The angry husband is like a puppet on a string, always controlled by his cravings for something he cannot get. The cure will come when he sees how he is controlled by the desires of his heart rather than manipulating his wife to give him what he wants.
Eric’s wife was late again. This was the second time this week she was late coming home from work. She gets off at 5PM and is usually home within an hour. On two occasions, it was after 7:30 before she arrived.
You may want to read:
- The Doctrine of Repentance
- Rick’s 31-Day Marriage Devotion
- Rick’s Book, MAD–Seeing Your Anger With The Clarity Of God’s Word
As she was walking through the door, Eric was standing in the foyer demanding answers for her tardiness. Rather than asking questions to learn her perspective, he was spewing accusations. Vicki went on the defensive. The Christian lyrics in her earbuds turned to noise as her mind began to shut down. She did not anticipate his anger.
While there are many things wrong with this scenario, I want to focus specifically on Eric’s anger and how it has complete control over him. No doubt there are things Vicki could do better. That’s always the case. Any conflict is an opportunity for both people to change. This was the implication of Paul’s language in Romans 12:18.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 12:18 is my fifty-percent verse. Imagine a football field where both spouses meet at the 50-yard line. Paul is saying each person is called to do what “depends” on them to do. Vicki needs to do her part and Eric needs to do his part. That’s called marriage. That’s what mature and humble families do.
When both spouses are willing to meet in the middle, sharing, confessing, encouraging, owning, and maturing together, good things will happen. When one chooses not to do that, bad things happen. In this chapter, the onus is on Eric to do his part.
The Angry Person Is a Puppet
Whenever a person chooses sinful anger, he is, in effect, giving the other person control over him. In the moment of his anger, he is like a marionette, a puppet on a string.
Anger toward someone is the total submission of your thoughts, emotions, attitudes and behaviors to that person. It is not self-control but out of control (Galatians 5:22-23). The angry person is under the control of someone else. This is what happened to Eric. He was a controlled man. Vicki owned him, though she did not know it, want it, or plan it.
As you look deeper into the situation, you will find layers to the problem. Under the surface of Eric’s heart is a craving for things he can’t control. This idolatry is what fuels his anger. James said it this way:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. – James 4:1-2
The real culprits in the battle scene with Eric and Vicki are the underlying motives for Eric’s behavior. James called those motives passions, desires, and coveting.
The Supplier and the Addict
Vicki did not realize she is Eric’s functional god. She is the provider for what Eric wants. If she gives him what he craves, he will be happy. If she does not satisfy the cravings of his heart, he will use anger to manipulate his functional god until he gets what he wants.
In one sense it would not matter who Vicki was because Eric does not care about her. She’s just a supplier and he’s the addict. He could be married to Peggy, Delores, or Andrea, and it would be the same problem.
This is where Vicki needs to guard her heart. She could say, “I didn’t sign up for this,” which would be true. If she is like most newly married people, she signed up for love that should conquer all their problems. Unfortunately, she married an addict whose main interest is what he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it, and if he does not get it he will use anger to rattle his god until she submits to his demands.
Idols of the Heart
In the moment of Eric’s anger, he believes Vicki has something he needs. The impulse is so controlling that he will blow his stack. Manipulating other people through anger has proven to be effective. At this point, Eric does not have to think about it. He’s habituated his life (Galatians 6:1-2) to respond this way when he does not get what he wants.
The latest flare-up is an illustration of this. Of course, Vicki was not thinking about the complexity of Eric’s heart. She was too busy shutting down, going on the defensive, and trying to figure out how to diffuse her angry husband.
Vicki unwittingly owned Eric. She was his puppeteer. Fortunately, she is not a devious person who gets her jollies from playing her husband on a string but she does need to be aware of his insecurity. She needs to demonstrate extra vigilance to help him overcome the war in his habituated heart–if she can (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Perhaps when there are “no conflict times” she could help Eric identify what really has control of his heart and begin walking him through a process of repentance (Ephesians 4:22-24). He needs to understand the problem is not Vicki or her being late. Something else has control of his heart.
Part of the problem is that there is an element of fear in play here. You could say it this way: Eric is afraid he is not going to get what he wants so he chooses anger as a way to get it. It is a perceived need from Eric’s perspective. Here are three possibilities:
- Respect: It could be he craves respect and Vicki was not “respecting” him by letting him know she was running late.
- Control: He could be craving control and feels the need to know what Vicki is doing at all times. Control would be tied to his craving for power or authority.
- Comfort: Maybe Eric craves a better life, which would point to an idol of discontentment. He chooses to blow up at Vicki when things do not go his way.
The crux of the matter is that Eric “needs” something. This is why he has an elevated expectation and a plummeting disappointment each time his expectation is not met. He is a weak man. The real question could go like this: Do you really “need” for her to be home on time?
How many arguments have you gotten into with someone only to look back on it to realize how silly it was? If you’re like me, there have been times where you had elevated something that’s not that important until you became sinfully angry. After our desires morph to needs, sinful demands will ensue. The angry person has way too many needs. Let me give you an example of a real need:
Real Need: Thirst – A person dying of thirst will do almost anything to get a splattering of water to quench his thirst. The need for water controls him. He feels insecure (fearful) and rightly so because he will eventually die without water.
Eric does not really need respect, total control of his wife, or a comfort as I outlined above. He will have to decide if he is going to love God and his wife more than his cravings (Matthew 22:36-40).
Not Real Need: Desire – When a child does not get his way, he may choose to pout as a tactic to get what he wants. He feels he “needs” something. This craving to get it turns to pouting (disguised anger). This is his tactic to acquire what he has elevated to a need.
In the case of the child, anger is a common manipulative tactic to get his way. We all have done this. Here is the irony: Though he is trying to control his mother, he is really under her control. She is the supplier of the craving child and if she withholds what he demands, he’s under her power.
The mother is like Vicki; she does not see herself as the child’s functional god but if she did, she could begin shepherding his idolatrous heart so he does not grow up to be Eric.
Power to the People
When Eric expressed anger toward Vicki, he gave up his power and strength to her. She had the power to give in to his demands or ignore his demands. This is an untenable conundrum. He has put her in such a defensive posture that her first reaction is to give him what he wants.
By the time the child becomes this big and domineering, the wife has lost nearly all ability to shepherd his grown up, hard heart. If Eric does not repent of his sinful anger, he will keep her in this impossible place.
- If she gives in, she will feed his craving.
- If she rebuffs him, she will fuel his anger.
Then again, it hardly matters what you do for the addict. He will never be satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8). If you give the addict his drug, he will demand more. If you cut off his supply, he will blow his stack. Vicki has unwanted power over Eric. His idolatry has put her between a rock and a hard place.
A Call to Repentance
The only right answer to this marital mess is for Eric to repent. He needs to identify what it is that he is afraid of not getting, to the point that he resorts to anger in order to get it.
- Why is he insecure?
- Why is he afraid?
- Why does he allow Vicki to control him?
- What does she have that is more satisfying to him than what God offers?
- What is it about God that is not satisfying, to where he seeks security through the absolute obedience his wife?
- What is it he wants so bad that he is willing to sin in order to get it?
If Eric is really blinded by his sin, he may even believe Vicki is doing something wrong or on purpose in order to tick him off. Sin is irrational and disorienting to the person who is sinning. We do know Eric cannot have a clear perspective because God does not bless willful sinners (James 4:6). Eric will have to repent to find God’s illuminating favor.
The point-of-focus must be how he is giving her control over him while the Savior is patiently waiting and yearning to rule over him. To blame her for his sinful anger is unbiblical, heinous, and self-deceptive, which are three things Eric is doing.
Satisfied in Christ Alone
Under the spell of controlling cravings perpetuate fractured relationships. This is Eric experience. He is stubborn and proud. He does not have the joy of Christ in his heart. His relationships with God and his wife are fractured. At this moment the only thing that satisfies him is for Vicki to meet his expectations. It’s a recipe for a joyless home. Vicki was never intended to be his god (Exodus 20:3).
Eric must turn his heart from his idolatry to hope in the God of all comfort. If he does this, he will be free from the bondage of fear, insecurity, unreasonable demands, and idolatry. Only Christ can satisfy his deepest longings.
Because he has placed his hope in a fellow sinner, he is shooting himself in the foot. Repeatedly. It’s a setup to be frustrated as well as fractured. Eric must wholeheartedly turn to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than he could ever ask or think, according to the power at work within him, assuming Eric is a believer. (Ephesians 3:20, paraphrased)
He will have to decide if he wants to do the hard work of repenting, which is the only way he can be free from the cravings that control him. For a clearer understanding of what repentance looks like and what Eric needs to do, please read my article on the 13 steps to repentance.
An Addendum for Vicki
As for Vicki, here is some advice I trust will enable her to persevere in her broken marriage:
- Pray to the God of all comfort. Live in His grace empowered provision.
- Practically pursue God with all your heart. He can become your spiritual influence and strength in spite of your husband.
- Find a community of friends to care for you.
- Guard your heart, especially about your desires for a better life or marriage.
- Talk to your church leaders and enlist their help, help for you and help for him.
Also published on Medium.