Understanding triggers for yourself and your spouse

It goes without saying that everyone should be aware of their own triggers so as to have proper boundaries with the people in their life. This might include their spouse, a clinician, or perhaps a person in the grocery store. Once we know our own triggers, we can better avoid situations with these triggers as well as adopt behaviors that help manage through the triggers if they are unavoidable.

But what I am proposing here today is not only to know your own triggers but also be aware of those triggers for your spouse (or your best friend). Invariably about three times a year, my husband’s trigger gets tripped. This is often surrounding planning for / taking a car trip for a week to ten days. Or it may have to do with some investment issue or mechanical mishap gone awry – usually something simple. My husband tends to sweat the small stuff but let the big problems roll off his back.

Understanding what triggers my husband is as important to me as understanding what triggers me. When he is under stress he tends to use a tone of voice that is not pleasant to me. For a while in the earlier stages of our relationship I would try to counter that tone of voice in a way that escalated the conflict. I would just mimic back the escalated tone which never resolved anything and only made things worse.

What I have been doing for the last several years of our marriage or so is just going silent if he is in a triggered space. Not reacting. Not engaging. Another thing I do is to let him know I cannot process the information he is communicating to me when he is using that tone. Both of those tactics seem to work better than the escalation scenario.

Another thing I have been doing lately is verbally acknowledging him when I know he is in a stressful place. From time to time, I do talk him down from getting to that trigger in the first place. If we are unable to manage through a trigger zone successfully, I ask for an apology and he gives one.

On the other side of the coin, when I am triggered in my anxiety spot which is almost once a day for a half hour, my husband uses humor to deescalate me. If I am worried about losing the keys, he might say that he threw them out the window or some such joke. If I am worried about the car windows being open, he says he rolled them all down before it started to rain.

I am not sure this is ideal behavior for a couple but it seems to work for us. I understand his trigger areas and largely seek to avoid or deescalate during those times. He understands mine and does his part through humor to let me know my anxiety should not dominate my day or dominate my thoughts.

For the most part, we also go out of the way to thank each other for things we do around the house or to help with the running of the household. We try not to take each other for granted and express gratitude for the times when we are able to manage without impacting each other’s triggers. Part of being thankful is acknowledging that neither of us is perfect and that is OK.

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