Rage is a very real emotion that most of us have experienced to one degree or another. It can rear its ugly head in the middle of an otherwise peaceful day. For example, you are driving down the freeway enjoying a song by one of your favorite Christian artists, feeling joyful and alive in the love of Jesus. Without warning, some knucklehead suddenly begins riding your bumper, honking his horn, flashing his head lights and waving his arms. You get over as soon as you can, the motorist behind you quickly speeds up, and as he passes you, he gives you the California wave. You have handled all of this without an angry reaction. But then, the very motorist who had just been riding you bumper pulls in front of you, nearly hitting the left front of your car as he does, before slamming on his brakes right in front of you! As you slam on your brakes, reason gives way to emotion, and rage suddenly suspends all of thoughts of love, joy, peace and mercy!
Perhaps the above example has not happened to you, but, chances are, you have received a rude phone call, an unjust, accusatory email, been victimized by someone else’s dishonest and ugly Facebook post, or faced undeserved, extremely destructive criticism from an employer, a friend, or a loved one. All of these experiences can produce powerful emotions, not the least of which is rage.
Yet none of these can compare with the trauma we suffer when we experience deep and personal betrayal. Unfortunately, the closer you and I allow someone to get to us emotionally, the more devastating the results of the betrayal. Such betrayal has the power to emotionally crush us. It can and does cripple our ability to function normally. Feelings of depression, isolation, frustration, self-doubt, despair, hopelessness, paranoia, and yes, rage, replace the peace, love, and joy for which we long.
Nearly 22 years ago I experienced such betrayal. Married for over 18 years to the love of my life whom I had met at Bible College, my wife and I had three wonderful teen-aged children. I was pastoring a very successful church that we had founded 7 years earlier. Our children were healthy, we all loved our community, and were enjoying very close fellowship both inside and outside of our church family.
Then, one day, my wife shared that she was struggling emotionally and needed a break. She quit her job and went to spend two months with her three sisters, all of whom lived in the same community 10 hours’ drive from our town. At the end of the two months she told me and our children she was not coming back. It was time for her to live for herself rather than for them and me. She had found a new life that had no room in it for any of us or God.
For the next several months I drove back and forth from where she was living and our town, paying for marital counseling and praying for a miracle. Yet, in the end, she moved in with another man, divorced me, turned her back on her faith, and finally, married one of the men with whom she had dated.
I must confess that I experienced an entire rainbow of emotions. As if the betrayal of our marriage vows were not enough, she also ran up thousands of dollars in partying, traveling and frivolous spending, leaving me holding the financial bag and making it far more difficult to provide for my children’s needs. The feelings of betrayal, abandonment, rejection, self-doubt, and humiliation cut very deeply and left me feeling helpless, and, at times, hopeless.
All of these emotions led to a deep sense of anger over the seeming injustice of the whole matter. I discovered that such anger cannot be repressed and kept inside or it would have destroyed me. So, on several occasions I invited God to go on a drive with me. I would roll down the windows and begin sharing my emotions with my Heavenly Daddy. Within a few minutes I would hear myself screaming. A few minutes later I would be sobbing, feeling guilty for such an emotional outburst. After all, how could a Christian man, a pastor no less, be so full of anger?
On some of the drives, I would cycle through several waves of this emotional roller coaster: from feelings of hurt and betrayal to full-on rage to a deep sense of loss and sorrow to feelings of guilt and shame. I will always be grateful to my Heavenly Daddy for His understanding, comfort, and long-suffering as He allowed me to work through my emotions rather than deny their existence.
Why do I share this now? I believe that many men who are in recovery do not fully appreciate the roller coaster of rage on which their wives find themselves due to the unfaithfulness of their husbands. The husband has unloaded his shame and guilt in a full disclosure, he fells a great weight has lifted from his shoulders, and now he is ready to go full steam ahead toward full recovery. Following years of acting out, temporary euphoria, shame and guilt, self-promises to never do that again, a period of sobriety, building tension and stress, then another episode of acting out, and so on, the husband has reached the point that he is ready to leave all of it behind.
Unfortunately, his wife’s hell has just begun! Her whole world has collapsed upon her, and everything she held dear has just been exposed as a sham. Self-doubt, self-recrimination, and self-loathing are often experienced by the very women who has been betrayed and lied to for years. But soon the shame, betrayal, and deep emotional wounds give way to rage.
I hope you can hear my heart, husbands. This rage will be aimed at you! It does not mean that your wife has not forgiven you or that she hates you. It does mean that her wounds are so deep and have caused her such pain that the resulting rage cannot be contained. It must get out or it will emotionally cripple her. The fact that she has not left you is evidence enough that she still loves you. However, both she and the marriage have forever changed. There can be no going back to the way it was. There must be a new normal, a new beginning, a new relationship firmly grounded on truth, transparency, and intentional honesty.
Husband, you wounded her, and now it is you who can help her heal. First of all, most women stay in the rage cycle because they feel that their husband is not listening or does not get it. So the wife escalates because she desperately needs her husband to appreciate the depth of her pain and validate the emotions she is now experiencing. Most husbands react with fight or flight; we argue defensively or evacuate her presence to avoid the fight. Both options only inflict greater pain and lengthen your wife’s recovery.
Rather than fight or flee, stay with her and validate her and her emotions. Accept full responsibility for her pain, give her your permission to scream, and allow her to cycle through the rage that is flowing from her broken heart. Be the rock to whom she can anchor as the waves of rage emotionally toss her to and fro.
When the rage subsides, be there with her, using words of encouragement, affirmation, and reassurance of your love and commitment. I know that this sounds counter-intuitive, but it is the only way to help your wife work through her emotions and achieve full emotional health once again. Your presence in these moments coupled with your loving affirmation will go a long way to creating the new, intimate normal for which you both long.