Triggers in Relationships

A Guide for working through triggers

One common challenge many couples face is dealing with triggers – those intense emotional reactions that stem from past experiences and can affect the way we interact with our partners.

Triggers are emotional responses that are often linked to past experiences, traumas, or unresolved issues. They can manifest as feelings of anger, sadness, fear, or even shame, and they have the power to disrupt communication and intimacy within relationships. Triggers can be activated by specific words, actions, or situations, and they often catch us off guard, leaving us feeling vulnerable and exposed.

In order to address triggers effectively, it’s crucial to recognize when they are being activated. Signs that you may be triggered include feeling “out of it” or disconnected from the present moment, experiencing intense emotions that seem disproportionate to the situation at hand, and reacting in ways that feel out of character for you. These reactions often stem from past situations being somehow reactivated, causing us to relive the feelings associated with those experiences.

  • Self-awareness: The first step in managing triggers is to become aware of them. Both partners should take the time to reflect on their own triggers and understand how they impact their behavior and emotions.
  • Communication: Open and honest communication is key in addressing triggers within a relationship. Partners should feel comfortable expressing their feelings and needs without fear of judgment or rejection. Active listening and empathy are essential skills in this process.
  • Create a Safe Space: Establishing a safe and supportive environment where both partners feel heard and understood is crucial. This may involve setting boundaries, practicing patience, and offering reassurance during moments of vulnerability.
  • Seek Support: Sometimes, navigating triggers may require professional support. As a sex and couples coach, I provide a safe and non-judgmental space for couples to explore their triggers and develop healthy coping strategies together.
  • Practice Self-care: Taking care of oneself is essential in managing triggers. Encourage each other to engage in self-care activities that promote emotional well-being, such as meditation, exercise, or spending time with supportive friends and family.

To effectively work through triggers, follow these detailed steps:

  1. Notice the Trigger: Pay attention to your emotional reactions and identify when something triggers you in a relationship.
  2. Step away from the situation: If the trigger is intense, step away from the situation to regain composure. Leave the room or stop engaging with the triggering stimuli.
  3. Calm your nervous system: Once removed from the triggering situation, focus on calming your body. Observe your body sensations and take steps to soothe yourself. This could involve deep breathing exercises, going for a walk to release pent-up energy and adrenaline, or allowing yourself to have a good cry. Remember, calming your nervous system is crucial to allowing your thoughts to become calmer.
  4. Check for Proof for Negative Thoughts: Challenge the validity of the negative thoughts racing through your mind. Ask yourself questions to assess the evidence supporting these thoughts. What story are you making up? How much proof do you have that the worst-case scenario you imagined is true? Does your response to the situation bring you any closer to your actual goal? Do you have all the information to justify your reaction?
  5. Identify Your Needs: Determine what you currently need to feel safe again. This could involve reaching out to someone for support, making yourself a cup of tea, or engaging in activities that bring you comfort. Treat yourself with things that you enjoyed in childhood; if you felt safe and cared for when your parents made your favorite chocolate pudding when you were sick, consider doing something similar for yourself now to heal former wounds.

By following these detailed steps and practicing self-awareness, couples can effectively navigate triggers and strengthen their relationship bond.

Triggering situations can offer valuable opportunities for growth. While the emotions may be challenging, they also highlight aspects within us that require attention and healing. Therefore, besides working through and calming down, I highly recommend exploring the triggering situation in detail. You may find that the topic that triggered you feels familiar or is connected to deeply held beliefs (Glaubenssätze).

If you’d like to learn more about managing triggers or explore other aspects of your relationship, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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