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BOILING POINTUNDERSTANDING MEN AND ANGER
By Stephen Arterburn David Stoop
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Stephen Arterburn David Stoop
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE DAY THE LAWN MOWER DIED
Cliff was as kind and mild-mannered a husband and father as you'd ever want to meet. He worked hard, made a decent living, was active in his church, and loved to putter in his garden.
One summer day Cliff pulled his year-old power lawn mower out of the shed and rolled it onto his beautifully landscaped back lawn. He attached the bagger, set the controls on "START," and pulled the cord. Nothing. He pulled again. The engine turned over a couple of times, coughed, then died. He pulled again, again, and again. With each vigorous pull of the cord, the engine belched smoke and gas fumes but wouldn't start.
Finally, after another hearty pull, the engine roared to life. Cliff straightened up and adjusted the throttle, but before he could take a step, the engine died again. He stared at the mower and sighed deeply. Then he tried to restart it-once, twice, three times-but it wouldn't kick in. After glaring at the mower for several seconds,
Janice had noticed through the kitchen window that her husband was having trouble with the mower. "Is the mower broken?" she asked as Cliff walked in the back door and through the kitchen. He didn't answer her, didn't even acknowledge her presence. He just walked past her and down the hall to the den. In a couple of moments he came back through the kitchen carrying his prized deer-hunting rifle and a handful of shells. "Cliff?" Janice called to him in a tone of mild alarm. "Cliff, what are you doing?" Again Cliff walked past her and out the back door as if she were invisible. Janice held her breath as she watched him from the window.
Cliff walked to within ten feet of the lawn mower, then stopped. He methodically slid several shells into the rifle's magazine. Then he bolted a shell into the chamber, lifted the rifle, and took dead aim at the defenseless machine. Pow-clang! Pow-clang! Pow-clang! With each direct hit the lawn mower shuddered, and sparks and tiny shreds of metal exploded from it. It was a wonder that Cliff wasn't struck by the shrapnel.
After emptying the magazine into the lawn mower, Cliff calmly walked back into the house and retired to the den to clean his gun, closing the door behind him. Janice stood in the kitchen, dumbfounded. She had never before seen such a change of character in her meek and mild husband. He was never one to display his emotions-until now! And it frightened her to wonder what other startling quirks might be lurking beneath Cliff's quiet, confident exterior.
The Phenomenon of Masculine Anger
You may think that Cliff's behavior is a little far-fetched for a healthy, mature, intelligent,American male, but it's really not. The description of Cliff's measured but violent assault on his stubborn lawn mower is based on a true case history. Cliff's explosion is representative of an alarmingly widespread phenomenon among men of the twenty-first century. Men today are angry. Their anger is deep-seated and, like their other emotions, carefully guarded and controlled most of the time. They may not know why they're angry. They may even deny that they are angry. But they're ticked off, seething, boiling deep inside.
The publicity surrounding the O. J. Simpson trial has brought the problem of domestic violence to a greater degree of public awareness. We wept as we watched and prayed for the families who lost loved ones in the Oklahoma City bombing. What kind of anger had to be boiling inside someone who set off a bomb outside a building that housed a day-care center filled with innocent children?
I see the fear of that anger, which they know exists, all too often in my office as wives gingerly begin to talk about important concerns they have regarding their marriages-concerns they are afraid to bring up when they are alone with their husbands. They're afraid to even begin to talk about some subjects because they fear for their safety. In most cases, these are women who have not ever been physically struck by their husbands. But their tempers are so out-of-control that the women are convinced that "the next time he might really lose it and hit me."
You might expect this with couples who are talking about divorce, but I'm talking about couples who love each other and have come to see me because they want their marriages to work. All too often, it seems to be his anger that forms the major roadblock preventing them from finding the closeness they both desire. And occasionally, a husband's anger boils menacingly to the surface as it did in Cliff that summer day.
Janice's surprise, concern, and fear at her husband's sudden, atypical behavior mirrors the emotional response of countless numbers of women who are coming face-to-face with the phenomenon of the angry man. "What's happened to him?" they cry to counselors across the land. "Was it something I did? Was it something I neglected to do? Is there any hope for him? For us?" Perhaps you've been asking some of these kinds of questions.
Like Cliff, the man in your life may be a smoldering volcano of anger ready to erupt when you least expect it. Perhaps you've already detected the rumbling. Perhaps he's already exploded in ways that have left you questioning, hurt, or feeling abandoned.
But unlike Cliff, your husband may not be ready to explode as obviously or as harmlessly as plugging the Lawn Boy with his Winchester thirty-aught-six. There are numerous and far more tragic ways-both subtle and blatant-that masculine anger can boil to the surface and cause harm:
Fifty-two-year-old Brennan was a high-rolling electronics contractor in the aerospace industry. He worked sixty to eighty hours a week as a matter of course, and sometimes stayed at his office for days on end. Brennan provided his family with a magnificent home and plenty of money, and he gave generously to his church.
At his wife's urging, Brennan exchanged his high-stress career for a financially comfortable early retirement. But he was soon bored with travel, golf, and gardening. So he bought another small company and plunged back into the only life he knew-incessant work. Eight months later Brennan dropped dead from a massive heart attack. Brennan was an angry man, and his anger-fueled workaholism resulted in his wife's becoming a young widow.
At thirty-eight, Carlos is a husband, a father of twin daughters aged seven, and an assistant manager in a supermarket chain. Carlos has been with his company for thirteen years, plenty long enough to be promoted to manage a store of his own-his career goal. But it's obvious to him that the owners are hesitant to give full control of a store to a Hispanic. Carlos boasts to Manuela that he is the company's most loyal assistant manager, but she keeps urging him to go with another chain that will promote him.
Last month Manuela unexpectedly returned home early from a trip to her mother's and found Carlos in bed with their fifteen-year-old babysitter. Manuela was devastated. She told Carlos to pack his things and leave. After Carlos moved out, Manuela found several boxes of hard-core pornographic books and videos hidden in the attic.
Carlos probably isn't really aware of his anger. But over the years he has covered up his anger through his sexual addiction. He is an angry man, and his anger cost him his family.
Vince was a successful real estate agent in the Houston area until a collapse in the housing market threatened him with financial ruin. He couldn't sell any of his properties, and his own plush home plummeted in value to 50 percent of what he had paid for it. Vince had built his business on his life's axiom: "If you just work hard enough and long enough, you will succeed." But he was working harder and longer than ever, and he was still failing. He grew increasingly depressed and angry at circumstances he couldn't control. Enid, his wife, felt him slipping away from her as a chasm widened between them. Soon she could no longer reach him.
Marta had been ill for nearly two of the four years she and Kelvin had been married. Kelvin was attending seminary part-time and managing a small radio station near the school. He lived under the constant pressure of probation-status grades, Marta's ill health, and the radio station's solvency.
His classmates and coworkers often heard Kelvin claim that God would eventually deliver them from their stress-filled lifestyle. But the day after the seminary suspended him for poor grades and attendance, Kelvin plunged a hunting knife into Marta's chest, killing her, then slashed his wrists and bled to death. Kelvin was an angry man.
Although the circumstances and outcomes of these scenarios are vastly different, a common denominator exists: these men were angry, and their anger deeply hurt themselves and the women they loved.
Solution or Fantasy?
You may be thinking, There are so many ways masculine anger can become harmful or destructive. How should a man deal with negative angry feelings to avoid these kinds of tragedies?
To answer that, let's go back to Cliff and Janice several months before the incident in the backyard with the lawn mower and the deer rifle. Imagine the couple sitting alone in their favorite restaurant, savoring the last bites of a delicious dinner. They've talked about many topics: their upcoming family vacation at the shore, the third-grade Sunday school class they teach together, and how they will spend a small inheritance from the estate of Janice's uncle who died last month.
The waiter has just refilled their coffee cups and cleared the table. Then Cliff launches into a topic that had been on his mind for several days: a lack of attention from Janice.
Cliff: Honey, I have something else I want to talk to you about before we go home. I'm struggling with some personal feelings that I'm not sure how to deal with. If you don't mind, I'd like to tell you how I feel and hear your insights or opinions.
Janice: Of course, Cliff. I always like it when you want to talk.
Cliff: I've been a little lonely lately. It seems that with both of us working and the kids involved in so many activities, we don't get the time alone together that I would like. This is the first time in months that we've been able to eat at a restaurant that doesn't have a kids' menu! The whole thing kind of came to a head for me last Thursday night. When I got home from work, I wanted to sit down with you and talk about the day. But we were interrupted three times by Peter wanting help with his math homework. Then you and Mindy had to leave for children's choir practice before we were done with dinner. And after the kids went to bed, I felt abandoned when you spent forty-five minutes on the phone with one of your clients. By then we were both too tired for much conversation, let alone sex. Maybe I'm a little self-centered, Janice, but I feel angry when I don't receive the attention I want and need. I'm just sorry that I didn't bring it up sooner.
Janice: I'm glad you could tell me that, Cliff. I sensed that Thursday night was a problem for you, and I'm sorry that I was so occupied. I cherish our one-on-one times, too.
Cliff: Then let's talk about setting aside some special time just for us. And while we talk, let's share a piece of chocolate mousse cake. Waiter!
Does this tender little vignette sound as if it came right out of Fantasyland? Well, you're right; it never happened. If it had, an innocent Lawn Boy mower may have been spared a brutal and untimely death. And, more seriously, had Brennan been able to talk about his anger-driven workaholism at the beginning of his career, he may have lived to enjoy retirement with his wife. Had Carlos been able to verbalize his resentment over his employer's discrimination, he may not have been drawn into the sexual trap that threatened to end his marriage. Had Vince shared his depression and anger with Enid, they might have been able to bridge the gap that his failure opened between them. And had Kelvin been honest about the fears and failures that stalked him, perhaps he and Marta would be working together today in a radio station or a church, as they dreamed of doing.
The first step in resolving masculine anger is a man's willingness and ability to talk about what's bugging him. But that's precisely why the conversation above sounds as though it came from the lips of the perfect, problem-free parents in TV's classic Leave It to Beaver series. Most men in the real world are neither willing nor able to talk about what's bothering them. Part I of this book explores the reasons behind this reticence and the often tragic results that accompany it.
Today's man is caught between a rock and a hard place. His anger boils inside him, and his relationships, his job, even his health and his life may be in jeopardy because of it. But he can't find peace because he can't or won't bring his feelings to the surface, talk about them, and resolve them.
A lot of women wonder if they can help their husbands resolve their anger and find peace. We're not talking about mothering him, pressuring him, cajoling him, or nagging him out of his anger. Taking that approach is like trying to douse a fire with kerosene. Nor is this book written to simply help you live with your angry husband by learning to just hunker down, bite the bullet, and "take it." Rather, you will learn some practical steps to better understand him, helping him become aware of his anger, expressing it in a positive, healthy way, and resolving his troubling feelings. Part II discusses several key tips you can employ to help your husband find peace through anger awareness, expression, and resolution.
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Think About It; Talk About It with Him
1. Has your husband had some kind of a "lawn mower experience"-an occasion when he displayed his feelings in a startling way? Describe.
2. To what degree do you feel that he has his anger under control? Circle the word you feel is most appropriate. Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never
3. How do you know when he is angry?
4. How often do you feel responsible for his feelings or outbursts of anger?
Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never
5. How has his anger hurt you in the past?
Excerpted from BOILING POINT by Stephen Arterburn David Stoop Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Arterburn David Stoop. Excerpted by permission.
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