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Break this Cycle for a Successful Marriage

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“Love is a dialogue, not a monologue.” – Dr. Gary Chapman

Sophia had spent the entire day immersed in paperwork and conference calls, negotiating with clients, and dealing with the constant hum of office stress. As she finally closed the door behind her, she could feel the weariness sink into her bones. All she longed for was a peaceful evening, a warm conversation, and the comfort of her husband’s companionship.

But as she entered their home, she found James, her husband, deep in a virtual world of his video game. His fingers danced on the gamepad, eyes glued to the television screen, oblivious to her presence. Sophia tried to talk to him about her day, to convey her stress and fatigue, but he remained engrossed in his game, offering her nothing more than a distracted grunt. A painful thought washed over her; he seemed to prefer the company of faceless online gamers over spending time with her, his wife. ‘He doesn’t even care about my day, my struggles,’ she thought.

Feeling dismissed and ignored, she retreated into her room, a rising resentment towards James building within her. His apparent indifference to her need for companionship and understanding felt like a silent betrayal. Love, she had always believed, was a dialogue, a constant give-and-take that nurtured understanding and intimacy. But now, their love felt like a monologue, a one-sided conversation that was gradually eating away at their bond.

She decided to indulge in her favorite pastime – watching television and devouring a bag of dark chocolates. As she moved to the kitchen to retrieve her treats, she found the sink filled with dirty dishes and plates – the children’s dinner mess. The sight further fueled her agitation. She yelled to James, a barbed question that was part plea, part accusation, “Were you planning on leaving all these dishes for me? You know, it would be nice if you could clean up sometimes and give me a break after working all day!”

The words echoed through their house, but James remained detached. Instead of addressing Sophia’s concerns, he rose from his game and walked out to his shop, leaving Sophia even more hurt and alone. The issues remained unresolved, leading to a continuous cycle of pain and miscommunication.

In moments like these, it’s crucial to remember the words of Christian author Paul David Tripp: “The DNA of love is self-sacrifice.” Love calls us to put aside our feelings and seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Philippians 2:4 instructs us, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

The Destructive Pattern of the 5 Ds: A Case Study

Sophia’s story is familiar in many homes, revealing an unseen undercurrent that many couples grapple with – a destructive pattern of communication known as the 5 Ds: Dismiss, Disdain, Defy, Deserve, and Duplicate. Her experience with James offers a real-world example of how these 5 Ds can permeate interactions and trigger a cycle of misunderstanding and hurt.

In the book of James, we find a powerful verse that speaks to the heart of communication: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). This wisdom is particularly relevant when we consider the challenges faced by many married couples, such as Sophia and James, who find themselves caught in a 5 Ds destructive pattern. If left unchecked, this pattern can create a cycle of conflict that is difficult to break.

Let’s explore this pattern in the context of James and Sofia’s experience:

  1. Dismiss: Something happens or is said, done, not said, or not done that results in feeling Dismissed. The event began with Sophia feeling dismissed by James, who seemed utterly absorbed in his video game and paid no attention to her needs or feelings. His lack of acknowledgment made her feel invalidated and unappreciated.
  2. Disdain: Rejection is a terrible feeling, so Disdain for that feeling of being rejected arises. This dismissal led to a sense of disdain within Sophia. She began questioning James’s consideration for her, and his disregard for her feelings fueled a growing resentment toward him. She began to create a narrative about why James was distant, “He rather play video games with people he never sees than spend any time with me, his wife. He doesn’t even care about my day, my struggles.”
  3. Defy: Feeling resentment, Defiance arises in the relationship with the person causing the resentment. This resentment led Sophia to defy James in an attempt to get him to acknowledge her feelings. She distanced herself from him, choosing to spend her evening alone and making her feelings known by lashing out about the dishes.
  4. Deserved: This is when our resentment transforms into a desire for retaliation. We want our partner to feel the same pain they caused us, to ‘deserve’ the same frustration. This is the desire for the other person to feel the same pain so they know what it feels like. For instance, Sophia might feel that James deserves to be ignored and dismissed, to experience how it feels. Sophia’s outburst about the dirty dishes was an expression of her wish for James to share what she felt – to “deserve” the same exhaustion and frustration she was experiencing.
  5. Duplicate: Unresolved, this cycle is automatically Duplicated over and over until a relationship is damaged beyond repair. James’s response – or lack thereof – left Sophia’s feelings unconsidered and only heightened her distress. Instead of breaking the cycle and addressing the issue, he further distanced himself, leaving Sophia alone and upset. This scenario could quickly become a repeated pattern, damaging their relationship if left unaddressed.

Paul provides a critical biblical principle in Ephesians 5:21 when he writes, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ This verse points to mutual submission —reciprocal respect and consideration fundamental to any healthy relationship. But what happens when this mutual submission is lost? This is where we encounter the destructive pattern of the 5 Ds.

James’s response — or rather, lack thereof — was far from what we’re called to as husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…’ James could have shown love and concern for Sophia by tuning in to her needs, stepping away from his game, and engaging in meaningful conversation with her.

Sophia’s feelings of being ignored and dismissed were undoubtedly valid. But, as Ephesians 5:22-24 teaches, ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…’ she could have approached the situation with more patience and grace, encouraging James to engage in conversation instead of reacting with disdain and resentment.

This cycle of the 5 Ds can be a significant obstacle to effective communication and harmonious marriage. Dr. Gary Chapman aptly noted, ‘love is a dialogue, not a monologue.’ Every interaction is an opportunity to nurture this dialogue, deepen our understanding, and show love. This speaks to the heart of marriage — it’s a constant exchange, a dance of giving and receiving, listening and speaking. The essence of love is in our ability to communicate effectively and to listen as much as we speak. This wisdom can help us break the destructive cycle of the 5 D’s.

Breaking the Pattern: A Path to Healing

As we navigate the complexities of marriage, we are reminded of the words in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This verse underscores the strength found in unity, a unity found in Christ and fostered through effective communication and understanding.

The solutions to breaking the cycle of the 5 D’s – Dismiss, Disdain, Defy, Deserved, and Duplicate – are inherently rooted in empathy, communication, and forgiveness. Deeply embedded in Christian teachings, these principles provide a roadmap to healthier interactions and a stronger marital bond.:

  1. Appreciate: Refocus on the qualities you admire in your spouse, even when upset. This shift in perspective allows you to see them through a lens of love, as God does. When they fall short, instead of focusing on the negative, recall the moments they’ve exceeded expectations. Maybe they’ve been taking care of the kids or had a particularly tough week at work. Instead of focusing on the negatives, try to appreciate the positive aspects. Make it a habit to express appreciation for your spouse verbally or through small acts of kindness. As Proverbs 15:1 reminds us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
  2. Connect: Do not disengage or retreat into isolation when faced with conflict. Instead, strive to maintain connection and open dialogue with your partner. Encourage open and honest conversations. The connection can be as simple as having a daily ritual where you both sit and talk about your day without interruptions. It could be over dinner or a cup of coffee in the morning. Use this time to really, and I mean REALLY, listen to each other. Alternatively, you might schedule a regular date night, which can help you maintain a close bond and keep open lines of communication.
  3. Give Charitably: Rather than hoping your spouse experiences the same discomfort or stress you’re feeling (the notion of ‘they deserve it’), extend grace. Approach situations with a mindset of giving and understanding. Show appreciation for each other regularly. When you feel upset with your spouse, consider taking a step back and looking at the situation objectively. Before reacting, ask yourself, “What might they be going through to act this way?” This way, you can respond with compassion and understanding. It also means performing small acts of kindness without expecting anything in return, like making them coffee in the morning or giving them time to relax when they come home from work. Small acts of kindness can go a long way in strengthening your bond.
  4. Let Go and Forgive: Holding onto resentment only fuels the cycle. Practice forgiveness and let go of the insistence that your spouse meets your preconceived expectations. Understand that your spouse is not a mind reader. Clearly express your needs and expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Remember, they, too, are human and prone to flaws and mistakes. We all make mistakes, and it’s crucial for the health of your relationship to not hold grudges. For instance, if your spouse forgot an important date or anniversary, communicate your feelings and be willing to forgive and move past it. Holding onto resentment can breed more conflict. Instead, find ways to remind each other about important dates and work on solutions together. As Colossians 3:13 instructs, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
  5. Cultivating Intimacy: Spend quality time together to strengthen your emotional connection. This can help you understand each other better and foster deeper intimacy. As Christian author Timothy Keller writes, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”

By embracing these approaches, you can begin to disrupt and change the destructive patterns, restoring harmony and fostering a healthier relationship.

The root causes of conflict in marriage often lie beneath the surface. By understanding and addressing these root causes, couples can break the cycle of the 5 Ds and foster healthier communication habits. This enhances the quality of their relationship and deepens their connection and love for each other.

The Role of Grace, Forgiveness, and Understanding

Grace, forgiveness, and understanding are essential in nurturing healthier communication habits. They create a safe space for open dialogue, promote emotional healing, and foster mutual respect. Like James and Sofia, many of us need to learn to extend grace to each other, forgive past hurts, and strive to understand each other’s perspectives. This improves our communication, deepens our love for one another, and honors God.

Marriage is a beautiful journey filled with joys and challenges. Fostering open dialogue, practicing gratitude and generosity, releasing expectations, and cultivating intimacy can help break the cycle of the 5 Ds and foster a relationship that honors each other and God. Remember, love isn’t a monologue but a dialogue that requires continuous effort, patience, and grace. Remember the timeless wisdom in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” As we strive to love each other in this profound way, we can create a union that reflects God’s love and grace, a testament to His divine plan for marriage.

Next Steps

As you navigate your journey in marriage, consider the patterns in your own communication. What is one area where you see room for improvement? Are you quick to listen, or could you slow down your reaction time? Do you express appreciation regularly, or could you extend more grace? Choose one principle from this article and commit to practicing it this week. What steps can you take today to make this dialogue more loving, understanding, and patient? Can you identify any patterns of the 5 Ds in your own relationship? What can you do to begin breaking this cycle? This week, challenge yourself to make one small change, to take one step towards a healthier, more loving dialogue with your spouse.


Paul Luna

Paul Luna is a pastor, husband & father of four in Oregon. He's passionate about faith, family, & community, he enjoys painting, hiking, & tech.

All stories by: Paul Luna