Have you ever been in a vicious cycle?
I certainly have!
Let’s say that you were betrayed by a past relationship. That person lied to you time after time and finally cheated on you. You learned from that experience to be suspicious, even cynical about new and existing relationships. In carrying that cynicism with you into future interactions, you’d probably keep others at arms length. In time, these relationships would never develop or would inevitably reject you because of your defensive stance. So once again, other’s actions would confirm to you your belief that no one can be trusted.
Very often messy marriages get into vicious cycles. One spouse does something negative and the other spouse reacts to that hurtful action with either retaliation or withdrawal. Both reactions create distance and give the original person a feeling of rejection which causes him or her to do something negative again. Wa-la, vicious cycle!
So the bigger question becomes:
How do we get out of the vicious cycle?
Step One: Do things that help you gain perspective.
Very often emotions run high in a vicious cycle, so find a way to sort through your emotions so that you can see past them to the problem. Here are some ideas:
- Pray and ask God to give you insight into the problem—and yourself!
- Do a study in the life of a Bible character who had similar problems.
- Journal and sort through what you’re feeling.
- Read a book on the type of conflict you’re facing.
- Talk to a trusted friend about what they see that may be your negative contribution.
- Seek out a counselor who can help you process your feelings.
Step Two: Be the first to break the chain.
Often vicious cycles begin because people are reacting rather than responding. This means that they have let what others do determine how they will act or think. Often this is a negative, retaliatory way to act or think. If you choose to be the “adult” in the relationship, you’ll decide not to let the other person’s actions determine your actions. You will do what’s right—no matter how difficult that may be! When you do this, not only does it disorient the other person (in a good way!), but it also wakes them up to the reality of their wrong actions faster than any words you might’ve used to get them to see their fault.
Step Three: Forgive your spouse.
You will remain in the cycle as long as you harbor anger toward your spouse. Forgiveness involves taking ownership of your part of the problem by acknowledging your specific faults to your spouse. But forgiveness doesn’t stop there. It accepts the negative consequences your spouse has caused in your life. This involves trusting God to mend the broken places in you and your relationship. Then you’re free to do your part to mend things with your spouse by letting go of the anger.
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