When we love our partners we energize, empower and motivate them to love us in return, which continues to fuel a self reinforcing cycle. Unfortunately the reverse is true as well, and there are some couples who have been stuck in a negative cycle for years and have severely eroded their relationships. Some of us are inconsistent and fluctuate from a cycle where everything seems to be going great, until something triggers a downward spiral into a negative cycle. Learning to pull out of a negative cycle is important. Understanding this reciprocal feed back loop is so important in resolving relationship difficulties. You can map out a negative cycle by remembering a conflict and asking yourself what started it. Once you have an answer, your partner will provide input as to what happened prior to that piece, and quite likely it will come to you what preceded that, and as you keep going back, you will indeed recognize that you are in a cycle. If you begin to look for common themes in your interactions, it will lead you to recognize the deeper issues and unresolved needs in you and your partners lives. When couples are stuck in a negative cycle I hear them say things like:
“It’s up to him to take the initiative to resolve this conflict.”
“If she wants to withdraw and become distant, two can play that game.”
“If he refuses to be there for me, why should I bother trying to be meet his needs.”
“If he wants respect then he needs to earn it.”
“As far as I’m concerned, let her reap what she has sown; what goes around comes around!”
Life would be pretty miserable if we all got what we deserved. Breaking out of a bad cycle involves intentionally responding in a loving way in spite of feeling hurt or upset. This counter intuitive idea of returning good for evil is a key principal in the teachings of Jesus. The challenge to do this is a central theme in the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke 6:27-38 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
To consciously make an effort to respond in a loving way is hard, but it does have the power to break a negative cycle, and get a positive cycle going. The good news is that God has a better plan, and it can start with you.
Ask God for wisdom in knowing how to love your partner. Study their love language. Do they respond to acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, or physical touch? What is it that causes them to feel loved? Hold off on telling them what you think, and first ask them what they think, listen compassionately to what they are saying. Give them your 100% attention, look into their eyes, and discern what their needs might be, and learn to scratch them where they itch. No recipe for loving your partner can be standardized. You partner is unique. They may not respond to your efforts as you expected, so go back to the drawing board and ask God for wisdom. Don’t just keep on doing the same thing if it doesn’t work! Once you discover what does work keep on doing it!
How things are said can make a difference. One gal just wanted to hear her man say the words “I would like to ask you out on a date”. She didn’t just want to be invited to come along, she needed to feel that she was the desire of his heart. Loving your partner can become contagious. The more you love them, the more they love you, and this falling in love disease may be just what the doctor ordered!