Have you ever felt like your marriage was stuck in a cycle of negativity? Without meaning to, you and your spouse seem to keep falling back into the same rut of negativity and criticism, and you’re not sure how to get out of it. You keep letting the same topics trigger you into a rut of rehashing the same arguments over and over with no resolution in sight. I think most (if not all) marriages have experienced this at one time or another. This cycle of negativity can create feelings of desperation and hopelessness, and it can also threaten to model the wrong relational examples to our children.
Most marriages experience seasons with storms of frustration or conflict, but when those seasons turn into the status quo, the marriage’s survival is at risk. There are so many factors that lead to this negative cycle. It can be set into motion by stress or exhaustion or miscommunication or a myriad of other things. How it starts isn’t nearly as important as how to break out of it, because if you allow the negative cycle to continue, it can devastate your marriage and teach your kids unhealthy lessons that could sabotage their future dating relationships and marriages.
I like to refer to this negative cycle as the “F5 Marriage Tornado.” My knowledge about tornadoes is limited to what I learned from the classic 1990’s movie, Twister (is it just me or were movies way better in the ’90s?). I remember that movie teaching that an F5 tornado is the most powerful storm on earth. When you’re in the center of an “F5 Marriage Tornado,” it can feel like the most powerful storm in your life.
Here’s how it works. There are five factors in this storm of marital conflict, and they all start with the letter “f” (hence the “F5” reference). Each of these factors leads in a cycle to the next one on the list, and with each rotation around all five, the storm grows in ferocity. Maybe you’re a visual learner like me, so take a look at this simple graphic explaining the F5 Marriage Tornado, and then I’ll unpack how this works:
The storm always starts with frustration. We’re all prone to frustrations at times, and these frustrations might not have anything to do with your spouse, but how you deal with the frustration can have a tremendous impact on how you communicate to your spouse. When you’re caught in this storm, frustration always leads to false assumptions.
False assumptions occur when you believe lies that your spouse is against you or they don’t care as much as you do about the issue. Once these false assumptions fester, they inevitably lead to fighting, which can be a war of words or a war of non-verbal shots aimed at wounding one another.
The fighting eventually leads to fatigue, and this is dangerous because we tend to make our worst decisions when we’re tired. Fatigue blurs our vision and keeps us from seeing the situation clearly. Fatigue also makes us susceptible to the fifth step in this cyclone, which is fantasizing. When we grow weary from the whole cycle, we can slip into the toxic trap of fantasy in the form of escaping into pornography or romance novels or looking up old flames on social media or just imagining a better life without your spouse.
This process will lead you right back to the start of the storm with more frustration, and the cycle continues to repeat itself until one or both spouses either give up on the marriage or decides to fight for peace.
If you find yourself in this storm that has been the end of far too many marriages, please don’t give up. Please don’t believe the myth that your marriage will always be caught in this exhausting cycle of negativity and conflict. You have the power to bring peace. The F5 storm has an F5 solution. Here how it works:
The F5 Peace Plan starts with frustration. Like I said before, frustration is an inevitable part of life and marriage, but you don’t have to let that frustration lead you into the storm cycle. In the peace plan, the moment you feel frustration, you break the negative cycle by choosing forgiveness. Choose to let go of whatever grudge or animosity you’re carrying. It was Augustine who centuries ago wisely said, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and then hoping the other person dies.”
Grudges and “keeping score” of faults will poison your marriage. Choose to forgive and move forward with grace. This is the first and most important step in finding true and lasting peace in your marriage (and life in general).
After you forgive, follow the Apostle Paul’s sage advice recorded in the Bible (Philippians 4:8) and “fix your thoughts on the good.” Don’t let your mind fixate on the negative. Whatever captures your focus will seem more significant, so make sure you’re focusing on good things. If you’re looking for your spouse’s flaws, that’s all you’ll see; but if you’re looking for the good, you’ll start to see it.
Fixing your thoughts on the positive should be a constant reminder to process to the next step, which is to focus on God’s promises. Remember that God is with you and He is bigger than whatever struggle you’re facing. His promises are real and can be trusted. Immerse yourself in God’s word (the Bible) and choose to believe that God is in control even when life is complicated.
As you do these things, you’ll discover a mental and spiritual renewal, which leads to the final step, which is “Finding Peace.” I believe that real peace is found in the Prince of Peace. When Christ is the center of your thoughts, He will always bring more peace to your perspective. He wants to bring more peace to your heart, your home, and your marriage.
I love this simple peace plan for many reasons, but one of the most practical reasons is that you don’t need your spouse to participate with you to do it. You don’t have to get stuck in the cynical cycle of excuses that say, “Well if my husband/wife would just do their part, then the marriage would be great.”
It’s never your job to fix your spouse or change your spouse. It’s your job to love your spouse and to trust God to do the rest.
If you follow this peace plan, even if your spouse isn’t currently joining you in the peace process, you’ll still find that God will start bringing more peace to your home. I believe your example will eventually be a factor in bringing a change of heart to your spouse too.
Choose to be the first one to stop the fighting. Refuse to keep living in the eye of an F5 Marriage Tornado when peace is within your grasp. Trust the Prince of Peace to calm the storms and He will.