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How Two Goodwilled People Can Get Derailed in Only Three Seconds

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Most arguments we have with our spouses are not premeditated, wouldn’t you agree? 

Typically the husband is not taking the long drive home from work in traffic planning out how he will unlovingly deprive his wife of face-to-face time or unload on her about the stain on his suit pants that she did not get out before his big meeting with the boss that day.

Neither is she usually waiting for the chance to rip into him for leaving her to deal with the broken garbage disposal or contemplating the perfect way to disrespectfully prove to him that she’s not his maid. 

Or similarly if the roles are reversed or both work, the soon to be conflict is not calculated in advance most of the time.

While these things do happen unfortunately, the truth is, most of our conflicts with our spouse arise almost out of nowhere, with no warning, at a time when neither one was looking to start a Crazy Cycle. Much like what happened with this one couple while in the middle of a worship service:

As my husband and I were sitting together in church yesterday he whispered to me about whether or not we were going to potluck. Unfortunately I reacted with blatant disrespect and told him we had not prepared anything to bring. The tone was harsh and belittling. He immediately shut down and pulled away. Then we began to argue over it via text and whispers . . . and all this during the sermon! Finally I decided to get up and take a short walk.

As I was walking I realized that I had disrespected him in my tone and needed to demonstrate respect somehow. Although it was not my desire to come unprepared to potluck, I went to the church kitchen and asked if there was anything they were low on as they were preparing to set out the food. They suggested a salad, and since we live only a few miles away, I agreed to go home and prepare one and bring it back. When I went to sit back down in the pew, I told my husband what I had done and he immediately warmed up and volunteered to prepare the salad himself. I hope I can learn to correct my tone before the words leave my mouth next time! Thanks for your tips.

Can you relate to this surprise assault that basically arose out of nowhere between these two goodwilled spouses . . . in the middle of a worship service of all places? Maybe your battlefield that you didn’t know would be a battlefield that day was the dinner table, or a date night, or even the bedroom. Everything is going along perfectly fine, when suddenly a disrespectful tone or an unloving choice of words can derail you before you even realize what you did.

And not only was the Crazy Cycle unplanned, but most of these conflicts between two goodwilled people are not even about black-and-white issues of morality. Rather they are what I call gray-area issues revolving around personal preferences, such as the issue of the potluck.

She did not want to meet with her husband’s displeasure over being unprepared for the potluck nor have others view her as not doing her part. On the other side, she had a husband in church worshiping and listening to a sermon with her, asking her—yes, seeking her permission—if the potluck was an option because he enjoys fellowshipping with believers after church but only if it meets with her approval.

Indeed, this is a gray-area issue—not a black-and-white moral matter—revolving around personal preferences: Should we do the potluck? Neither one was morally wrong. They simply preferred different things at a point in time.

But her disrespect, by her admission, followed by his unloving shutdown ended up taking them down a path that neither saw coming. One second they were singing “Shout to the Lord”; the next they were shouting inwardly, Get thee behind me, Satan!

But they both rebounded well, because neither of them is selfish. Praise God! How sad, though, that many couples escalate from here and show hostility and contempt for hours. They enter the Crazy Cycle for a day or two over a church potluck. They overlook his virtue in asking permission to attend the church potluck while in church and her virtue in feeling unprepared to serve him and others and not wanting to take advantage. 

Neither had ill will. Neither had planned and premeditated this battle. They were worshiping side by side! Yet they were derailed by a gray-area issue where neither was wrong. Why?

Because even in the gray areas, her disrespectful tone or words pierce him right in his heart. They tell him, “I don’t respect who you are as a man.” And his unloving actions or words strip her of what she needs to feel confident that he loves and cherishes her.

It is in these times when the issue at hand (e.g., the potluck) isn’t actually the issue. Crazy Cycles don’t start up between two goodwilled people who love each other dearly just because one wants to have lunch with their church friends and the other doesn’t want to impose. That sounds silly even just to write down, doesn’t it?

No, the wife deflates and the husband shuts down not because of differing opinions on potlucks but because of a disrespectful or unloving message that one sent to the other, leaving them deprived of the love or respect they need like they need oxygen to breathe.

Feeling disrespected, he unlovingly shuts down and walks away. Feeling unloved, she reacts with some choice disrespectful words. And just like that, the potluck is no longer the issue. Rather, in the tension of the moment, she has attacked his felt need as a man, and he has deprived her of what she needs as a woman.

Who should move first in ending this Crazy Cycle? He or she who chooses to be the mature one. In the case above, the wife realized her disrespect and wanted to make a more respectful choice. She ended up doing the mature thing. That they ended up going to the potluck was not what moved his heart to do the loving thing of offering to make up the salad. It wasn’t about him getting his way. No, it was the respect he felt from her in that moment when he most needed to feel it. Because the potluck wasn’t the issue; the issue was the lack of love and respect for one another.

The deprivation of love and respect has the power to derail a goodwilled couple in only three seconds, but the application of it has the power to get them right back on track and off the Crazy Cycle!

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Would you say that most of the arguments you have with your spouse have been premeditated, or did they spring up quickly, seemingly out of nowhere, and dampen a perfectly fine moment? Why is that? 
  2. How did unloving or disrespectful words/actions play the part of the culprit in these times? Was the real issue the original disagreement or the lack of love and respect felt in that moment? Explain.
  3. Do most of your arguments and Crazy Cycles with your spouse arise because of black-and-white issues of morality or from gray-area issues of personal preference? Why do you think that is?
  4. The next time a Crazy Cycle rears its ugly head, especially in a gray area where neither is morally wrong, will you commit to being the mature one and making the initial move toward love and respect?