What to do in a relationship when you're triggered?

You're dating or married, and your wife or girlfriend regularly triggers you (into feeling angry, hurt, irritated, or passive...)

What do you do?

You can blame her, argue, punish her with anger, withdraw and isolate, or complain about how she's not meeting your needs...


You can accept that, although it's extremely irritating and uncomfortable, she just presented to you an opportunity to see yourself in a new way and revealed to you an area inside of yourself still in need of development and maturity.

Finding space to process through your emotions in these situations may help, but the worst thing we could do is respond by blaming them for our dysfunction.  Instead, we have the opportunity to inquire with compassion what is actually taking place inside us.

Yes, something unhealthy could be taking place in the other person, but if we have yet to become intimate in understanding our own impulsive reactions, we likely are not ready to venture into her inner world yet.

There are plenty of questions we can ask to find understanding about ourselves in such situations though:

How did her actions make you emotionally feel?

Why did it trigger you to respond in such a way?

How did your reactive unwanted response make you feel? Momentarily relieved? Powerful? Free?

How was she feeling before the incident took place? What about after? Why?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but they are likely buried in her and within yourself under a multitude of similar questions.

So whenever you find yourself triggered...

Follow your curiosity as you seek to understand what just happened. Accept your emotions and her actions and ask her and yourself countless questions with compassion. Never assume that you know the answer and always communicate how curious you are as you ask them to her so she doesn’t feel interrogated. As you’re being self-aware of your own thoughts, emotions, and reactions, don’t forget to place yourself in her shoes too, to try to understand where she is coming from.

The more you understand yourself, the easier it becomes to understand her. A man who struggles with listening to his wife likely struggles with listening to his own heart... 

And it’s worth saying twice, be wary of placing blame.

The danger of relationships is that there is always someone else to blame for our problems.

Compulsive and trigger-like reactions are not reactions to avoid, but rather they are guideposts for self-work and discovery that, if they are inquired of and handled well, lead to deeper levels of intimacy with the person in whom we love in this world the most.