Dwell on What’s Wrong (HTKARI30D)

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continue our series, How To Kill A Relationship in 30 Days (HTKARI30D).

Having healthy relationships is a pretty common goal, but achieving that goal can be a real challenge. Why is that? Why is it so tough to have happy relationships and to make those relationships last?

According to the Prepare and Enrich assessment which has helped 3,000,000 couples from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities, here are the 5 Relationship Killers:

  1. Communicate in Code (message notes and message video from North Campus)
  2. Get Your Way Always (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
  3. Dwell on What’s Wrong (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
  4. Don’t Commit (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
  5. Avoid Conflict (message notes and message video from Gateway South)

Gateway South messages can be heard via the SoundCloud app or go to https://soundcloud.com/ericbryant-1

Next Steps

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.



When I counsel married couples headed for a divorce, both so clearly see what’s wrong with the other and both have very good reasons to justify their own actions. Usually both are are blinded to the truth by their own judgments.

All people, everywhere, can be blinded to our own wrongs and shortcomings, and yet have this uncanny 20/20 clarity on the wrongs of others that tempts us to criticize and villainize and dehumanize another person to elevate our own cause.

For some reason, a part of our fallen human nature is this amazing blindness to our own wrongs or mistakes while maintaining a laser-sharp vision of how others need to change – even to obsess on the wrongs or mistakes of others.

In marriage, dwelling on what’s wrong with someone else is one of the top Relationship Killers.

But that’s true at work and in friendships too.

In the studies we’re basing this series on, validated by 3 million couples, across cultures and ethnicities, they found:

  • 83% of troubled marriages said, “My partner is too negative or critical.
  • 80% of troubled marriages said “My partner makes comments that put me down.”
  • But on the positive side,
    79% of happily married couples said “My partner does not make comments that put me down.” -Prepare/Enrich study

Putting the other person down with negativity and criticism kills a relationship faster than anything except Bad Communication and Inflexibility like we talked about the past 2 weeks.

We can learn to be people capable of healthy, long-lasting relationships by understanding our bias and then working on becoming a person who builds others up.

Relational IQ Test:

1). If you heard all of my thoughts, you’d say they were:

  • Mostly Negative & Critical
  • Often Negative & Critical
  • Sometimes Positive & Believing the Best
  • Mostly Positive & Believing the Best

2). What I hear in my head when I mess up is:

  • Personally Condemning
  • Self-Critical
  • Comforting
  • Reassuring and Hopeful

Negative Thinking

If you assessed yourself on the negative-critical end, here’s an area you can work on right now, because your negative, critical spirit will harm your long-term relationships.

Some of us grew up with more negative, critical views – others with a more positive bias.  Critical thinking works really well when you’re doing engineering or problem solving or medicine. You want your doctor to think “What’s wrong here and how can we fix it.”

You don’t want your doctor saying, “You know I don’t think that massive, abnormal growth on your back looks bad, who am I to judge? Let’s just be positive and hope for the best.”

When it comes to relationships, people don’t want to live with a negative, critical partner (they can get that at work). They want to live with a positive person who encourages them and believes the best.

I always have a choice in my attitude. It’s not up to another person or my circumstances, it’s my responsibility to have a good attitude and I CAN choose that.

Re-shaping Our Attitude

The Biblical authors offer us help in re-shaping our attitudes… for example, Paul writes:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Look for the best in others, not the worst – the beautiful, not the ugly – things to praise, not things to curse.  

We have a choice of what we focus on whether we are only seeing what’s not there or what’s wrong or seeing the possibilities and the good.

We program our minds to have more of a negative, critical bias or to interpret things with a positive, hopeful bias.  It’s up to us.

Paul writes, in another letter written to followers of Jesus living in Rome…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – Romans 12:1-2

What we think about, dwell on, the thoughts we meditate on—they shape and renew our minds – either in line with what God says is true or with what is destructive.

Getting Out of the Ruts

Modern science agrees. A 2017 article from Psychology Today.

How Do Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis Rewire Your Brain? talks about how our brains and neural pathways are malleable and changing… and how our thoughts, beliefs and what we dwell on actually shapes those pathways.

So you can literally carve out a negative rut – a well-worn negative rut in your brain that you just automatically travel down.

OR because Neurogenesis discoveries found new neurons are birthed in your brain daily… you have a chance to change or rewire your brains physical pathways based on how you think… what you dwell on.

Science is just confirming what God’s told us through Scripture.

Dr. Caroline Leaf is a neuroscientist and a follower of Jesus… who wrote Switch on Your Brain. Here are some highlights:

  • When you think, you build thoughts, and these become physical substances in your brain.“As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
  • You cannot control the events and circumstances of life, but you can control your reaction“Rejoice always,pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  • Good thinking = good choices = healthy thoughts; toxic thinking = toxic choices = toxic thoughts“I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses.Now choose life” (Deut. 30:19).
  • You are designed to stand outside yourself and observe your own thinking and change it.“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
  • Each morning when you wake up, you have new baby nerve cells born inside your brain to use wisely as you remove bad thoughts and wire in new ones“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

How does all this science of neuroplasticity and thought relate to relationships?

A Spiritual Battle

The Scriptures use spiritual terms to describe what is happening in our minds.

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 Corinthians 10:4-5

This says there’s a Civil War going on, and you’re in it! We are in a spiritual battle. But it’s not a conventional war waged with guns and hand grenades, to gain territory. It’s a battle for your mind.

Evil thoughts want to drive a wedge between you and your spouse.  Even if you don’t believe that—you know the more you dwell on something wrong with your spouse or marriage it soon gets to be all you see or feel or think about. It shapes your brain, and behavior—you get stuck in a neural rut. So you have to pay attention and take thoughts captive… especially the ones aimed at dividing you from your spouse.

It happens in the mind, but those thoughts shape how your marriage, friendships and work relationships go.

Throughout the day, we are having a series of thoughts. They’re going on all the time. What we don’t always realize is how powerful these thoughts are. Some of those thoughts can move us forward toward the life God intended – to build each other up and to encourage one-another.

Others are subtle but evil—they’re not yours, they’re trying to steal, kill, and destroy your relationship. If you resist them, they’ll cease. If you dwell on them, you’ll be shaped by them.

(On a very important side note, if you find it not just a focus issue… but something that feels out of your mental control or if you find yourself having suicidal thoughts —seek professional help… if you don’t know where to turn… please let us know so that we can find you that help you need! No one walks alone!)

Taking Responsibility for Our Thoughts

The way to change our thoughts is to take responsibility for what thoughts we let in and dwell on. We can learn to train our mind to see the positive in people and situations!

Psychiatrist and counselor John Levy says:

“People who found everything disappointing [as singles] are surprised and pained when marriage proves to be no exception.” –John Levy

If you develop a negative, critical bias even those cute things will bother and annoy you.

There will always be something wrong.

Judging Ourselves First

So how do we become people who have healthy, strong, lasting relationships?

Jesus gives us wisdom in the sermon on the Mount:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Matthew 7:1-2

And Jesus says, don’t judge. Why?  What’s wrong with it?

What’s wrong with it is it blinds us to the truth about ourselves.  And it frequently does damage to others.  It keeps us from humbly listening to God’s Spirit and changing the only person we are given responsibility to change – ourselves!

When we set ourselves up as Judge, we usurp the place of God. God alone has the right to judge the heart and motives and value and worth of another person. We don’t.

And Jesus says, when we do–We really are judging ourselves.

He says, when you get out your tape measurer, and you hold it up against the life of another person and measure them and pronounce them as falling short of the standard you measure by, your very words are a judgement against you.

Jesus teaches us to stop and reflect on our own actions when we find ourselves judging or criticizing others. We are reminded that all of the anxiety, fear, bitterness and pride we feel when judging others makes us completely blind to a healthy path forward for ourselves and for our relationships.

  • When we get angry at the behavior of our spouse, or partner or friend, does that mean we’re fully willing to ask about things that bother them? (If not, we’re judging ourselves).
  • When a spouse won’t change, and we judge them as stubborn and proud, does that mean we are always willing to change to serve their needs? (if not, we’re judging ourselves).
  • What we need is greater humility, that’s what Jesus is getting at.
  • What we need is for God to remove the blinders to see ourselves clearly. If all of us would truly judge ourselves rightly and allow God access to change us, we’d all be better off.

Jesus continues:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5

So many marriages and relationships could be saved if we would focus on asking God to help us see ourselves clearly and change… as much as we focus on wanting to change others.

  • Every time you see something that needs fixing or changing or correcting in another person—stop and pray, God show me what you want me to change, like I want this person to change.
  • Ask God to take any Logs out of your eye, so you can see an area that you need to work on that may equally challenge your spouse.
  • If all of us would work on ourselves as much as we want others to work on themselves, all our problems would be solved, wouldn’t they?

Helping Others

Now, some of you have been asking in that whirl of thoughts:

Is Jesus saying, “Just Live and Let Live.”  You do your thing, I’ll do mine. What if that person is really doing something wrong—hurting people, it really needs to change? We have no right to say anything if someone you love is destroying themselves or your marriage—hey, don’t judge?  Is that what he’s saying? Not at all!

Notice, he says that once you’ve taken the big ugly board out of your own eye, then you’ll truly be helpful to another person who needs someone to help get the speck out of their own.  But the board—the Log is Judgmental Attitudes—it’s not seeing ourselves clearly.

In other words, we are to help each other.  We are to correct each other.  We are to make judgments in the sense of judging between what’s right and wrong, or judging whether an action is good or evil, but not with Judgmental Attitudes.

Later in Matthew, Jesus tells us if someone sins against you, go directly to them, and show him his fault.  When Jesus saw hypocrisy in the Religious leaders, he confronted it.

And we are told to not just swallow every teaching you hear—but be discerning—check out everything you hear by the scriptures, and if something I’m saying is wrong—you should point it out to me.  That’s not being judgmental.

We are to judge right from wrong and correct each other, but (AND THIS IS THE KEY), we are to do it with humility and self-awareness and in love—for the benefit of the other person and to restore the relationship.

We are to discern and make value judgments, and even lovingly correct one another—but we are not to be judgmental (as in devaluing) or condemning.

Forcing Our Way

How do we practically do this?  Jesus says this last line that can be confusing, but if understood correctly—gives us insight into how to Judge Not, and yet be helpful with each other’s specks.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” – Matthew 7:6

  • Now that sounds random, doesn’t it. Jesus is not giving you ammo to say “my spouse is a pig.”
  • No, he’s saying, “If you have something sacred or valuable and you give it to a dog or pig, it’s going to be of no value to them. Dogs don’t read the scriptures and Pigs don’t wear pearls.”
  • In the context of what Jesus is saying about correcting and helping others, he isn’t saying some people are pigs and don’t deserve your pearls of wisdom.
  • The point is that they are not in a state to be helped or benefited by them.

Jesus is using this metaphor to show that Forcing Truth on someone is useless, and potentially dangerous.  The point is not that you are wasting the pearl, but that you are not really being helpful at all.  It could actually backfire and cause them to want to attack you.

Just think about when you’ve gotten in stand offs in your relationships.  Isn’t this what happened?

If we are people who force our pearls of wisdom on others, even if we think we have the best of intentions, We are taking responsibility out of their hands, and out of God’s hands, and trying to bring them under our control.  We don’t consciously intend this, we’re Blind To it, maybe we are filled with concern for their well-being, but when we condemn or force, we are not respecting them as spiritual beings responsible before God alone for their course of action.

Asking God

You say, well, what are we supposed to do then to help each other heal and grow? ASK! “Ask and it will be given to you.”  Jesus follows this with the passage where he talks about the power of the Request.

When something bugs us and we sense a judging, critical attitude rising up—Ask!

  • Ask God to help you see yourself clearly.
  • Ask God to help that person benefit and grow, and then go and
  • ASK that person for the changes you think will benefit them or your relationship.

See, if you back off, and stop trying to manipulate, and you really try to respect the person – you love them by treating them as you would want to be treated hearing corrective Truth.  Then you become their ally who is on their side rather than the enemy.

And that’s where healing and growth occur, in that soil.  Where people don’t feel threatened, but loved and supported, then there is the very freeing possibility of looking honestly at the Speck in the Eye, and even having someone beside me to help me get the speck out.   And You do this by Asking.

This way of relating—of knowing God’s truth, and then helping each other live it out by Asking—not by judging, condemning or blaming or forcing.  This will transform your relationships. And in that environment rather than judging one another, we help one another grow.

5 Steps to Switching from Negative to Positive Thinking

Try something different this week.

When your relationship has you feeling judgemental or anxious or bitter…

  1. See that as a reminder to reconnect with God. Don’t let the presence of anxiety or negativity discourage you or cause you to give up… instead as a motivation to redirect your thoughts.  It is not a sin to be tempted, but what we do with that temptation will determine if we will wander into the darkness or pursue the light!


  1. “Take your thoughts and feelings captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
    Every thought has the potential to lead us towards anxiety or peace… towards goodness or evil… towards positivity or negativity… toward forgiveness or resentment.
    Give your thoughts to God and let Him realign your thoughts with His love.


  1. Replace the lies with truth. Often, we become overwhelmed in our relationships because we imagine an alternative reality far worse than what we are experiencing.
    Reading a Bible verse or even better… memorizing a Bible verse that gives peace and praying that verse re-aligns our heart and mind with our faith.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  Philippians 4:4-8

  1. Call or text a friend. Accountability is a natural part of our recovery groups. Reaching out to someone who can at the very least distract us or even better redirect us makes a big difference. Ask them for prayer. Borrow some hope from them.
  1. Live in the light – even when you do not feel like it. The best way to live in the light is to really invest in your own spiritual growth as part of a church family.


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