When Things Turn Ugly

One evening after the boys were in bed I walked into the kitchen to hear Chris muttering under his breath. When he spotted me he proclaimed in frustration, “If you don’t clear out this cabinet I am going to throw all this junk away!” Wow! Where did this come from? I was caught off guard by my usually mellow husband’s intensity.

I immediately became defensive and angry. I met and raised his intensity with, “You cannot throw away my stuff! And if you do, then I will throw away your junk from the garage!” Wow! Where did that come from? I was quick and pointed in return.

We went back and forth a couple more times with short gunfire bursts of snappiness then we decided it was time to catch our breath. As you can see, this interaction was escalating and going nowhere fast.

I found a quiet place and turned to Jesus feeling very frustrated and angry. I poured out my upset to Jesus and told Him how miserable I was feeling. As I focused on talking with Jesus about how I was feeling (rather than expressing all the things I wanted Him to fix in Chris in that moment) I started to feel peaceful. I also realized I was feeling powerless in my interaction with Chris. My response to feeling powerless had been to make myself feel powerful by threatening to recycle Chris’ stuff in the garage. In truth, this was not an effective technique. Our upset had quickly escalated our misunderstanding which then widened the relational rupture between us. Our emotional brain was amplifying anger back and forth at six cycles per second – which is pretty fast. This means our emotional reactions were driving a Lamborghini sports car while our will power was driving a horse and buggy. We react first, we think second.

Jesus also showed me that Chris’ angry moment was actually a moment of weakness for him. I felt reminded that my goal whenever weakness arises is to stay tender. This thought really caught me off guard because I didn’t feel tender! “You mean, my husband was having a moment of weakness? But he was angry. He seemed powerful – not weak!” I exclaimed to Immanuel.

As I thought about this more, I began to understand that it is not like Chris’ heart to react towards me in anger or with threats. My shepherd husband was having a moment of weakness because he was not living from his heart. He forgot who he was. This realization provoked compassion towards him. My frustration melted.

After calming down we came back together to repair and connect. I apologized for my reaction. Chris also apologized to me. I shared with him the insight Jesus gave me about feeling powerless and I my reactionary attempt to be powerful. Chris also explained that the travel mug had fallen out of the cupboard on top of his head for the third time this week right before I walked into the kitchen. His frustration was a vain attempt to solve that problem.

We both acknowledged we could have handled this interaction so much better. We agreed to work on staying tender toward each other’s weaknesses.

What do you do when you feel powerless and out of control? Have you ever thought of someone’s anger as a moment of weakness? These may be new thoughts for you and I want to encourage you to read more about this in the book, Joy Starts Here. I suspect you, like Chris and I, will have a lot of practice learning how to be tender toward others.

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6 comments

  1. Jeff Buckingham says:

    Thanks for honestly sharing your guys struggles and how you were able to work through them. This is such a great and practical true life example that I can definitely relate to. It’s great to hear about the relational skills you used to repair and return to joy!

    • Jen Coursey says:

      Thank you Jeff! Life is messy and I am thankful to have relational skills to repair when I make a mess of things. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Jen for writing so honestly and vulnerably. As you share the reality of the struggles in your lives you touch our hearts deeply. We all have weakness. And we all fail at times to respond to one another’s weakness with gentle protection. It is good to keep up the open conversation. It helps all of us to be able to continue to be aware of our challenges and to invite Jesus going forward to help us to overcome those places of immaturity in our lives

    • Jen Coursey says:

      Thank you Misa, it is true that we all have weaknesses! I am glad we can share our journey of how we handle things, even when we mess up.

  3. Marsha says:

    Wow, I just love how transparent you are. Your real life testimonies are such an example to us that we are not alone in our struggles and if Immanuel can meet you and bring you back to acting like yourselves then He can do this for us if we turn to Him.

    • Jen Coursey says:

      Thank you Marsha, it is so true that Immanuel is with us in the midst of the messiest times when things can get ugly. I am so grateful He brings me back to acting like myself when I start to drift!

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