2 Times Anger Is Acceptable in Marriage and 3 Times It’s Not

Borrowed Light
Updated Apr 23, 2024
2 Times Anger Is Acceptable in Marriage and 3 Times It’s Not

Ephesians 4:26 tells us, 

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” 

The people we are closest to are the ones who are most likely to tempt us to anger and to be on the receiving end of our anger. Ephesians 4:26 has often been a go-to verse for pastors and marriage counselors. But I wonder if we’ve read this verse as if it gives permission to anger. Some translations haven’t helped with this. The KJV says, “Be ye anger, and sin not…” The ESV is similar. Is this verse really saying, “You should be angry, but just don’t take it too far or let it last too long?” Are there times when anger is acceptable in marriage and times when it isn’t?

Before answering these questions, it will be helpful to define anger.

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Timur Weber

Slide 1 of 5
What is anger?

What is anger?

I’m guessing you don’t need a dictionary definition of anger. But if you do need one, anger is defined as “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” The Bible often speaks of anger. And it speaks of wrath.

Wrath is more of a settled disposition. Anger is more of an intense emotional state. Robert Jones defines it as “our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.”[1] Anger is a biological response to a perceived threat or wrongdoing. It is our body's way of preparing us to defend ourselves.

In this case, it’s a little like the lights on your car's dashboard. Those lights are responding to something that is going on under the hood. Anger is responding to a perceived injustice. When we feel that “negative moral judgment against a perceived evil,” our anger light comes on. That’s why we might say things like, “You made me angry.” That’s what it feels like. But the reality is that we make ourselves angry—it is our body's response to a perceived illness. You did this thing, and I responded with this emotion.

When Ephesians 4:26 discusses anger, it doesn’t say, “You do well to be angry.” Rather, it acknowledges that we have anger. When this intense emotion comes into our bodies, we are told not to let it lead us to sin. When we’re told not to let the sun go down on anger, God is telling us that we need to look under the hood. Don’t let those dashboard lights keep flashing and beeping. Deal with it.

Sometimes, our anger is the right response. But many times, our dashboard lights are set to the wrong standard. They beep when they shouldn’t. We tend to place ourselves at the center, and the perceived evil isn’t actual evil; rather, it’s a slight to ourselves. In many cases, what God said to Jonah is fitting: “Do you do well to be angry?”

You’re angry, but should you be? That’s certainly the case when we’re talking about marriage. There will be many opportunities for anger. But should there be? Should we be angry?

There is such a thing as righteous anger. God can be angry. In fact, there are times when anything but anger would be a sinful response. There are some things we should and must be angry about. But I would argue that these are few and far between. Most of the time, our anger isn’t righteous at all. Truly righteous anger has the heart of God at the center. Here are three times when anger in marriage is an accurate response.

[1] Robert Jones, Uprooting Anger, p15

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes

Slide 2 of 5
Angry Couple

It's okay to be angry when the bond of marriage is threatened.

Marriage is a beautiful picture of the gospel. It should be held as a sacred bond. Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-6

“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” 

Anger is righteous when it is responding to actual sin. Anything that attempts to bust up a marriage should be met with sinful anger.

It’s important, though, to be clear on this point. “You always leave the toothpaste lid off, and this makes it impossible to live with you” is not a threat to a marriage. It is not based on personal preferences or enjoyment. But rather the things that attempt to serve the union between husband and wife.

It is right to respond to infidelity with anger. A spouse’s pornography addiction threatens the union. Therefore, it is right to be angry. A spouse who refuses to leave and cleave (or parents who do the same) is endangering a marriage. An abusive spouse is severing the covenant. When this happens, anger is the correct response.

I would also argue that we should also consider what Scripture says about who our real enemy is. Yes, we will experience anger towards the instrument of this unrighteousness. But we must be careful not to forget the Enemy who is behind these offenses. Satan wants to destroy marriages. And we should be angry at every moment of success he has in this endeavor.

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Keira Burton

Slide 3 of 5
Angry couple arguing in the kitchen.

It's okay to be angry when God is dishonored.

There were times in Jesus’ life when He expressed anger. We see it as a response to the callousness of the Pharisees when a man was healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-5). Jesus also expressed anger when He cleansed the temple. The anger here was multifaceted. He was angry that God was dishonored, and He was angry that vulnerable people were being taken advantage of and blocked from worshipping. Jesus’ anger was caused by people being harmed and God being dishonored.

How does this truth relate to our marriage? I think we can say that our anger if it truly runs along these lines, is justified. What if we are the ones who are vulnerable and taken advantage of? What if we are the ones who are sinned against? Thankfully, God tells us how to navigate those things. But anger is often part of it. And in those moments of anger, we ought to take it to God in the form of a lament.

When God is dishonored in our marriage, it is natural and even appropriate to feel anger. When we are the one being dishonored—but in a way that also dishonors God—it can be difficult to discern whether or not our anger comes from self-centered reasons or from a deep-seated desire to uphold the sanctity and divine intention of the marital covenant. David Powlison gives a few diagnostic questions that are helpful:

1. Do you get angry about the right things?
 2. Do you express your anger in the right way?
 3. How long does your anger last?
 4. How controlled is your anger?
 5. What motivates your anger?
 6. Is your anger “primed and ready” to respond to another person’s habitual sins?
 7. What is the effect of your anger?

If we find that our anger truly is righteous, it’s important to remember why God gave us anger. It’s there to serve as a catalyst for addressing and rectifying wrongs. We do this by taking things to the Lord. We pursue Him for change in our own life and for loving others through change in their life. Anger can give us the boldness to confront issues that damage the spiritual health of our relationship and lead us away from God’s design for marriage.

This is where we must think again about Ephesians 4:26. Our anger must be kept in check and properly channeled. Bitterness, resentment, and harmful actions are never fitting. We work through our anger when we engage in open and honest communication with our spouse, seek forgiveness where needed, and work together to realign ourselves to Jesus’ way of doing life.

Those are a couple of times when anger would be appropriate. However, our anger isn’t always justified. Here are three times when it isn’t justified.

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Alex Green 

Slide 4 of 5
Angry couple

Anger is not appropriate in response to trivial matters.

I don’t know if I like the way I’ve worded that heading. I say that because I know our tendency as Christians is to squelch uncomfortable emotions. Anger is often an uncomfortable emotion. I’m not saying that we should give full vent to our anger—but rather that we shouldn’t ignore it. That anger is there for a reason. We do well to check under the hood. What is triggering anger here? Why is this thing making me angry?

It's outside the parameters of this article, but it is worth exploring issues like “flooding” and “triggers” and what they can reveal about what is going on in our hearts. Many times, our angry responses are indicators of a traumatic experience that hasn’t been healed. Ultimately, we know that all healing comes from Jesus. And sometimes, what needs to be “healed” is our pride and rebellion. That is also where much of our anger comes from. In these instances, repentance is key. But the reality is we’re often complex. That’s why we should look at our anger.

Here are three instances where anger doesn’t fall under the umbrella of righteous anger.

I get that your spouse does annoying things. Believe me, my wife knows all about this. Getting excessively angry over small, everyday annoyances—like household chores or minor differences in opinion—is generally unhealthy. It often reflects deeper, unresolved issues and can create a toxic environment.

Is my pride fueling this fire? Is it an indicator of a deeper “annoyance” that I’m not willing to examine?

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Vitaly Gariev

Slide 5 of 5
Angry couple

It is not ok to use anger as a tool for control or manipulation or as a substitute for communication.

Many people have learned to use anger, or an angry outburst, to shut down the other person. We learn through experience that our anger can control a situation or manipulate the other person. This is destructive behavior. Anger (even of the quiet variety) should not be used to intimidate, coerce decisions, or enforce unfair or unspoken expectations.

Master manipulators have learned how to use anger or the threat of anger to redirect conversations and shift blame. They’ll even present it as righteous anger, but it isn’t.

Sometimes, anger can substitute for more direct and effective communication. When we struggle to articulate our needs, fears, or frustrations, we turn to anger instead. Such behavior is usually a mask for underlying issues that need attention. What tends to happen is that the thing that causes the “outburst” becomes the target of conversation instead of dealing with the deeper issues.

When anger becomes a habitual form of 'communication,' it creates an environment of defensiveness and fear that can hinder genuine intimacy. Partners may start to walk on eggshells around each other, avoiding certain topics or suppressing their true feelings to prevent outbursts. Over time, this dynamic can erode trust and make it difficult for either person to feel safe or loved in the relationship. That’s not the kind of environment that Christ is building. We weren’t given such a spirit.

Yes, there are times in marriage when anger is justified. More often than not, our anger is merely a signal that deeper issues are taking place. We do well in stopping and analyzing emotions. Why are we angry? Do we do well to be angry? Whether it be justified or unjustified, we must strive to handle our anger through the gospel.

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Afif Ramdhasuma

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.

Originally published Wednesday, 17 April 2024.