Stuck In A Destructive Cycle

Jenny inquired about a Marriage Intensive. Their marriage began to unwind nine years ago over a disagreement about their adult daughter moving back into the house. Dalton insisted that they would be there for her and Jenny felt like her move back into the house would keep her from growing up and stepping into adulthood.

“Ever since then, we can’t talk about anything without Dalton storming out of the room.” Jenny reported that she never feels heard and can never get any issue resolved. Dalton described being nagged about everything and leaving the conversation before he did something he’d later regret.

Move Against – Move Away Cycle

Dalton and Jenny were in what we call the Move Against – Move Away Cycle. Jenny moves against Dalton with a criticism and Dalton moves away from Jenny.

  • Move Against – Any expression of disapproval or judgment of your spouse based upon their actions or perceived motives or character. Pushing away your spouse’s hand, telling your spouse what they did wrong, yelling, threatening or being aggressive toward your spouse are all examples of moving against.
  • Moving Away – Any behavior that separates your attention or presence from your spouse. Ignoring what your spouse is saying, focusing on a device or television, leaving the room or house, or the silent treatment are all examples of moving away.
  • The Cycle – When one spouse typically engages in Moving Against and the other typically responds by Moving Away, a pattern begins to develop resulting in the couple being stuck in a destructive interaction cycle.

Cycle Damage

Being stuck in the Move Against – Move Away Cycle is quite costly to the relationship and each spouse.

  • Unresolved Issues – Because of the cycle, issues in the marriage remain unresolved. Unresolved issues snowball exponentially. The way you unsuccessfully talk to each other becomes additional issues. Issues begin to seem insurmountable.
  • Hurt – Each spouse feels continually hurt by the one they have chosen to do life together forever with. Over time, deep resentment builds that may result in depression, addictions, anxiety, physical aggression or suicide.
  • Disconnection – As the cycle begins, there are fewer interactions that build emotional intimacy and connection. When hearts are not connected, loneliness begins to appear.
  • Passionless – Without heart connection, physical attraction and passion wanes. Within a short amount of time, the one you could hardly keep your hands off of becomes the least sexually attractive person to you in the world.
  • Trust Busts – One of both spouses begin to find the emotional and/or physical connection outside of the marriage. In reaction to the emotional pain, one or both spouses begin to hide things from the other. When any “secrets” are discovered, the dissolution of trust seems like the final straw to a fragile and broken marriage.

Breaking the Cycle

Dalton and Jenny participated in a Marriage Intensive over four years ago and report that their marriage has never been better. “You saved our marriage. We still use what we learned that day”, Dalton exclaimed recently. Jenny said, “I think he finally heard what I had been trying to say and I don’t think that would have happened if we had not dedicated a whole day to our marriage.”

  1. Say it in a way your spouse can hear it. Use the Complaint Formula to say it in a way that your spouse can actually hear it. Disarm them by owning your experience, feelings, assumptions and judgments. Curiously ask for clarification about what you experienced instead of assuming the motives behind their behavior. Specifically ask for what you want going forward from your spouse.
  2. Use Time Out. When you are triggered by your spouse’s actions, use time out to soothe yourself. Schedule a time at least thirty minutes but no more than 24 hours later when you will reconvene to resolve the issue. Have Courageous Conversation your marriage needs about the issue.
  3. Take Responsibility. Work to discover what small part you may have played in the issue. Own what you can of how you have contributed to the issue and offer an apology.
  4. Create a new future together. Instead of focusing on the past, ask your spouse for what you want moving toward each other in the future. Don’t wait on your spouse, take action as soon as possible to begin to create the marriage that you want.
  5. Get help if you are stuck. If you find yourself in a negative pattern of interaction, stuck in a cycle that is destroying your marriage, find a professional to help. Visit with a veteran married couples, schedule a meeting with your pastor, find a local Christian marriage counselor, or give us a call to see how we might be able to help at 281-949-8115.

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This article was written by Roy and Devra Wooten, authors of “The Secret to a Lifetime Love”. Learn more at © Roy and Devra Wooten 2017. All Rights Reserved. You may replicate this article as long as it is provided free to recipients and includes appropriate attribution. Written permission for other use may be obtained at