Managing Relationship Triggers

How does a dirty sock under the bed turn into a relationship feeling like a scene from the movie Armageddon?

You know the feeling...when the issue you are livid about and the emotion around it do not really match up. It’s only a dirty cup, smelly sock or wet towel on the floor, yet you find yourself at breaking point.

Why does this happen to us?

Chances are that it is probably a trigger. When the reaction you are feeling is much bigger that the situation, this is a huge clue to you that you are being triggered.

A trigger is something that you feel strongly, and emotional response that is most likely linked to a feeling of something that caused you pain in the past. You react from this point of pain, which causes you to exhibit much more feeling, and emotion to “ the dirty sock” than the situation really calls for.

Let’s assume it was me that lost my temper over the dirty sock. Perhaps I go on the attack to my partner and an argument escalates where I tell him he doesn’t respect my space and I am fed up with it!


But perhaps what is really going on for me in this situation goes back to childhood, where I had no privacy at home and people were always leaving stuff in my room and I felt insecure about my space and privacy and ultimately felt disrespected. Of course that doesn’t occur to me in the moment, I see the sock and see red.

Triggers can usually be found in our childhood and they show up in the way we behave and feel in the present day

Perhaps your husband or wife forgets an important anniversary, or they turn up late when they were meant to arrive an hour ago. You can quickly find yourself feeling massively overwhelmed as your trigger is pulled.

You might physically begin to feel different as you body responds to such an intense emotional feeling that commonly puts you on the attack as you lash out at your partner. Perhaps then you feel hurt and confused as to how an “observation” or you “ making a point” can turn into a war, but as is often the case, when one person goes on the attack, the other person goes on the defence or counter attack.

To manage the war you need to be smart on your approach, and the first thing to do is notice a trigger as it is happening. You do this by paying attention to the level of your feeling vs. the severity of the situation.

When your reaction to the situation is bigger than the situation you are more than likely being triggered

It is then your job to unpick what is behind the trigger. What could be in your past that is making you feel unheard, unloved, unappreciated, abandoned, unworthy or criticised? Grab your trusty journal and write it out.

Ask yourself what could really be going on for me here?

How can I heal this part of me?

Can I separate this feeling from my past from the relationship, so that I can have the space and time to explore healing this?

What might I need to do in order to get some further insight and healing?

Make an emergency trigger plan in your journal

When you are feeling in your normal relaxed zone it is a great idea to create a trigger plan. When emotions are running high it is very difficult to plan a calm way forward but by giving yourself a sporting chance now, you can avoid some of the overwhelm later on.

Here are some trigger plan suggestions:

Count slowly to ten before you react, do ten mindful slow relaxing breaths

Tell yourself that this feels like it could be a trigger and that you are open to experiencing a pause while you figure this out a little further

Go for a walk or take a hot bath, buy yourself some time to calm down, go within and know that this reaction does not match the severity of the situation

Keep a record of your triggers so that you can become aware of patterns and progress

Connect with someone for support

Tell yourself that you are entitled to some time before you react, say to yourself that I will do something else for an hour and if it still feels as important, I might consider mentioning this issue then

Ask yourself if this “ dirty sock” will still be a deal breaker in six months time, will it still feel urgent and explosive at some later date?

If you feel stuck, grab your journal and try my prompts for " getting unstuck"

Discovering the root of your triggers can often lead to childhood trauma and unresolved childhood hurts and pain. Whilst it is important work to be doing, it can be overwhelming to face it on your own. Our inner child can often be frightened and in need of validation before they will come forward to help us explore past hurts further.

You can work with me 1-1 to gently explore these issues as I guide you through a process of reconnecting with and nurturing your inner child, please contact me if this feels right for you.

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