Jump Off The Crazy Cycle!


When You React in Unloving and Disrespectful Ways, What Happens?

I call it the Crazy Cycle: without love she reacts without respect and without respect he reacts without love. Each's negative reaction triggers the other's negative reaction. The Crazy Cycle spins.

As we have said, men and women both need love and respect equally but the felt need during conflict differs. As I referenced in an earlier email, I asked seven thousand people this question: "When you are in a conflict with your spouse, do you feel unloved or disrespected?" Eighty-three percent of the husbands said they feel disrespected. Seventy-two percent of the wives said they felt unloved. From there, each negatively reacts to the other as the Crazy Cycle states.

A Husband's Part on the Crazy Cycle

When a husband feels disrespected, he tends to react in ways that feel unloving to his wife. For example, 85 percent of husbands prefer at a certain point in marital conflict to withdraw and stonewall, due to the fact that physiologically their heartbeats can quickly rise to ninety-nine beats per minute. He shuts down to calm down. He stops talking to prevent the conflict—from his vantage point—from escalating. He feels heated talking only makes things worse when standing toe to toe because it feels provocative not conciliatory, which is why he requests that she leave him alone instead of following him from room to room to talk. Besides, when he does talk to tell his wife that he feels disrespected or that she ought not to feel as unloved as she does, both comments go over like a lead zeppelin. Sure enough, she rejects his comments and is now more upset. At this juncture, he gets angry and pulls away, or says something that sounds harsh and unloving to which she lashes back with words of contempt that could sober a drunken sailor. If this husband walks off and refuses to reconcile and reconnect, this leaves his wife jarred, hurting, insecure, and fearful. The Crazy Cycle keeps happening.

A husband writes, "From the beginning heated arguments happened, basically as multiple variations of the Crazy Cycle you describe. At the beginning she established that my walking away from arguments was a sign of weakness, so I learned to stay and confront. I've known all along that she's been crying out for something from me, but I am unable to decipher despite the fact that I know it has to do with love and my not fulfilling her needs at what she calls her core. My words and actions have consistently fallen short of what she wants mostly evident by her growing displeasure and apparent contempt for me. In staying, I exposed myself to her criticism, which I perceived as personal attacks, so I defended, deflected, and eventually attacked back. In stating 'truths' from my perspective, I have often wounded her by raising my voice and saying things that to her are catastrophic but to me are not so severe. She is much better equipped to hurt with words, and has said things that would have resulted in death quarrels had a man said them. The Crazy Cycle has escalated so much, that at the peak of her vigorously expanding what a jerk I am, I have crossed her stated boundaries by threatening to leave, arguing in front of the kids, screaming at her, and other infractions that I cannot think about right now. I can go on, but this is the general theme."

A Wife's Part on the Crazy Cycle

Unfortunately, when a wife feels unloved, she reacts in ways that feel disrespectful to her husband. She isn’t trying to be disrespectful as an end in itself. However, she appears that way with gestures of contempt. Her eyes darken, her face turns sour, she puts her hand on her hip, points with a scolding finger, sighs, rolls her eyes, and uses words of disrespect to convey her upset. No one in his world talks to him in this way so it is difficult for him not to feel disrespected. Weekly, she criticizes and complains. Of course, she does this to help him understand her feelings and to empathize with her and then express his sorrow. Instead, he closes off. Her negativity doesn't solicit his compassion but triggers the Crazy Cycle.

What is so ironic is that she simply longs to connect with the man that she loves. Her motivation is virtuous. Of course, her method of messaging is way too negative for a husband. He views it as nagging and really as her way of letting him know that she finds him unacceptable and inadequate as a person. What he hears is that he's never good enough. He also hears that she can never be happy. No happy wife, no happy life. By the way, it has been said that a woman wants the relationship more positive. "Romance me, surprise me, and make me laugh!" But her husband just wants the relationship less negative. "Can't we just have one day when everything is okay, when you're okay, and when I'm okay?"

A wife writes, "It pains me . . . I was one of those yellers BEGGING for love. The crazies went on for twenty-five years. . . . I made him feel terrible, I gave him NO respect. . . . The crazy time was day and night. The cycle didn't stop, just kept cycling."

The Definition of Craziness

If this is you, a change is in order. As you know, a person who is crazy keeps doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different, positive results but inevitably experiencing the same, negative results. The Crazy Cycle in marriage echoes this. Every time a husband chooses to be hostile to motivate his wife to show him respect, he gets disrespect. Unfortunately, some guys insanely think, "Maybe next time she'll show me respect." Or, each time a wife chooses to be contemptuous to motivate her husband to show her love, she gets no love. Yet, as crazy as it sounds some gals think, "Maybe next time he'll show me love."

He Needs Love and She Needs Respect However . . .

Hear me! Though wives need respect and husbands need love, we have found that most husbands are assured of their wives’ love so that in conflict these men interpret the wife as disrespectful, not as unloving. (Please read the first email again if this remains a stumbling block to you.) Most men say, “You aren’t respecting me,” not “You don’t love me.” And, though wives need R.E.S.P.E.C.T., when a husband treats her disrespectfully week after week she will say, “How can you say you love me and treat me disrespectfully?” When a woman is in love she wonders, “Does he love me as much as I love him?”

Do Your Part to Reduce the Craziness and It Usually Works!

A husband writes, “The ‘love-respect’ cycle . . . is so true. I've been married for 32 years and when my wife and I have a ‘disagreement’ that turns into a few short snips and then silence, it's usually not because of the original issue or act. That really wasn't all that big a deal with me. It's more her reaction to my being irked. And it's her reaction that sparks my anger and silence. Crazy Cycle, here we come! Now that I know what triggers this unproductive reaction, even if she doesn't respond in respect, I recognize what it is that sets me off and I can break the cycle before it gets started."

A wife tells me, "My husband and I have been married for 15 years and have four children. We have a good marriage, but it has had its definite crisis moments through the years . . . due to that love/respect, or lack of, cycle that you speak of. . . . (For my part), I have been conveying disrespect to my husband for most of our marriage and have for many years felt unloved. I know that we are both good-willed as you say, but the pattern has left us both frustrated. . . . I know that I didn't realize what a role I was playing with my disrespect, which I really did feel for a variety of reasons, but most of which stemmed from feeling unloved." Eighteen months later I asked how she was doing. "Through a keener awareness of the love/respect issue, prayer, and spiritual growth . . . my husband and I are doing wonderfully . . . I definitely took away the main theme and am working hard to reverse any damage the previous years have caused." She commented that she has settled into a deeper understanding of him, and his needs, and she is seeing the fruit of that.

My Spouse Has No Right to Feel Unloved and Disrespected!

Let me insert an important point. When you enter the Crazy Cycle, your spouse may have no valid reason for their interpretation of you as unloving and disrespectful. I am not arguing that your spouse is justified for feeling unloved and disrespected. I am highlighting their mind-set behind their reaction. The key is for you to counter their erroneous sentiment by making an extra effort to sound loving and respectful. This best enables you to defuse the tension and to point out to them their misinterpretation of your heart. Whereas a hostile and contemptuous reaction from you only validates their ungrounded suspicions, and keeps you spinning on the Crazy Cycle. Bottom line, don't misrepresent your deepest heart or your spouse will misinterpret you.

With Love and Respect,

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.

Question and Action

  • Today’s Question: Though we all need love and respect equally, does Ephesians 5:33 capture the felt need during conflict in your marriage? Do you go round and round on the Crazy Cycle because as a wife when you feel unloved you appear disrespectful in reaction and as a husband when you feel disrespected you appear unloving in reaction? Is it time to soften your negative reaction without fear that you will lose power or your identity or that your spouse will be unresponsive?
  • Today's Action: If my spouse sounds unloving or disrespectful, I will not react in like manner. I will stop the Crazy Cycle!

    Though I feel unloved as a wife, I will guard against being disrespectful. This will only put us on the Crazy Cycle. I can communicate my upset with a respectful demeanor and appropriate words. Doing this will not cause me to lose power, a sense of myself, or compromise the truth. I can respectfully ask, "How can I tell you of my need for your love and strength without you feeling that I'm sending a message of disrespect?" This is more than likely to soften his heart and cause him to hear yours.

    Though I feel disrespected as a husband, I will guard against being unloving when communicating my frustration. I need not compromise being a man of honor who speaks the truth in love just because she irritates me and appears disrespectful. This will only put us on the Crazy Cycle. I can lovingly ask, "How can I tell you of my need for respect apart from my performance without you feeling that I am being unfair, egotistical, unteachable, and unloving?" It is unlikely that she will take advantage of you or wear the pants but will actually soften, and probably say, "I am sorry. Please tell me what you feel and need."

P.S.—After you do Today’s Action, please email me at plan@loveandrespect.com regarding any questions or concerns you have about your Crazy Cycle. Thanks.

P.P.S.—In the next lesson we will talk about apologizing. Something significant happens when you express sorrow for your part in the Crazy Cycle. I will share with you what you can say in an apology even when your spouse is 90 percent guilty.

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Jump Off The Crazy Cycle!
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