Anger and resentment toward ourselves and others can destroy our health and the peace of those around us. Acknowledging the deep-rooted hurts we have experienced, realizing that we probably cannot right the wrongs that were done, and releasing the bitterness in our lives into the hands of God are essential to our well-being.
The couple mentioned throughout this booklet initially felt that a divorce was really best for them. The Veteran’s behavior was out-of-control, and he felt hopeless at being able to change his aggressive outbursts. The wife was scared not only of her husband’s anger, but also frightened by the angry feelings inside of her. When the Veteran and his wife first sought counseling, they both wanted to run away from the painful things which were causing the angry outbursts. They both learned that it would take great courage to address the hurts behind their anger.
After the Veteran and wife met separately with a marriage therapist and a chaplain over a few months for intense therapy, the following conversation occurred in the chaplain’s office.
The Veteran turned to his wife and said, “Sweetheart, I am so sorry for how I have hurt you. You are so gentle and kind. You have certainly not deserved the angry outbursts which I have thrown at you. Please forgive me.” The Veteran’s tone was contrite and yet he appeared frightened, as if he felt he was taking a very big risk.
His wife immediately looked surprised, with an unreleased glimmer of tears in her eyes. She hesitated, looking down as she responded, “You don’t know how long I have hoped you could say and really mean those words.” There was an extended pause, “But I need you to understand that your anger still scares me.”
“It scares me too. I am sorry. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I know you don’t want to, that’s what makes it scary. You don’t want to and yet you still do. How can I trust that it will be any different?”
“I am not saying I will be perfect. Thanks to the chaplain and the therapist I now can see I need help to deal with my anger. I need your help too. Would you be willing to consider forgiving me for the hurt I have caused you?”
“That’s hard, because I am still scared. If I forgive you I feel that I would be letting my guard down, and I am just learning that it is OK for me to be angry too, to protect myself. On the other hand I don’t want to have this end in a divorce.”
Since the chaplain had often seen one member of a couple wanting to move toward asking forgiveness before his or her partner felt enough healing or enough safety to be able to forgive, the chaplain stated, “I think I hear you each saying that you care for this relationship. You both seem to want to end some of the patterns of anger and defensiveness that have you have toward each other. In my experience it takes a great deal of courage to ask for forgiveness and a great deal of trust to give forgiveness when one has been hurt. From a chaplain’s perspective, working through the hurt and pain caused by destructive expressions of anger and learning healthy ways to express anger can take some time. Different couples find that forgiveness comes in different places on that journey. I am wondering if each of you would be willing to return to my office in a few weeks to talk about what needs to be done to prepare for a discussion about forgiveness that would feel safe for each of you. If you will be willing to try that, I will give you some questions today to reflect upon until our next visit.