Sometimes it’s hard to separate yourself from an emotionally-charged situation. Simple spats can spin out of control before we even realize what’s happening. This is particularly true when personal triggers are involved.

We all have personal triggers – things that immediately put us on the defensive when we encounter them. Maybe your partner’s interest in spending time with friends evokes parental abandonment issues. Or you were with a series of partners who belittled and underestimated you, so it makes you furious your spouse tries to help with something.

If you’re not careful, these sore points can really make you and your partner start to imagine that you are disconnected and separate, which is really an illusion. You may feel like you have to tiptoe around each other or engage in other kinds of defensive behavior. 

That’s no one’s idea of a healthy relationship.

What’s the solution?

Spend time outside those critical moments thinking about the things your partner says that really bother you. Forethought changes how you navigate these tense situations with your spouse when they arise.

The biggest part of “personal responsibility for my Relationship” is self-soothing. It’s a must, a non-negotiable priority, essential to containing the inevitable risk of allowing myself to become so reactive that I actually lose access to my Power, Frontal Lobe, and my own CoreValues.  Which then sets me up for exercising Defensive Behaviors instead of moving into a safe, structure Dialogue.  And remembering all the powerful, science based knowledge learned in the imago Couples Workshop weekends, or Imago Relationship Therapy sessions.  Dialogue produces awareness of or deepening of connection, moves us closer to a peaceful resolution as partners, and many other goals.

Specifically, we believe there are seven stages in this practice of moving past personal triggers. We don’t look at the process as one of linear stepping stones, but rather opportunities to seize in finding a new approach to healing those sore spots that seem to emotionally immobilize us.

Here’s what you have to do:

Realize Your Power

If nothing else, when a remark bites, say to yourself before you bite back, “I have a choice.” 

That’s right, you always have a choice. Once you stop projecting fault onto your partner for the way you feel, you can see more clearly that you have the true power over your own feelings.

Open Your Eyes

Keep a notepad. Instead of automatically ricocheting negativity back at your partner, jot down what’s been said that really stings. Simply by noticing your own points of contention, you can begin identifying patterns in what are ultimately only surface issues.

Ask Yourself Why

When you have downtime, think about why those things really got to you. Posing this question allows the exploration of the root causes of your emotional experience. This is like brainstorming. There are no wrong answers. 

That being said, this is very important work that helps you to become more conscious in your life relationship. Treat this work as if you were a dogged private investigator, devoting as much time and energy as is needed to uncover the truth.

Focus on Healing

Letting go of blame also allows you to reallocate that time and attention to those tender places of vulnerability. Identifying what really went wrong precedes discovering what created those points of contention in the first place.

Never forget this important spiritual advice: “No one is ever to blame. Everyone is responsible — for their thoughts, their emotions, and also their behaviors.”

Reach Out to Your Partner

Remember, to do the right thing for your relationship, you first need to self-soothe and get into your adult self. Connect to your core values. Turning inward often allows you to regain access to your support system. Only after you do this will you be ready to reach out.

Tell your partner that you’re not going to cast blame. And express a desire to open a dialogue with them. This will help to de-escalate things fast. 

During the dialogue, mirror your partner. Offer sincere validation of their thoughts (especially those with which you currently disagree). And sincerely empathize with their emotions. You will remove their need to feel defensive. And you’ll likely find that your spouse is ready and willing to help you through whatever is causing you pain.

Choose to Be Kind

Regardless of what you come to understand and what remains a mystery, always choose to be kind… to your partner and to yourself. When you can affirm that you are capable of loving and respecting and deserve the same, you open the door to cultivating a more positive self-perception.

Try Trusting Your Partner

When your partner hits on a sore point, first self-soothe your reactivity by closing your eyes and doing some mindful deep breathing. 

Then do a quick inventory of all the things about your partner that you like. Behaviors that you appreciate because they make you feel loved and cared about. Aspects of their body that you enjoy. Traits of both character and personality that you respect and admire. 

And tell them these appreciations, face to face, with compassion, no matter how you might be  feeling. These steps will gradually shift your communication cycle from one of unreliable reactivity to one of increased safety. This can then move back into more grounded, authentic trust.  

Only then should you explain what bothers you about what they said or did (and, when you can, why it bothers you). Take care to always be respectful.

Move fluidly through these practices when it makes the most sense. You will gradually solidify new patterns of thinking and help change the way you handle situations in which your partner may initially seem insensitive.

Never forget that when people are reactive (aka, defensive), it’s because they’re scared. Having a conscious relationship means both partners remembering that anger always comes from fear. And being committed to helping themselves and their partner to move out of those feelings quickly.

Typically, this happens with a prompt amends and a formal or informal dialogue about their experiences. This helps both people to feel the fact of their connection — as opposed to the illusion of separation — and enjoy life again.

Sometimes couples find a mediating counselor helpful in offering relationship advice throughout this process. However, be sure to vet the counselor very, very carefully with research online and referrals from mental health professionals you trust, because most therapists do not truly specialize in couples. This means that they can actually be dangerous to the health of your relationship. You don’t take your brain tumor to a family doctor; you go to M.D. Anderson!

To learn more about changing your communication patterns to finally move past the sore points in your committed life, feel free to peruse our blog. It has a plethora of wisdom in it, and many have found it to be very, very helpful to their relationship. You can also sign up for our free monthly newsletter on our website (you can unsubscribe anytime). Or reach out to our office for more information.