hey, aren’t you mad at me?” I asked.
“What about?” she countered. She had forgotten, or at least had disregarded, our earlier conflict, and we were able to talk reasonably about its causes.
Sometimes we remember in detail and even memorize the angry words of others, and we let these words—instead of pleasant words or loving feelings—define our relationships with them. As we learn to accentuate the positives in our marriages and families, our relationships will grow and our abilities to cope with anger will increase.