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Irritability and How To Fight It

Written by Bob Martin on

Group Members

Even the best of us feels the pressure when we are in close quarters with others for a long time. Maybe a month ago you were hoping that you could spend more time at home, and now you are wishing you could get out! No one is immune from the temptation to be irritable with those we love. Here are 7 weapons to fight irritability:

1. Helplessness

I don’t really believe I’m helpless. I feel like I have limits: that I can be patient and flexible and a good listener up until a point. Then once I reach that point, I become frustrated at almost everything:
• A glance
• A decision that’s made
• A tone of voice

But after reading about a historic pastor recently, I think my problem may be bigger: my problem isn’t my known limit, it’s my unknown helplessness. I am far worse than I realize. Scottish pastor from the 1800s Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote,

“To be filled with the Holy Spirit, I am persuaded that I ought to study more my own weaknesses… My only safety is to know, feel, and confess my helplessness, that I may hang upon the arm of Omnipotence.”1

Confession should be my exercise at least once a day. Confessing my sins that I’ve already committed (like impatience with my wife and lack of prayer for help) as well as confessing that I have no help to get better unless I “hang upon the arm of Omnipotence.”

2. Hero = Jesus

In isolation I am feeling a stronger need to have my mind renewed: I feel that I need memory verses, gospel-based songs, truth-filled books. It’s these words that can bridge us to the Person that helps us. A big vision of him is the antidote to our self-drunkenness. Listen to what Jesus is for you (from M’Cheyne):

“I ought to study Christ as a living Saviour more,
• as a Shepherd, carrying the sheep He finds,
• as a King, reigning in and over the souls He has redeemed,
• as a Captain, fighting with those who fight with me, Ps. 35,
• as one who has engaged to bring me through all temptations and trials, however impossible to flesh and blood. …

And Jesus isn’t just these things, he’s also our Intercessor:

“I ought to study Christ as an Intercessor. He prayed most for Peter, who was to be most tempted. I am on his breastplate. If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million of enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference; He is praying for me…”2

Don’t give into temptation, Jesus is in heaven interceding for you (Rom. 8:34).

3. Halt In The Moment

Proverbs 10:19 is helpfully blunt:
“Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (NLT).

We have to be able to halt ourselves when we feel irritated. Take that moment to pause, pray, and plan what would be the best next step. Remember, one evidence that the Spirit is working in you is self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)—so give the Spirit a moment.

4. Hear The Person

What is your disobedient child or grumpy spouse really saying?
• Are they saying it with words?
• With their tone?
• With their habit (you’ve seen this scenario before)?
They’re under stress too, so try to lead with empathy for what they’re feeling (which can also curb your desire to be irritated).

5. Have a Moment

If you’re feeling particularly bristly, you might need to step away for a moment. I like to go on a short run to get my energy out, release some of the day’s tension, and refresh my mind. Then I can enter back into a conversation with better perspective and having already released some endorphins productively.

If you can’t afford to take a physical fitness break, ask permission to step into a different room to process, emote, or pray: “I need to step away for a minute because I can feel myself getting emotional, but I love you and want us to be able to figure this out once I’m in a better mindset and can have a helpful conversation.”

6. Quit Your Habits

Chances are that you have habits that you know annoy your spouse. If you can, don’t give them opportunity to be irritated with you by repeating these. And if you’ve sinned against your spouse or kids, make sure to ask their forgiveness so you all can move forward.

7. Get Happy

Look for the good. It’s easier to get irritated when we expect the good and resent the bad; but we should truly appreciating what’s good. “When you see grace, say thanks”—both to God and to your family members! This is helpful grease in the gears of life, even when it’s little (like “Thanks for clearing out the dishwasher”). Our temptation to be irritated shouldn’t steal our gospel gladness.

1 (Andrew Bonar, Memoir & Remains, 153 in Brian G. Hedges, Watchfulness: Recovering a Lost Spiritual Discipline, 90)
2 (Hedges, Watchfulness, 91.)

Bob Martin

Bob first joined staff at College Park as a Pastoral Resident in 2011 and has served in several important roles since that time. He now serves as the Pastor of Membership & Connection. Bob is passionate about seeing men and women enter into community with others to find hope together. He enjoys spending time with his wife, family, and friends.

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