By Bryan Wong, Singapore
“Another viewing!?” exclaimed my friend after hearing that my then girlfriend and I were spending yet another weekend to look at 4-5 apartments, in our quest for the perfect future home together.
On the surface, we might’ve looked like a happily-in-love couple, but beneath this façade were fears, misunderstandings, anger, and doubts built up due to silent treatments and unresolved arguments.
We argued about many things, from being late for meetups to which church we should settle in. The arguments grew uglier over time as we would insist on our own points of view, which would lead to a stalemate until one of us gave way and grudgingly apologised. Then we would “move on”, even though the issue was never resolved. It didn’t help that we both came to believe that it’s normal to fight a lot as a couple journeys through their relationship.
You might be wondering why we stayed together for as long as we had. In hindsight, I believed it was our pride at play, thinking that if we worked hard enough at our relationship, it will all turn out well. I knew there were times when I was in the wrong and my selfishness played out, when I forgot to include her in my plans and failed to take her needs into account. These missteps made me reflect and decide that I could and should put more effort into this relationship.
Thinking that the success of our relationship was all dependent on our efforts resulted in a pride that would not accept failure. It blinded us to the fact that our anchor was not in Christ but in the false hope that the other person is doing all they can to maintain this relationship.
All this came to a head one day, when God showed us the reality of our relationship. A mistake I made led to a huge argument, and from there, all the pent-up frustrations we had with one another came rushing out. After a huge shouting match, I called it quits on our relationship.
Stewing in anger
After the break-up, I was intensely upset and angry—angry that I had wasted all this time, angry at her for not being able to resolve her fears, angry at myself for not acting on the red flags in our relationships, such as our clashing views on friendships, as well as on our involvement in church life.
My anger led me to share my grievances with whoever would listen to me, but this wasn’t healthy at all for me, especially for my walk with God. All I could think about was how I had been wronged, and the more I rehearsed my reasons for being angry, the harder it was for me to move on.
Thankfully, a brother-in-Christ saw my condition and intervened by proposing a weekly dinner catch-up to chat and walk through a book he had picked for me.
I wasn’t entirely sold on the weekly meetup, but the book he picked, Good and Angry by David Powlison, intrigued me. The two words seemed like opposites, and yet the author placed them in the same sentence. I agreed to his proposal so I could learn more about the book.
Through the sessions, I came to recognise that anger is normal because we are made in the image of God, and therefore are beings who make moral judgements; and when something is not the way it’s meant to be, we experience anger that is meant to move us to action (e.g. speak to the offending person about it).
Through the book, I also learned that in order to know my motives behind wanting to act, there are questions that I could ask myself, such as:
- What do I want?
- What happened to me?
- What am I afraid of?
- What intentions guided me?
Working through these questions made me see that my reasons for anger were selfish:
- I wanted my ex to be instantly free from her fears
- I felt I had wasted my time in the relationship
- I was afraid of being lonely
- I wanted to achieve my goal of having a “happy” family before I became too old.
At one point, my brother-in-Christ said to me that I should be angry at what God is angry at, and that is sin, not the sinner. That made me realise I had become someone who could not see beyond himself. I was blinded by my pride and selfishness, wanting to put all the blame on my ex.
Learning God’s anger and forgiveness
In contrast to my own yardstick, I learnt that the real yardstick for anger should be on how God views and addresses anger. I was reminded that God gets angry too. He sees things in this world that aren’t right, and He wants justice (Isaiah 42:1-4).
But God’s anger doesn’t devolve into manipulation or trying to control others to get His own way. Instead, His anger is good and redemptive. It moved Him to step into our world to right the wrongs of this world by sending his own Son to pay the price (Romans 5:8–9). He is both our model for change and our power to change.
Seeing the way God handled anger taught me that constructive conflict is possible. And so, rather than focusing on myself and dwelling in my anger (which is destructive), I could have talked things through with my ex, in a posture that is willing to forgive and not to tear down (constructive). My mistake was keeping it all pent up till it exploded.
Revisiting Luke 17:3-4 helped me realise that in our conflict with others, forgiveness is paramount. Without forgiveness, we would be doomed to destruction in light of God’s wrath. Yet Christ’s love and mercy allowed us to repent and be reconciled to God. As such, learning to forgive means I have to keep remembering Christ and what He has done on the cross, and to show the same attitude in my words and actions towards my ex.
As we went through the book, I was able to let go of my anger bit by bit, and now I can finally share about it without feeling upset. I do believe that time heals, but simply going through the motions and letting time pass us by will do nothing. The key is to allow God to work in our lives and seek out what pleases Him, so that we’ll recognise what we may have done wrong, and then give ourselves the time to internalise the lessons God has graciously given us.
The good out of the bad
This previous relationship has taught me to not keep things to myself, especially words that have hurt me or actions that cause doubts. So even if the conversation will be hard, it is necessary to have an honest chat about it and work it through from there. This has helped me many times in my current relationship as my girlfriend and talk through things that irk us.
This experience has also taught me the value of having another godly friend or couple walk with us in our relationship. As a couple, it can be hard to communicate in an argument, especially when we both feel justified in our own thinking. It takes a third party to give a more measured perspective, and one that is biblical and loving to us.
To this day, the verse from Ephesians 4:26 holds a special meaning for me: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” I hold on to this teaching and strive to live by it, doing the best I can in my relationship with others and with Christ, who walks with me and helps me every day.