Rick was the toughest cop in the room. He’d been on the force for a quarter of a century and had earned respect among his peers. He prided himself in the fact that he kept it together. But there was always a picture in the back of his mind of a little girl and her father that burned to death while he was helpless to save them because of the intensity of the fire. For twenty years he kept it inside until my husband asked him the right question.
The tears spilled and made room for relief. He’d never even told his wife that he attended the little girl’s funeral. And for years it ate at him. When he was ready, he let it go in the presence of several of his fellow coworkers. It was a powerful moment for all who were in attendance.
There will be incidents that, for whatever reason, will insert themselves into our husbands’ minds and sear the images on their hearts. There will be pain, maybe even sorrow. And, depending on your husband’s ability to cope with it, they could do some damage. For some officers, stuffing incidents like this will result in PTSD years after the fact.
I met Connie by chance at a sporting event. We got to talking and learned that we were both married to police officers. When I told her I was writing a book, she shrugged and said she had another book she was supposed to be reading. I recognized the book and thought it was very helpful to me, but she seemed to begrudge it. I asked why.
“I don’t want to read anything that gives him an excuse for bad behavior,” she replied. We plunged into a discussion as to what she was experiencing. She disclosed that her husband had anger issues. He would rant and rave at her and the kids and feel better afterward, so no apology. She and the kids were suffering. She then mentioned that it started when her kids became teenagers.
My educated guess was that her husband was feeling out of control with his teenagers. Younger children are easier to lead into obedience. They are more impressionable and tend to want to please their parents. But teenagers struggle to find their identity and are looking for their own independence. Some will fight back or disobey altogether. They are much harder to control.
Meanwhile Connie’s husband has been trained to be in control of all situations. If there are people who don’t respond to him, he has been trained to force them to comply. He was bringing home that training. His frustration at not being able to control his teenagers gave way to the explosive anger.
David Augsburger, in his book Caring Enough to Confront says this:
“Underneath my feelings of anger—there are concealed expectations. (I may not yet be aware of them myself.) Inside my angry statements – there are hidden demands. (I may not yet be able to put them into words.) Until I deal with the demands, I am doing little about it all.
“Anger may be the demand that you hear me or that you recognize my worth, or that you see me as precious and worthy to be loved, or that you respect me, let go of my arm, or quit trying to take control of my life.”
If your husband is dealing with anger, remember that anger is a demand for something. A soft answer from you may help to bring the situation to a calmer level. You can talk out some of his demands/expectations in quieter moments and help him to see what it is that he expects. When you both understand these expectations, you can work toward working through it together.
Augsburger also says, “Explosive anger is powerless to effect change in relationships …Vented anger may ventilate feelings and provide instant though temporary release for tortured emotions, but it does little for relationships.
“Clearly expressed anger, however, is something different. Clear statements of anger feelings and angry demands can slice through emotional barriers or communication tangles to establish contact.”[i]
Anger is a tricky thing. Appropriate anger to express demands is helpful to move along conflict resolution. Explosive anger isn’t helpful; in fact, it could be harmful. Linda and John had been married for several years. When they would have an argument, she would resort to yelling. Over time, her anger escalated into hitting, and it continued for years. One night she hit him several times, and he’d had enough. He called the police, and she was arrested for domestic abuse. Linda spent the next two days in jail. Fortunately, it was the wake up call she needed. “My time in jail was very sobering,” Linda recounts. “On the ceiling directly above my head were the words, ‘God will make a way.’ It spoke to me like nothing ever has. It took years and was very difficult to reconcile the events of that evening. But not only have we resumed our relationship more peacefully, we are incredibly close and our relationship has grown leaps and bounds. It truly took this all to happen to find peace and to be grateful for the trials that make us stronger. The anger I was feeling toward John had nothing to do with him…it was all me and what I needed to deal with. He was just a safe target, or so it seemed.”
While this story has had a productive outcome, many cases of spousal abuse do not. Don’t let your or your spouse’s anger escalate to the point of harm. And if it happens, get help immediately.
[i] David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Confront, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2009) page 51.