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I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!' said Amber to her husband, Evan.
'Why don't you just shut your mouth? All you ever do is moan and groan. You make me sick!' was Evan's quick retort. Evan and Amber had come into my office for some marital counseling. Like countless other couples, they were expressing the anger and hostility that lay deep within them. Henry Brandt, one of the world's most respected biblical counselors, has suggested that anger is involved in 80--90 percent of all counseling. I would have to agree.
Marital conflict abounds in our society. Divorce is on the rise and is a source of anger for many. Countless arguments revolve around visitation rights of parents. Some parents have become so angry that they have even kidnapped their own children so their spouse cannot have any contact. One of the biggest problems in second marriages is children from the first marriage. Arguments frequently flare up over discipline and child-rearing techniques.
Alimony also creates anger. I read in the newspaper about a man who paid his alimony payments in nickels. Another man, a cement truck driver, was so mad at his former wife that he got even with her in a unique manner. Rolling down her car window, he filled the car with cement while it was parked in front of her house.
One study indicated that 80 percent of couples who verbally abuse each other ended up in physical combat. Every year, two million women are beaten by their husbands. Approximately 40 percent of all women murdered were killed by their husbands. As an interesting side note, one study of 'male batterers' indicated that the men were not out of control. Their heart rates even decreased during the times when they were emotionally upset. The study seemed to indicate that the men got violent on purpose in order to produce fear and to control their wives.
A minister asked that I counsel his wife for an unrepentant affair she was having. Expecting to see a siren walk into my office, I was surprised to find a gracious, soft-spoken woman of forty-five who told this story through her tears: Her husband was a dynamic minister, very successful in his church and admired by everyone. But he had one sin she could not excuse. He was an angry, hostile man whom she considered 'overly strict and physically abusive of our three children. He cannot control his anger and has on one occasion beaten our oldest son unconscious.' When the boy turned nineteen, he ran away and joined a gang. Brokenhearted, she said, 'From that day on I lost all feeling for my husband.'
An extreme situation like this never occurs suddenly. It had been building up for years, primarily related to major disagreements over disciplining the children. She had learned to live with his other angry explosions, but she could not endure his manhandling of the children. Too fearful to voice her real feelings, she witnessed her husband's angry frustrations worked out on the heads, faces, and backsides of their children. Although she only interrupted on extreme occasions, she acknowledged 'dying a little' each time he abused them. As it turned out, her affair was not a real love problem but a retaliation intended to spite her husband.
When the minister came in, he was obviously desperate. I was never sure if he sought help because he really loved his wife, or if he was just trying to save his ministry. When confronted with his hostilities, he retorted, 'If a man can't let down and be himself at home, where can he?' I was silent for a long time. As he sat there thinking, he finally admitted, 'That sounds pretty carnal, doesn't it?' Before leaving, he came to realize that his anger was as bad as or worse than her adultery. Although this man was able to salvage his marriage, as far as I know he has never regained his son. In all probability, more sons and daughters have been alienated from their fathers because of Dad's anger than anything else. And the tragic part of it is that the son will probably treat his son the same way. Angry fathers tend to produce angry children. Therefore it's not surprising that anger and hostility are not limited to husbands and wives. I have counseled young people who wished their parents were dead. Part of their anger stems from the abuse they have received at the hands of their parents. Approximately one million children a year suffer from some form of child abuse. This abuse can take the form of emotional abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. More than five children a day die at the hands of their parents or caregivers.
I remember counseling one young mother of two who tearfully confessed to feelings of such anger at her infant when he screamed that she sometimes entertained 'thoughts of choking him.' She then added, 'I'm so afraid I'll do something harmful to my baby.' Upon further questioning, I discovered that she had been rejected by her father and was clinging to bitter thoughts about that rejection. Her rancorous attitude was eating her up, in spite of the fact that her father had been dead for five years.
In recent years, there has been an increase in elder abuse, often instigated by children toward their parents or by staff workers in nursing care homes. Some people have taken to hiding television cameras in their parents' homes or nursing centers to catch elder abusers in action. These abusers can be seen slapping, punching, and shoving the helpless elderly individuals.
Verbal abuse and fighting take place in many homes and at extended family gatherings. The two primary times for family arguments to occur are a half hour before everyone leaves in the morning and a half hour before dinner in the evening. In the morning the pressure of leaving on time is a major factor. In the evening, everyone is tired, hungry, and irritable. A general surliness tends to fill the home.
Many arguments between husbands and wives occur later in the evening just before going to bed. As a general rule of thumb, discussions