Do you know how to cope with being triggered?
Last month you learned about how to break patterns that keep you in a rut and identify triggers for negative reactions to your partner during conflict. Now that you have become more aware of “triggers” by tuning in to your body, thoughts, and unmet needs, it’s important to work on developing coping skills when you’re feeling triggered by your partner’s comments or behaviors.
For instance, Samantha, 40, does her best not to overreact to Justin, 41, when he comes home from work feeling irritable and accuses her of being uncaring when dinner isn’t ready on time. Sometimes, when she’s had a challenging day as a Social Worker, she just wants to vent to her mom or a friend (and delay dinner) rather than stick to their usual schedule of her cooking and Justin cleaning up.
Samantha reflects: “I love Justin and I try not to let him push my buttons, but when he comes across as demanding and interrupts me when I’m on the phone, it makes my blood boil. Our counselor taught me some coping skills so I’m trying to remember to use them so we don’t get into a big fight.”
As humans, we develop coping mechanisms to avoid pain, but sometimes we sabotage our relationships when our immediate reactions to triggers don’t lead to the desired outcome of more loving interactions. The following is a list of some ways you can cope more effectively with negative emotions such as anger and fear so that you can remain calmer and more reflective when you feel triggered.
Below are 6 ways to cope with being triggered by your partner.
How to Cope With Being Triggered By Your Partner
1. Practice Mindfulness
Remove your attention from your partner and focus on your breath. Keep focusing on your in-breath and out-breath for 3-5 minutes. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth as you count to ten several times. Thinking about a pleasant place can help you relax. Try imagining yourself in your favorite place. If your attention goes back to your partner, pull your attention back to your breathing and counting.
2. Pause and Take a Break
Remove yourself from the situation. Walk away for ten to fifteen minutes and cool down. Tell your partner that you will return when you are feeling more centered and calm.
3. Find the Humor in the Situation
Laughter and pleasure can lighten your mood and change your perspective. When I say find the humor in the situation, I don’t mean necessarily laughing out loud. Instead, look at the situation from a different perspective and find the humor in it.
4. Take a Look at Your Coping Skills
Ask yourself if your coping skills are working and revise those that aren’t effective. Your emotional triggers may have a way of blindsiding you. To offset this, ask yourself, “What else can I do to preserve love with my partner?” Understanding why you’re being triggered will help you to regain a sense of calmness, self-awareness, and remain in control.
5. Understand Your Feelings
Don’t gloss over your feelings, but do not always act on them right away. Trying to resist your feelings isn’t the solution. However, you can delay your emotional reactions. For instance, if you’re feeling enraged by your partner, instead of exploding at them, consciously set those feelings aside to experience and unleash later in a healthy way such as going for a walk with him or her or talking calmly over a meal. Or, you might choose to express anger by screaming in your room or doing an intense workout. However, be very careful not to hold in your emotions for too long because this can cause resentment. There’s a fine line between consciously delaying your emotions and unconsciously suppressing them – strive to find a balance.
6. Apologize for Your Actions
Plan to apologize to your partner for exactly what you did or said when you were triggered. Lastly, apologize for your actions if you’re aware that you over-reacted due to triggers from your past or you’re in a bad mood and make regrettable comments. Start with taking responsibility, offering a sincere apology, keeping it brief, and not focusing on what your partner’s behavior was that triggered you. Make sure your apology is heartfelt and specific, so your partner will be better able to accept it and move on.
Why is it that emotional overreactions seem to come out of nowhere? It may be because one or both of your emotional vulnerabilities has been triggered. In Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson explains that you can tell when one of your “raw spots” has been hit because there is a sudden shift in the emotional tone of the conversation. She explains, “You and your love were joking just a moment ago, but now one of you is upset or enraged, or, conversely, aloof or chilly. You are thrown off balance. It is as if the game changed and no one told you. The hurt partner is sending out new signals and the other tries to make sense of the change.”
To cope with being triggered, you must become more conscious of extreme reactions to certain things. You must not deny them or become defensive, which is the first step to coping effectively with emotional triggers. Bringing to consciousness those triggers that provoke intense responses from you will lessen your risk of sabotaging your marriage or relationship by withdrawing or issuing ultimatums (such as threatening to leave).
Keep in mind that apologizing and granting forgiveness to your partner will promote healing and strengthen your bond after an argument or conflict arises. In addition, try your best not to “dig your heels in” and remember that it’s more important to be happy than to be “right” if you want to ensure and preserve a healthy relationship. Learn to give your partner the benefit of the doubt when possible!