The Other Person Has Responsibility—for Their Actions, and for Acknowledging Your Feelings
Before I learned about emotions, I often blamed my husband for it—and then we’d argue about whether my anger was justified. But arguing about my anger distracted us from a much more important question.
It’s this: how could my husband and I work together to find a mutually beneficial solution to prevent more anger from occurring?
If you feel angry after someone does something, it’s a red herring to argue about whether the anger is justified, or irrational, or who is at fault for it. Like it or not, the anger exists. What’s essential is discussing why it arose, acknowledging its impact, and figuring out how to handle similar incidents in the future.
Sometimes, the anger is justified. In my marriage, both my husband and I have acted in hurtful ways. When we take the anger seriously, it helps us name what happened and reconcile.
Other times, our anger is misplaced. Occasionally, I get angry at something my husband says only to realize, after further discussion, that I misunderstood him. But the anger is still important to discuss and explore—otherwise, I could carry resentment, never realizing it’s baseless.
In counseling, our therapist had us practice simply listening to each other and then repeating back what we heard. This technique, called mirroring, helped us uncover not only what the other person meant, but any faulty interpretations of what they were saying. It helped us, as 1 Corinthians 13:7 proclaims, to “believe the best” of each other in love.
When someone tells us something we did hurt them, paying attention and listening well is the first and best action we can take to respond. Taking others’ emotions seriously, and digging into what they mean, helps us treat each other with the deep love Christ calls us to.
Hearts, Souls, Minds and Strength
Emotions are messy, unruly, often unwelcome—but essential nonetheless. Rather than asking Jesus to erase them, shaming ourselves for feeling them, or blaming others for causing them, we can instead use them as a guide to our heart’s desires, our deep needs, and how other people affect us.
Of course, emotions on their own are often unhelpful. As Deuteronomy commands, we need heart, soul, mind, and strength to love God well—and, I’d argue, other people. Our hearts remind us of past lessons and notice how people’s actions affect us. Our rational brains help us organize chaotic emotions into helpful information. Our bodies and strength help ground us in the present moment and remember we’re human beings. Finally, our souls connect us to God and the Holy Spirit for divine guidance and power.
We need all parts of ourselves to live as wise children of God. And even our anger—so often unwelcome, confusing, or frightening—is part of how Jesus teaches us to love other people well.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz