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Marital Conflict-Understanding Triggers

Understanding what triggers you and your partner is one of the most important things that you can do strengthen your marriage and avoid hurting one another. Next time you are processing conflict in the aftermath of a fight try the following:

Put into your own words what escalated the interaction for you. Here are some examples: I felt not listened to, I felt blamed, I felt judged, you weren’t there for me when I needed you, I had trouble with your anger, etc.

In an effort to understand why these are triggers, reflect upon story of your life. Stop when you recall an incident from your childhood, or your past in general (not in this relationship), in which you got triggered in the same way or had some of these very same feelings.

Tell the story of that incident, how it happened and what you felt, to your partner. Likewise, listen empathically to your partner’s story.

Also, reflect on what your contribution to the argument was, and ask yourself how you can make it better the next time this situation arises again. These questions can be tough to answer. They demand a willingness to explore your emotional life and to be honest with yourself. Figuring out what is going on within yourself can be a challenge, and sharing deeply personal experiences to your partner may cause you to feel vulnerable. Remember that doing so can greatly enhance your relationship.

When you and your partner consider these questions and connect the feelings that come up for you in the present with your past experiences, you begin to understand what’s going on in each other’s mind. This new understanding is valuable as you grow in your relationship together. Learning the backstories of your partner’s triggers can help you make sense of their sudden attacking or defensive behaviors. You and your partner can identify which behaviors to steer clear of, so that the two of you don’t accidentally set each other off. If you use these tools to help process conflict, you will learn to have more constructive conversations when conflicts come up, you will learn more about each other, and grow closer as a result.