9 Steps to Help You Communicate When You're Emotionally Triggered

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We all can be “triggered” time to time in our relationships.  An “emotional trigger” is a subject or action that can bring up strong emotional responses, often out of proportion to the act itself from an objective point of view.  Our reactions are frequently rooted in past experiences -- the emotional predispositions or conditioned habits we have developed over time. 

When something "sets us off," it can have a long history that dates back prior to your current relationship.

It is a road overly traveled along the neural pathways of our brain that creates our sensitivity to something that may not bother someone else at all. The way you respond when your spouse does something you do not like will consequently influence how good or bad they will treat you in the future. Therefore, it is vital that we become more aware of our triggers and react in a way that helps, instead of hurts, the relationship.

Here are nine steps to help you communicate when you are triggered by your spouse:

1. Try Something Different.  Develop self-awareness that shifts your focus from how irritating or upsetting your husband or wife is, to focus instead on your reactions to it. You do not want to react in ways that never work for anybody, in any relationship. A new way of behaving may help your spouse become more understanding and cooperative.

2. Always Give the Benefit of The Doubt. There is no need to jump to negative conclusions.

Stay open minded and curious as to why your spouse might be thinking or acting in such a way. The situation is frequently not simply about right or wrong, but about legitimately different priorities. Try not to get defensive quickly while hearing out your spouse's point of view.

3. Find The Part You Might Be Able To Understand.

Be determined to find any benign reason, even in part, for your spouse's thinking or actions, and acknowledge them.

4. Ask Yourself:  What's Triggering My Reaction?  It is OK to tell your spouse why you are upset.  Alternatively, describe why accepting his/her behavior is challenging for you.  What's at stake for you that you must communicate?

 5. Offer Reassurance. Reassure your spouse that you are not trying to point out who is right or wrong or that his/her feelings do not matter.  Also, let your partner know that you are not saying that things have to be entirely your way.  You should be open to compromise.

6. Be Collaborative. See this as a "we" problem.  Let your spouse know that you are willing to make some changes as well and work with him/her to find mutually acceptable solutions.

7. If This Isn't Working, Stay Calm. Don't panic or escalate emotionally. It is all right to express irritation at your partner's attitudes and clarify that you are willing to be flexible and keep an open mind, and you would like them to do so, as well.

8. If It Still Isn't Working, Maybe It Is Time to Get a Little Angry.  Emphasize that you expect your spouse to work as a team with you, and his/her attitude is not acceptable.

9. Try Again Later. Take a break and a breath.  Go back later to your spouse and say something like, "That didn't go too well, do you want to try again?"  Don't get lost in focusing on how to get your partner to see what an idiot he/she was and don't insist on an apology. Go back to  step one and try again.

Getting stuck in the "who's right or wrong" perpetual cycle only creates distance and distress between you and your spouse. As difficult as it is to have some emotional control during these moments, it's a critical relationship skill.  These steps are a guide to helping you communicate and be heard during those moments when it seems the hardest.  Try them out and see what works best for you and your spouse.