Are You Mistaking a Crazy Cycle for a Crazy Train?

The Crazy Cycle, as explained in my book Love & Respect, says, “Without love she reacts without respect. Without respect he reacts without love.” If neither husband nor wife is mature and calm enough to recognize this cycle and to step off in order to slow it down, it will only strengthen and keep on spinning.

Unfortunately, many couples when in conflict do not recognize that they have stepped onto the Crazy Cycle and nothing begins to simmer down until one of them, typically the husband, storms off and withdraws from the fight, with the attitude to simply “live to fight another day.”

Are You Mistaking a Crazy Cycle for a Crazy Train?

Others are not blind to the fact that there is a real conflict going on that needs to be worked through, but to them it is not so much a Crazy Cycle, where they see how each of them is fueling the other, but in their eyes it is more of a Crazy Train, as in they don’t understand why their spouse is coming at them like a runaway train. They do not see how they have been contributing to the conflict; they only see their spouse’s negative reactions and blame them for it all.

For example, a wife who is upset about something that has angered her, such as a comment her co-worker made to her, might come home in a bad mood and lash out at her husband in a disrespectful way. This may cause her husband to react in a way that feels unloving to her. It is here that some wives disregard how they appeared to their husband in the first place and fixate only on the husband’s unloving reaction.

But she needs to ask herself if she is misinterpreting her husband’s behavior. He isn’t trying to be offensive but is feeling defensive. He isn’t trying to be unloving but is feeling disrespected. He isn’t trying to put her down but is feeling put down himself. He isn’t trying to be unfair to her but feels she is being unfair to him.

Unfortunately, in times like these men do not break down crying and exclaim, “You are hurting my feelings.” Instead, some men get angry and withdraw and refuse to talk for the rest of the evening. He is hurting but it doesn’t appear this way to his wife. It only looks to her that he is trying to hurt her. This reinforces to the wife that he is unloving. She judges him by yelling at him, “You are a jerk just like every other man. You have no idea how to love a woman.”

Or a husband who is upset about something that angered him, such as a disrespectful remark from their teenage daughter, might come into the room in a bad mood and lash out at his wife in an unloving way. This may cause his wife to react in a way that feels disrespectful to him. It is here that some husbands disregard how they appeared in the first place and fixate only on the wife’s disrespectful behavior.

But he needs to ask himself if he is misinterpreting his wife’s behavior. She isn’t trying to be offensive but is feeling defensive. She isn’t trying to be disrespectful but is feeling unloved. She isn’t trying to put him down but is feeling put down herself. She isn’t trying to be unfair to him but feels he is being unfair to her.

Unfortunately, some women explode in a tirade of contemptuous words. She uses venomous words. She is hurting but it doesn’t appear this way to her husband. It only looks to him that she is trying to hurt him. This reinforces to the husband that she is disrespectful. He judges her by yelling at her, “I am sick and tired of you being a typical, emotional, irrational woman. You have no idea how to show me respect. Everybody respects me but you.”

These couples are now three or four spins into the Crazy Cycle, but the one who came home upset at something or someone entirely separate from their marriage does not see how their anger at an outside party caused them to be unloving or disrespectful to their spouse. They only see the disrespectful or unloving reaction from their spouse and think to themselves, Why are they coming at me like this too?

As long as they are mistaking a Crazy Cycle for a Crazy Train, they will never know to be the mature one and to step off the cycle in order to help bring it to a stop. Instead, they will continue to be defensive, bracing themselves for the impact of the runaway train. It is vital, therefore that this person ask, “Was I feeling unloved or disrespected by a third party and now take it out on my spouse as though they need to figure out my pain and empathize with my frustration by letting me appear hostiie and contemptuous toward them?” Just as this person felt unfairly treated by a third party, they need to recognize that they are triggering the Crazy Cycle in their marriage by being just as unfair toward their spouse.

What if you are the innocent party? Suggest that before a conflict erupts and the Crazy Cycle starts spinning, to say something to your spouse such as, “Ouch! That felt really unloving. Did I say something disrespectful or unloving to you that brought on that response?”

This way, your angry spouse can either respond that yes, you did say something just then that helped trigger that response, and it can be settled right then and there; or hopefully share that their anger stems from someone or something else and apologize for taking it out on you.

-Dr. E

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever felt confused and victimized because your spouse was being unloving or disrespectful toward you and you hadn’t recognized that you were actually the one who instigated the conflict? How did you eventually recognize how the conflict originated?
  2. When you have been upset at something or someone other than your spouse, what has best worked for you to still be able to vent and share your frustrations but be conscious from the beginning to not lead them to believe you are angry with them? When have you not done this well? How did that fuel a conflict that never should’ve been there in the first place?
  3. You married a loving, respectful, goodwilled person, and you know it. So why is it that we tend to be so quick to misinterpret our spouse’s behavior as being unloving and disrespectful toward us?
  4. Do you think that you could ever say something to your spouse such as “Ouch! That felt really unloving. Did I say something disrespectful to you that brought on that response?” Or, “Honey, those words were really disrespectful. Did I say or do something unloving that contributed to that reaction?” How could that question being asked at the beginning of one of your more recent conflicts with your spouse have helped shorten the eventual Crazy Cycle that followed?

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