Pastor Ted Cunningham talks about his personal experiences with anger and explains how he worked through his emotional struggles in order to protect his marriage. (Part 2 of 2)
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Ted Cunningham: Think about the people consumed with anger, sitting at home and wanting to lean in to their spouse or to their child. And yet, this anger, this poison that’s in their soul just sits there, while they’re trying to lean in and trying to be a good dad, trying to be a good mom. And this is why I think one of the greatest things we can do as husbands, wives, moms, dads is to find ways to resolve that anger and resolve it so we can find deeper levels of intimacy.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Well, that’s Pastor Ted Cunningham offering a perspective on taming anger and restoring intimacy. And he’s back on today’s Focus on the Family. He’s written a book with Gary Smalley called. And we’ll be returning to that today. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, there were so much good stuff in the program last time, and we just ran out of time, so we wanted to come back today, continue to talk with Ted Cunningham about this issue of anger. And I think in the culture today and in our own relationships with our spouses, with our children, the anger issue is prevalent. It’s just there. It’s like we have shorter and shorter fuses in - in our lives today. And it may be pressure. It may be lots of things. We’ll talk about that. But we wanted to come back today and continue to talk about anger and the way it plays into our relationships, and how God views it in our lives.
Just let me say, if you’re in that place where you’re struggling, and your marriage is tough, and you don’t know if you can get to the next day, perhaps you’re not pleased with the anger that you see in your spouse or yourself. We’re here for you. Focus on the Family has caring counselors. You can call us. We want you to call us! Don’t be embarrassed and don’t hesitate. We will do all we can to place resources in your hands, to talk through the issues with you, to provide perhaps even local counseling opportunities that you can follow up on.
John: And you can find out more about getting help for your marriage or a difficulty in life. And you can donate to this ministry when you call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Jim: Ted, last time we talked a lot about the impact of anger and there was a lot of emotion in you. And folks, if you didn’t hear the program, download it. Call us or write us, e-mail us. Get a copy of the CD, because it was powerful. You know when it is, when you sit behind the microphone a lot and I - I could feel just your heart was there, and people connect with that.
Moving ahead today, talking about drinking buckets of poison as you described it yesterday, how anger affects you and how you need to deal with it, let’s move to that perspective. The Scripture talks a lot about anger and it says in some ways, people would interpret it to say, it’s okay to be angry. Just don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Deconstruct that Scripture for us. What is that really getting at? Is it okay for me as a spouse, as a husband, to be mad throughout the day, as long as I say I’m sorry at night?
Ted: Yeah, I don’t - I don’t think the issue is anger. I think the issue is unresolved anger. Know why you’re getting angry, what you’re getting angry for, so I get angry as we should over injustice. Like if we see an injustice, we want to do something about it or we want someone to do something about it. We want it to be resolved. It’s the anger from events and circumstances and broken relationships and hurts and - and pain throughout life that we never resolve, that we - we leave boxed up or in the suitcase, never unpacking it, never understanding why am I still angry at this 10 years later?
And I believe, had I not had the help and the support of Gary, throughout that time, I would probably still be leading today out of a lot of that. Because what happens with anger, when someone desires to start unpacking it for you, like maybe in a new marriage or in a new job or in a new church, when someone starts to help you unpack that, that’s when you get stronger. And you can get even more angry, ‘cause I don’t want you going there. That’s not your place to go there. Do not help me unpack that.
So, the reason we use the term “personal responsibility” is, I want to be the one that unpacks it. I want to unpack it with safe people. I want to unpack it with, “This is why I feel this way. This is what leads to the anger.” But as far as getting angry at events in life, I don’t believe we need to camp there. We need to camp with the unresolved anger, to always allow something to make you angry and to never ask the right questions or deal with it. That’s the bigger issue.
And so, I think that’s the emphasis of the text, to not let the sun go down on that anger. You know, in our home and I forgot who taught us this, but it was like you know, declare one of the lamps in your home the sun. And let - let’s work through this until this sun goes down. You know, we’ve heard the joke before, but the whole idea of what happens if we’re fighting when the sun goes down? Does this mean we have 24 more hours to let the sun go down again? No. The emphasis there is working through it and resolving it.
Jim: That’s the metaphor.
Jim: I mean, I think that is a place where it’s not literal. It’s the metaphor...
Jim: ...of resolve the unresolved anger.
Ted: That’s right.
Jim: Uh, Ted, let’s talk about that, because there are wives and probably some husbands who are struggling. When you’ve encountered a couple and you’ve coached them out of your own personal experience, you and Amy, and they don’t seem to get it, what typically is the hindrance when you’re talking to them about how to stop drinking the poison of anger and how to look at the primary drivers of what is going on in your behavior that leads you to anger? When you’ve counseled and talked to this couple over months, perhaps even years now, and they come to you and - and “Bob is still doin’ it. And I don’t know what to do, Pastor Ted.”
Jim: “Bob’s still goin’ there. We’ve been at it a year now.”
Jim: “I’m runnin’ out of patience.”
Jim: “What do I do?”
Ted: Yeah. I love the word picture of the love jug, because to me, when I see a husband and a wife connected to one another as the source of life, and there’s toxicity in their soul and they’re giving one another the overflow of toxicity, someone needs to break that. So, this would be Greg Smalley’s analogy of just - and - and again, people argue with this, but I - I get it. So, process this before you reject it outright.
It oftentimes only takes one spouse to turn a marriage around, because it’s the first spouse that says, “I am going to disconnect from my husband.” Or “I’m going to disconnect from my wife as the source of life and I’m gonna plug into the true and only source of life. Jesus is the source of life, not my spouse. I need a fresh supply. I need something to resolve this toxicity in my soul and it’s not gonna be this love jug over here in my spouse that’s feeding more of my toxicity.”
What’s the greatest marriage on planet earth? It’s a husband and wife, both connected to the true and only source of life and giving one another the overflow out of that, knowing. And so, to me, I keep going back to that couple. Again, I oftentimes feel like the world’s worst counselor, because if I’m still meeting with them in two years and we haven’t gotten anywhere, I’m like, we - we maybe want to get a professional uh, involved with this at this point, ‘cause I’m not getting’ anywhere.
But when that light bulb goes off and the - and the husband or the wife goes, “I think I get it. I think I get it. He’s not in charge of my love job. He’s not in charge of my heart. I am gonna unplug from him. I’m not gonna look to him anymore.” ‘Cause when - when you look to your spouse as the source of life, you look to them as the solution to all of the problems.
Now you’re stuck. You’re waiting for them to change. “When they change, then my love jug can be refreshed.” And I always love to use this illustration, because you know, the goal is to be as full as possible with God’s love each and every day. That’s the goal. And again, we’re all human, so there are days I leave the home and it’s at a quarter of a tank or it’s at a half or three-quarters.
The desire is as full as possible, because I’m gonna come across all these other love jugs all day that I’ll be giving overflow to again. But what is co-dependence? Co-dependence is waiting for those love jugs to pour back into you. But I want to go out and be freed. I want to serve. I want to pour into them honestly with zero expectation for them to pour back into me. Can I give you one example on this...
Ted: ...to show you? My wife - so we live in a tourist town. And she said, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you really engage with tourists. Like you engage ‘em, great conversations. You’re animated. You’re...” ‘Cause I am a relational guy. She goes, “You love talking to ‘em. When you see a church member, you’re a little more reserved.”
Ted: She said, “Let’s unpack that.” And I’m going, “Okay, let’s unpack that.” But why do I do that? Because that tourist, I’m able to serve them and there’s no expectation coming back to me.
Jim: Right and they don’t know you.
Ted: And they don’t know me. When you serve someone that’s a love jug you’re connected to, but you know often, it’s like I’m gonna serve and pour into this person right now and there’s gonna be expectation to do it again. It’s interesting how expectation is tied to anger, that how...
Jim: Talk about it.
Ted: How we withdraw from people when we feel too much expectation. If you think about this in marriage, think about what would happen as a - if you get up in the morning and reach for your Bible instead of the phone and you begin to fill your soul with the words and teachings of Jesus, rather than the latest news cycle - ‘cause you want a full love jug. First person you’re probably gonna see - well, maybe in most homes your kids. You’ll be pourin’ into your kids and they may not be pourin’ back into you. Then you’re gonna pour into your spouse.
But think about going throughout your day, pouring into people with zero expectation of them coming back. Now how do I get angry with the person that I don’t have any expectation to get something in return? I think that’s the true heart of serving.
Ted: I’ve come to - to serve, not be served. I think that removes the expectation. And - but what you get with the exhausted spouse, now - now exhaustion, tied to um, expectation, “Ted, I’ve been doin’ this for a year. I’ve been doin’ this for - I’ve been pouring into this man for a year and I’m getting nothing back out of him.” I don’t know what to tell you, other than to paint a beautiful picture of continue to serve.
John: You know, Ted, last time you shared very candidly about the anger you had when, as a young pastor, you were essentially asked to step down from the church. And you kinda caught yourself thinking through. I mean, I don’t know what pictures were going through your mind, but it seemed like you were processing pictures of when that anger toward the church spilled out towards Amy. If Amy were saying, “You know, for a year this guy’s been mad at me,” practically what are some things she did to disconnect from you as her source? I mean, I’m assuming she was walkin’ with the Lord and putting up with this godly man who was angry.
Ted: Well, and I think at that point in my life, the church was my source of life. The church was my identity.
Jim: Affirmation, all of that.
Ted: Yeah and as a - as a young guy in ministry, I mean, you’re - you’re looking for that. You’re - and when you’re not finding that, I would say this is what I love, now being married 18 years, Amy and I... I mean, Amy is one that is always - she’s listened. She affirms. She - I - I kid her all the time, because she has zero, I mean zero people-pleasing gene in her. She doesn’t have it. It doesn’t exist.
And I tell her sometimes...
Jim: She’s unique that way.
Ted: I tell her sometimes, shouldn’t we care just a little what people think of us? She goes, “Nope.” This is Amy, ‘cause she has such a confidence in the Lord that I - I can tell you that I don’t have. I still, I fear men. I fear pleasing men. I fear, and she just is - she walks with this confidence of knowing who her source is and it - it inspires me.
John: So, did that anger slush out toward her and slosh around toward her, but she didn’t receive it?
Ted: Early on, I think what it was for me was just primarily a distraction. My anger led to a lot of distraction and - and what next? And how do I process this? And insecurity, but in the early stages of that, I really did lean into her. I wanted her. I mean, I - I just - I moved towards her, rather than away from her.
And - and I think I would just encourage anyone who’s really dealing with anger right now and they’ve not spent the time at the primary level, lean into your spouse. Lean into your family. These people love you. They care for you. Even if right now, that’s not showing or it’s not manifested in your home, lean into them. And - and have the honest conversation with them. “I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t know why I’m this way. I don’t know how long I’ve been this way. But would you stick in there with me while we figure it out together?” To me, the most beautiful scenes are a dad who’s maybe struggled with anger for a long time, just falling on his knees before his family and saying, “Help me figure this out.”
John: That’s a tough one, if you don’t know what the answers are.
Ted: Exactly. It’s vulnerable, it’s extremely vulnerable.
John: Well, some really practical help for really any relationship you have. But we’re specifically targeting marriages and how to strengthen your marriage relationship, even in the midst of anger, on today’s Focus on the Family. And we’ll encourage you to stop by the website to find out more about the book from Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham,. And today, for a gift of any amount, um, the gift that will change lives as we discussed earlier, we’ll send you a copy of this book as our way of saying thank you. And you can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Ted, let me ask you this. Last time we touched on how to apologize, but we did that fairly quickly. Let’s come back to that for a minute. How do we craft an appropriate, heartfelt, honest apology, when we’ve wounded someone?
Ted: Yeah, it needs to be rooted in my actions and my words, not the emotions of the other person. And I think that’s where I make the mistakes. I say this often and remind myself of this as often as possible, that it is not about apologizing for what Amy is feeling. I want to validate what Amy is feeling. But I want to know what I did or what I said to cause that. And I know what that is. I can spot that, even in my attitude. And so, words and actions are one thing. But I can also apologize for my motives. I can apologize for my manipulation. I can apologize for when I’m trying to control the situation and she feels disconnected.
Her primary emotions that we’ve been talking about are disconnected, abandonment, rejection. And so, when I don’t take the time to listen to her, find out what she’s going through or I want to rush through it, I mean, I can even apologize for the amount of time I’ve given something. But the idea of a marriage being transformed by forgiveness is that we would have a judgment-free zone. That anything’s on the table at any time.
And I’ve been to a lot of men’s conferences and I’ve heard this kind of tone. You know, guys, let’s just face it. There’s some things we can’t share with our wives. And every time I hear that, I kind of bristle a little bit, ‘cause I’m goin’, “I don’t think that’s the message we want to put out there to guys, that there are things they should talk about with other men, but not their spouse.” So, I just went home the first time I heard that and I go, “Amy, what do you think about that statement?” And she says, “You are one with me. We - we are in oneness. I don’t think there’s anything you feel or think that we can’t share, that we can’t deal with.” And again, I get men’s accountability groups. I do and I believe in them. But they cannot replace or they cannot trump the marriage relationship.
Jim: But I’ve gotta tell you something that you said Amy said there gives a husband a tremendous amount of trust. And that is, “I don’t think there’s anything you can share with me that we can’t get through,” in essence. I don’t know in the marriage relationship, how many couples have that discussion, to say can I really be open and honest with you?
I’d say that’s one of the big issues in the church today. Uh, everybody’s hiding their true feelings, their true behavior. And it’s a veneer for so many and then it - it gives way. And the ugly side takes over and we have distance between our relationship with God and us. And if we were more honest, maybe starting with our spouses about what’s going on in our lives, with all the brokenness, that this is not a perfect life. We cannot live a perfect life. The more we try to project that and live secret lives, even if we’re trying to beat that secret life down, the more we’re gonna fail. Does that make sense?
Jim: And maybe some of that anger will come out of that, because we’re tryin’ to live one way, but project another.
Ted: Ex - exactly and I think what keeps me from anger today is that intimacy I have with Amy. Because whatever comes against me, she knows me. Whatever accusation comes against - she knows me. Whatever trial hits me, she knows me. Whatever difficulty hits me, she knows me. And I don’t know which pastor said this first, but I know a lot of pastors have said it since and that is, intimacy defined is fully known, fully accepted.
Jim: Now we gotta - I gotta ask the question. Someone hearing this right now uh, goin’ home tonight may try this because they’re on their last string of their marriage. And they’re feeling it and they’re - they’re thinking, “Okay, I’m gonna go home and just lay it out there.” How can you counsel that person to do it as best as they could do it?
Ted: Yeah, don’t do that.
Ted: What I would say is you become the safe person before you become the one that lays it out there.
Jim: How does that - give me the practical way you approach that.
Ted: You take something from the past that you know of, something that you’ve judged in your spouse, some part of your spouse’s history that you’ve never been able to resolve or let go, that you’re able to receive that in a judgment-free zone. You’re able to take that and show your spouse you’re a safe person. I think for the person hearing this going home and goin’, I’m gonna lay it all out. I’m gonna be vulnerable and be honest, ask - before you do that, I mean, you want to get to that point. But before you do that, ask, “How safe am I?”
Jim: So, it’s a process.
Ted: So am I gonna receive what I give?
Ted: If I - if I’m giving this, then I would hope I can receive it. But again, this comes back to expectation. Because one of the things we do here in - in the ministry, is we do - we put ourselves out there to people who don’t care for us or our message. And they’re - it’s not a safe place. So - but here, we’re talkin’ about marriage. And we want mar- the marriage to be the safest place on earth. I want the home to be the safest place on earth. It’s one of the things, you know, I’m working through with my kids as they’re growing up in the digital age, is how do I respond as a dad, rather than react when things hit our home and things come out and technology and all that and teaching our kids, you know, guidelines for online - all of this. I mean, I want to make sure they understand I can tell my parents anything.
Ted: I can communicate. I can share anything with them and the way dad hears that and receives that, he’s guiding me and he’s directing me in a spirit of love. And I just - that same desire we have for our kids, even though we react, I - I - Andy Stanley said it a couple weeks ago, react on the inside, okay?
Jim: That’s a discipline though, Ted. That’s hard...
Ted: It is.
Jim: ...to do for some people, because they’ve lived uh, you know, in a very flashpoint kind of way. It’s you do this to me and I respond, the way that you’ve talked about. How do you get to that point where you can think it through inside before you speak? I think introverted people probably find that easier to do than extroverted people, for example. Where we tend to reflect immediately what’s being thrown at us. We turn it right back on people, perhaps through sarcasm or whatever tool that we use to deflect those things. How do we take a deep breath, count to 10? I mean, what mechanism can you use?
Ted: You just said it, because of the coping mechanisms that we have. And my coping mechanism is humor. When I am preaching, I’m a very kinda in the moment preacher. I like to be well-prepared, but I - I’m pretty in the moment. And when I get to a tender place in a message and I feel something coming out, I go right to a joke to try to bail myself and the congregation out.
When I’ve given a theology or a point that I can tell they’re sitting in and it’s too much to take, I just, man, I throw out a little joke. And I have people in the congregation that will come to me now after a message and - frustrated. They’ll say, “You did it again. We were sittin’ in it and you bailed us out.” And I’ve had to fight against that coping mechanism to say, okay, it’s okay for us to be in this for just a little bit and not rush out of it.
And when I first started learning about primary emotions and how to deal with them, I remember Gary saying, “This is gonna take you years to learn how to do this as a discipline, just to process. This is what I’m feeling. This is what I just felt.” So, I would say to a couple hearing this right now, go home and get this started without the expectation of, you know, we’re from anger to intimacy tonight. I would - just like we say with discipleship in our church, think in terms of months and years, not days and weeks.
Jim: Ted, we have gone in and out of the discussion between your experience as a pastor in the church and feeling that anger when people didn’t like you and how they would confront you and then, how that plays out in marriage. And you’ve been very vulnerable and I want to say thank you for that, in terms of you and Amy’s relationship and - and just - you know, that’s where we connect, because we see all of our behavior in some ways in other people. And that’s how we see it in ourselves. So, thank you for that vulnerability.
Uh, you made a comment about Gary Smalley and his involvement in your life, which has been profound, I can tell. And I want to end here, because I think it gives us hope, whether vocationally in our friendships or in our marital relationships. And that is, to lean in to the difficulty. I try to manage that way here at Focus. We have conflict over things. We have meetings where we want to have conflict, because I believe when the sparks are flying, actually the Lord’s at work. When things are uh, buttoned down, patted down, put away, we’re not really gettin’ to it. And that’s true in our marriages, as well. Talk about what Gary said to you that challenged you in seeing difficulty as an opportunity.
Ted: He did what he does better than anybody on the planet. He pictured a special future for me, that - and this is part of, he and John Trent, when they did years ago. And I have parents who love me and pictured that special future for me growing up. And my mom wrote beautiful letters to me as a kid of what she thought God might call me to do. And so, my parents understood that concept.
And there was just something about that day when Gary said to me, that I’m done at this church. I’m washed out. I’m a mess. And he starts laughing, as only he can do. And I’m just lookin’ at him like, what is going on with you? And he stopped and he said, “Have you paused to thank your Father in heaven for what you’re going through?” And I said, “No.” He said, “Ted, most guys are not blessed with this treatment until 10 to 15 years out of seminary. And God is blessing you with it in the first five months.” He said, “You should be praising your Father in heaven.” And I had no clue what he was talking about, but he was in James 1. He was fully in James 1, “Count it all joy.”
And he started painting a beautiful picture of the future for me. He said, “Ted, God is raising your threshold of pain. And what He’s allowing you to go through is going to allow you to process even more, ‘cause you’re not done getting hit in life. You’re gonna get hit in life.” And he said, “And there’s gonna be difficulties, but man, He’s allowing you to learn from this. The trial is what we lean into, to grow our character.” And he said, “This is an opportunity for you to look at your primary emotions. This is an opportunity for you to really see what’s going on and ask the hard questions.”
And so, we’d - we’d paint this beautiful picture for couples all the time. You know, you’ve hit this wall, okay. No, we are not advocates for divorce. We’re not rushing to the divorce. We’re - we’re gonna begin painting a beautiful picture. And what do we believe a beautiful picture of marriage is? It’s not going back to what you had. This is what most couples never really grasp. We want to paint a picture for you of a future you never dreamed possible. We want you to know, you can have a marriage that you haven’t experienced yet up to this point.
And this trial is an opportunity. It’s a doorway. It’s a pathway for you to get there. Are you gonna lean in to it? Are you gonna unplug from one another as the source of life? You gonna plug into the true and only source of life? And begin asking the real questions and resolving this anger and pressing in and leaning in to one another, not as the source of life, but as one to go through this grind with.
John: And that brings this conversation with Ted Cunningham to a close on Focus on the Family. And Ted gave such great perspectives about going from anger to intimacy and how that process works.
Jim: Well, number one, it’s a great proposition. Turn your anger into intimacy. That’s a big walk. Don’t expect to accomplish it in a few days or even a couple of weeks. It’s more like months and years. But be committed to the process, because God will show up in that journey.
And as we close today, let me remind you that we’re here for you. Your marriage can be strong, healthy, and thriving. It’s a witness to the world, I know I mention that a lot, but it’s true - a testimony to what God is doing - and if you don’t feel like it is, let Focus on the Family help you. That’s why we exist. If you’re struggling, and many of us do at different stages, give us a call. We have many resources available to you, including counseling and even our Hope Restored marriage intensive program.
We also have the book we mentioned today,by Ted Cunningham. And if we have helped you in some way, I hope you’ll consider helping us in return. By helping us, I mean helping others that tap into Focus on the Family that need that kind of support and the tools that we’re talking about. Your prayer and financial contributions are what empower us here at Focus on the Family to minister to couples and to families.
Right now, we have some generous friends of Focus on the Family who will match your donation. Every dollar you give is going to be doubled, which means your donation will help twice as many families. So join us today in standing for marriage and for the family!
John: This generous match opportunity is available right now. So please contact us today and donate to Focus on the Family. When you do, when you make a gift of any amount we’ll send a complimentary copy of Ted’s bookfor your reading or to pass on to someone else. Donate today at focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459. 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Well next time on this broadcast, Ray Vander Laan reflects about the life of the apostle Paul and how you and I can follow his example to discover God’s purposes for our lives.
Ray Vander Laan: God chose His people first of all, not to tell the world who He was, but to show the world who He was.
End of Teaser
John: That’s next time on Focus on the Family and thanks for listening. When you get in touch, please let us know you listen on WPEL, your stations for information and inspiration. I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, join us next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Ted CunninghamView Bio
Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Mo., a comedian on the Date Night Comedy Tour and a popular conference speaker at churches and events across the nation. He has authored several books including Fun Loving You and Trophy Child. He has also co-authored four books with Dr. Gary Smalley and one with his wife, Amy. Ted and Amy have two children, Corynn and Carson.