Updated: Jun 15, 2020
I am a very passionate person, and I get triggered quite easily at times. It makes that relaxed, easygoing relationship that the Gottmans (the mother and father of marital research) have found are the happiest relationships seem a virtually impossible goal. Does that mean I’m doomed to be miserable in my marriage? Does my spirited personality mean I’m not allowed to have a happy relationship? No, of course not! My marriage is definitely a happy one, and I’ve seen countless clients with similar emotional-trigger-happy issues create the most loving, incredible relationships!
Here’s how I do it, and it’s simple (but not easy): I take a break. If I can get away from the situation that’s triggering me before I say something I know I’ll regret, I walk away as quickly as I can. My biggest motivator is my toddler. I don’t want her to see her parents fighting. My temper will eventually subside, but if I’ve said something to hurt my husband, I know our whole day will be ruined, and so will our daughter's. It’s hard to feel close to someone who has hurt you so badly. And if he says something to me that hurts me, same thing - our whole day is gone.
So, if you’re anything like me and you recognize that you trigger easily, first of all - congratulations on recognizing it! That really is the most important step. We can only heal what we know needs healing. If you realize that this is a sore spot for you, let’s get to work fixing it!
Take a couple of minutes right now to try to identify what happens when you get triggered. It could be that your pulse starts racing, or you feel your throat closing up. It could be that your hands start sweating or your mind starts to feel fuzzy. Whatever your signals are, identify them and write them down. And when you remember new ones, write those down too.
Next, come up with a plan. Mine is simple, and feel free to copy if you’d like: When I feel my trigger signs, I say to myself “OK. I’m about to get mad as hell.” This distracts me from my anger temporarily, and in my distracted state I have a choice to make. Do I lash out and start the same old argument, knowing exactly where it will lead me and that it will waste my day and harm my relationship? or do I walk away, soothe myself, rediscover my love, and come back when I’m calm to discuss the issue in a way that connects and replenishes us?
It wasn’t perfect at first, but over time it’s become a habit to walk away and centre myself. I go into a different room, close the door, and breathe. Sometimes I dance to get my frustration out. Sometimes I just sit and relax and take my mind off of the situation with a book or a meditation session or writing about it. Often, I using EFT tapping as well, which works wonders.
This is real life, people, and it’s hard. I know what a healthy marriage is supposed to look like - I’ve studied relationships for the past decade and I know what I’m supposed to do in any given situation. But knowing what you’re supposed to do and actually being able to DO it are two different things.
I share honestly and openly about my relationship struggles and successes because I want to help you learn how to DO the couples therapy interventions I teach you about. And I want you to know that you’re not going to be perfect at them, and that’s okay. There are going to be days where things just don’t work, and during those days you’ll learn a little bit more about yourself, and you’ll perhaps decide to heal parts of yourself that were wounded. And there will be really great days, and during those days you’ll gain closeness and intimacy, you’ll have tons of fun with your partner, and you'll add some love money into your emotional bank account. Throughout it all, the most important thing is that you’re keeping your eye on how you want your relationship to FEEL. If you know how you want your relationship to feel, you’ll be able to recognize when you’re getting closer. And you’ll certainly recognize when you are drifting further away. It’s a dance, and just like any dance - the more we practice, the better we get.
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