When I wrote The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another, I considered adding a small chapter on anger. I decided against it, but I believe that anger is an issue that must be dealt with in marriage.
I just preached through James 1:19-21 yesterday and thought through some of the ramifications of that text for marriage. "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls."
Perhaps it would be wise to begin with a definition of anger. In Uprooting Anger, Robert Jones defines anger as: "Our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil." In other words, anger is what we feel when we think something unjust has happened. Anger is what we feel when we think something should have happened differently. Anger is what we feel when what we think of as rights are violated.
Marriage provides many opportunities for anger to be expressed. How can two sinful, selfish people live together without wronging one another? Anger is often our first instinctive response to those wrongs. If anger is allowed to have free reign in those situations, nothing good is going to happen. Conflict is assumed when anger is present. But conflict doesn't have to lead to anger.
James warns against anger in the text above. Husbands and wives must be quick to hear. When a conflict arises, we should desire to properly understand the perspective of our spouse. In order to do that, we must listen to them. We are often slow to hear our spouse. We'd rather tell our spouse how it is.
James says to be slow to speak. We're often quick to speak. We demand first opportunity to express our thoughts. We might allow our spouse to speak, but we're not listening. In our minds, we've demanded to express ourselves. And if we don't express ourselves vocally, we often express ourselves internally by ignoring what our spouse is saying - "talking over" them in our minds.
When we are slow to hear and quick to speak, anger is probably just around the corner. James says to be slow to anger. Anger seems to come upon us quickly. It is something we can feel welling up inside of us. Our heart-rate increases. Our muscles tense up. We refuse to hear the rational arguments of our spouse. It is up to us to reverse this process when it comes upon us. We don't have to respond with anger. We must talk ourselves down. When we feel our rights have been violated, we know anger is probably coming. We have to block that response with some other response. What response blocks the response of anger?
Faith. When our spouse wrongs us, we have to trust that God and the gospel are bigger than the wrong committed by our spouse. We have to trust our souls to a faithful Savior who's working out everything for our good. We don't have to respond with anger because wrongs can't ultimately hurt us. They're just minor inconveniences.
Of course, wrongs don't feel like minor inconveniences at the time. That's why we have to talk ourselves down with the truth. James says the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. As Christians, our desire is to please God. We want our responses to glorify God. James says that man's anger doesn't bring about God-glorifying results.
Faith brings about God-glorifying results. If we are nurturing a love for God and a delight in his gospel, then we have a vessel to sail over the waves of conflict free from anger. If we are not nurturing a love for God and a delight in his gospel, then we will be prone to anger. The reason for this is evident.
The gospel is constantly drawing our gaze heaven-ward, to where Christ is. Christ is the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. He has set the example of how to patiently endure the wrongs of others for the joy set before him. When he drew the anger and malice of others, he didn't return with anger and malice. He returned love for hatred, service for anger. He did this because he recognized that heaven will compensate for any wrong done to him. The same is true for us today. In short, heaven's promise of never-ending, ever-increasing bliss makes anger superfluous.