19 Ways to Spiral Up or Spiral Down

What Behaviors Build Up and What Behaviors Tear Down?

My wife and I have worked with a number of couples. What many of them have in common is that they forget to do the positive behaviors and get stuck in the negative behaviors.

This sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

Do good. Don’t do bad.

In Galatians it says, “For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”  Galatians 5:13-15 (NET Bible)

Sometimes the Bible is so simple. Love your spouse like you love yourself.


When we work with couples, we emphasize to do more of what will build their marriage bond and do less of what doesn’t.

Here are 19 behaviors that will spiral a relationship up and 19 behaviors that will spiral a relationship down.

Spiral Up Behaviors Spiral Down Behaviors
1. Spending time together Prioritizing other activities ahead of your partner
2. Speaking your spouse’s love language Waiting for your spouse to go first
3. Committing to working on your relationship Refusing to work on the relationship
4. Choosing to do something positive Focusing only on the negative
5. Seeking to understand first Criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling
6. Owning your issues and improving yourself Blaming others
7. Being assertive and communicating your needs Being passive and not communicating
8. Validating your spouse’s thoughts and feelings Assuming that you know what they’re saying
9. Working out a compromise Trying to win at the expense of your partner
10. Working through forgiveness when hurt Holding onto resentment
11. Being humble Being proud
12. Giving grace Keeping score
13. Honesty in a loving way Lies & omissions
14. Understand your emotional triggers Reacting without control
15. Allowing your partner to be real Controlling or manipulating your partner
16. Express anger in a healthy way Name calling, putting down, demanding
17. Seek outside help when you need it Refusing outside counsel
18. Being trustworthy Breaking vows or commitments
19. Being a safe person Not treating your partner as someone precious

Why Is It So Hard?

I often find myself relating to the apostle Paul when he writes, “For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!” Romans 7:19

I know that if I was perfectly holy, my relationships would work much, much better.

In our work with couples, there is usually also a skill issue. Communication is a skill. You can learn to listen and speak more effectively. Many people just don’t know how to validate each other.

Being healthy is also all about understanding our thoughts and motivations. I know that God can slowly change our thoughts and our feelings so that we will actually BE loving.

God, please helps us to grow!


Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Identify what’s causing a negative spiral – What behaviors are causing a negative spiral in their relationship? Understanding the negative impact of their behaviors helps people to make better choices.
  • Identify what will cause a positive spiral – Sometimes it’s as simple as working on doing what will create a positive spiral.
  • Build skills – Work with your couples to have skills that will help the positive spiral. Learning better communication and conflict management skills will increase the positive spiral.