View from top of a long spiral concrete staircase

The Ugly Anatomy of a Negative-Thought-Spiral

I had super deep ruts of bad habits from not taking negative/sinful thoughts captive for Christ when I started my journey in 2008.

I noticed I was thinking something destructive and would decide, “I’m not going to think about that anymore!”

Then half a second later, I was thinking about that very thing. And on and on it went all day every waking moment. Ad nauseum.

I had no idea how to stop thinking negative thoughts.

If I let my thoughts go wild… I’ll spiral out of control and so will my marriage.

Let’s Time Travel to 2007 in My Life

Imagine that Greg failed to meet my expectations in some way. (Here I am not talking about sin. Although if he sins against me, it can easily lead to a similar spiral, but probably with even more venom.)

It could be that he didn’t do something I wanted on a special occasion. Or maybe he didn’t take the trash out fast enough. He might have wanted to watch a sporting event and I wanted him to spend time with me. Perhaps he had a different personal conviction than I did about something.

Whatever it was, he didn’t do something I wanted him to and I am not happy.

During our first 14 years of marriage, this is a timeline of what would have quickly happened next…

  1. I start stewing about, “He didn’t do X for me.” That may be true. Or other things may be going on. He may have just not done it yet. He may already be working on it, I just don’t know about it. He may have misunderstood me. He may have legitimately forgotten. He may have done something else that he thinks would be better. There could be a legitimate reason why he didn’t do X that I just don’t know about yet. My expectations could have been unbiblical or unreasonable.
  2. I can easily jump from there to a big, fat assumption, “His lack of doing X must mean he doesn’t really love me.” He didn’t do X, but I don’t know his motives or his perspective. This huge negative assumption about his heart could easily be a total lie rooted in my own inner insecurities. I am now assuming the worst without any supporting facts. This is messed up. I am pouring gasoline on a spark and creating a dangerous blaze. I could choose to escape from this temptation right now, recognizing this tempting thought is likely a trap. I could decide to wait and not judge my husband without even knowing his perspective. I could choose to assume the best. But I don’t because this is my rut and I don’t even see what I am doing.
  3. Then I think, “That’s right, and he did something that upset me last week. Oh! And remember that time a few years ago! Yeah. He really isn’t a good husband.” Now I am keeping a record of wrongs and dredging up past things I supposedly forgave him for (against 1 Cor. 13:4-8) I am feeding my bitterness. Some of these things I’m upset about may not even have been sins, I just may have felt hurt because I misunderstood his heart and perspective and made wrong assumptions back then, too.
  4. Now I start collecting all kinds of negative evidence and building a court case against him to prosecute him in my mind as if I am his prosecuting attorney. When I allow myself to think in this way, I am collaborating with the enemy, the “Accuser of the brethren.”.***
  5. I carefully think back over every offense and slight, replaying them over and over again, luxuriating in the resentment and my victimhood. I open a wide door to invite the enemy right into my mind, heart, and life. I let him take the controls. And I am grieving God’s Holy Spirit. At any point here, I can stop and repent and give Jesus control of my thoughts, but I don’t because I am spiritually blind.
  6. I purposely avoid thinking about all of the good things he has done, even if there are many things I could think about. I don’t remember how he works to provide for me or the sweet things he did for me, even this week. I am going against the command God gives us to think about good things in Phil. 4:8. I am not filling my heart with gratitude, as God wants me to.
  7. I allow bitterness and a spirit of offense to fill my heart more and more. I am giving the enemy more authority in my life and choosing his path instead of God’s path. I am yielding my mind to darkness and poison. I don’t realize that I am allowing a little issue, that may even be a non-issue, to cause major spiritual damage to me and I am getting ready to let myself spew toxicity in my marriage.
  8. I think, “He is a super unloving husband. He probably doesn’t care about me at all. And look at all I have done for him!” I complain about my husband to myself then I compare myself to him. Of course, I make myself look really good and make him look terrible.
  9. I start ticking off all the good things I can remember that I have done for him. From my own biased and inaccurate perspective, not from God’s perspective. I use my own score-counting.
  10. I compare how wonderful and holy I am to how terrible and unloving I assume he isI give myself plenty of grace when I do anything wrong. I was tired. I was sick. I was hormonal. I was upset. I was hurt. He should understand me. I have excuses. But I have no such grace for my husband. (Interestingly, self-righteousness was a sin Jesus rebuked more sharply than almost anything else.)
  11. I look down on him with pride and contempt. Pride is the root sin of every other sin. I am on incredibly dangerous ground. When I am full of pride, I can justify any sin to myself. I deceive myself. Satan draws closer and his voice sounds so soothing and right, encouraging me to continue in this thinking, not even realizing I am not hearing the Holy Spirit or following the right voice.
  12. I decide it is totally appropriate to gossip about him to others to get them to take my side and justify my feelings of bitterness as I try to win them over to see how terrible he is. Of course, I build my argument on my potentially erroneous assumptions. I smear my husband to other family members, friends, coworkers, maybe even on social mediaand represent him in an unflattering light. I want everyone to see that I am right and I am a victim.
  13. I go on the verbal attack as soon as I see my husband, not even giving him a chance to tell me his motives from the original slight that started my negative thought spiral of death. He is not innocent until proven guilty. He’s already guilty and condemned in my mind. I give him no opportunity to defend himself or explain what he really was thinking. There is no kindness, gentleness, understanding, respect, or godly love in my heart for him at this moment. My motive is to prove how right I am and how wrong he is and to verbally crush him for hurting me. How dare he!?
A man's and woman's wedding bands resting together on an open Bible.

At this point, I have done a massive amount of damage to our marriage

What a terrible price we will both pay. What if I assumed wrongly?

Honestly, I now know that when I assumed the worst about my husband for those first 14 years, I was wrong almost every single time. I didn’t understand how he felt. I didn’t understand how different men’s perspectives are or how different his personality is from mine.

Almost every time I got so upset during those years, my terrible assumptions were completely false.

I just unwittingly harmed our trust and intimacy for weeks or months, maybe longer. How can my husband trust me now? He couldn’t.

What benefit comes from this approach for anyone? Other than the enemy of my soul.

  • The day is ruined. Maybe even the week or the month. Especially if I decide I know the truth and don’t bother to get to know my husband’s perspective or his heart.
  • My husband really does want to get away from me now because he feels so attacked and emotionally/verbally crucified. He feels like he is drowning in shame when he is around me.
  • I have created the very thing I feared. The chasm between us widens. He doesn’t feel emotionally safe with me. And I feel justified because he isn’t acting loving just like I thought he wasn’t.
  • I resent him all the more as he backs away or gets upset at my accusations.
  • He can’t stop my bitterness and I don’t want to give it up. If I continue to nourish my bitterness, it will eventually destroy the intimacy and connection in my marriage. Bitterness is deadly to relationships.

If he really did sin against me

There are times we need to confront our husbands about sin in biblical, appropriate, respectful ways. But we need to be sure we do it in ways that honor the Lord and are full of His Spirit with right motives. There are also times to overlook sin. And at all times, we are to overcome evil with good.

Thankfully, we don’t have to sin in order to address sin properly in others. But we do need to be sure we look at our own lives carefully first.

My husband may have wronged me. I may start out with righteous anger, but I don’t want to slip into sinful anger. Sinful anger does not bring about the righteousness in our lives God desires.

God gives us Matt. 7:1-5, Matt. 18:15-17, and Gal. 6:1-2 to guide us if others sin against us.

In the next post, we’ll go through an example of how to stop a negative-thought-spiral by taking our thoughts captive for Christ.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 

2 Cor. 10:4-5

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What Does It Mean to Take Every Thought Captive? by www.gotquestions.org

Taking Our Thoughts Captive for Christ – Video

I also go into great detail about how to take our thoughts captive for Christ in my books:

NOTES

**Note—for wives who are in abusive or dangerous situations, I am not saying you should ignore danger or abuse. If you are truly not safe or your children are not safe, please reach out for appropriate, trustworthy help.

***Note I can forgive my husband for past sins against me. But that doesn’t mean I need to trust him if he hasn’t rebuilt trust. Forgiveness is something we do to obey and honor the Lord and through His power. We forgive unconditionally as believers in Christ. It keeps us from getting destroyed. Trust is something that takes two people to cooperate together and is conditional.

12 thoughts to “The Ugly Anatomy of a Negative-Thought-Spiral”

  1. I wonder if many or most women can identify with this? I really do – and it’s very helpful April – for you to be so honest. It’s hard to admit our stinking thinking – but so key to our spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing. Time to start demolishing ungodly thoughts! Bless you April as you grow in your journey. ❤️

    1. MarthaM,
      My guess is that most of us struggle like this with negative thought spirals to some degree or another.

      It is painful sometimes, at first, to let God shine His holy light on our thoughts. But as He helps us get rid of the toxic stuff and replace it with good stuff, we are healed and strengthened. And then we can be a blessing to others, too! It’s a win/win!

      May the Lord richly bless you, as well.

      Thanks so much for sharing! Yes, this discipline of taking our thoughts captive for Christ makes the biggest difference in our spiritual, mental, and emotional wellbeing. I have even seen God heal women who had physical illness from believing lies about God, themselves, and their husbands. Receiving God’s truth is healing on every level.

      Much love!

  2. Wow!! This is an incredible post and video! I am dating and not married but I can truly relate to this. I have been on a journey as on how to take my thoughts captive for about 3-4 months now. I have really had to learn how to make Jesus my full sufficiency and not to rely on the love of my boyfriend to be my fulfillment. It has been a journey but God has taught me a lot. I am so grateful for any emotional hardship I have gone through that God has used to get me to the point I am now. Now, I can streamline my emotions much better and have a better framework for seeing where I am at fault.

    Something practical I do to take my thoughts captive for Christ is open a Note document on my computer and write down everything I am feeling and what is going on when I am upset about something(I can use this method with my boyfriend or really with anything else. After writing it all down, I read it and I honesty review it and I can usually see where I see where I have either a) false expectations b) my emotions and thoughts are pointing to a deeper insecurity c) I am trying to make my boyfriend my sufficiency d) I am at fault for how I am viewing an issue and need to change my thought processes (through prayer and asking God to change me through His Spirit and Word) e) or I am just plain emotional 😅 for no good reason

    Thanks so much for this post and all of your videos! They have been a huge blessing to me in this season of my life!! God bless! <3

    1. Morgan,

      You are most welcome here! I am THRILLED that you already have this on your radar, to think about the sufficiency of Christ and to take your thoughts captive for Christ. Wow! What an incredible blessing and foundation to have before marriage.

      Thank you very much for sharing your process. That is what I do, write my thoughts down and then evaluate them critically and invite God to show me any sinful thinking or wrong motives and then seek to align my thinking with Scripture.

      I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share with my sisters.

      Much love!

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