Reducing Emotional Hot Buttons
What is a Hot Button?
According to Merriam-Webster, a Hot Button is an emotional or controversial issue or concern that triggers an immediate, intense reaction. Managing them can have a significant positive impact on the process and outcome of divorce.
Blame it on our Lizard Brain
Our “Lizard Brain” is the ancient survival mechanism that manages our fight/flight response when our ego, image, or self-esteem is threatened. When this part of the brain kicks in our reflexive response is usually to protect ourselves and mitigate the threat. This can look like lashing out, yelling, or even retreating and going silent. Awareness of this reality can help you interrupt the reflexive reaction and respond more constructively.
Step 1 – Recognize Your Triggers and Your Spouse’s
Most of us know what topics we find most difficult, but it’s harder to know what to do with that awareness. You may also have a good sense of what issues your partner is most concerned about. You will both benefit by knowing what issues will trigger an emotional response that is disproportionate to the situation.
Why is it helpful to be aware of your spouse’s hot buttons?
There’s a big difference between being aware of your spouse’s hot buttons and looking to control them. In this case, awareness will help you manage difficult conversations to promote compromise. Unfortunately, divorce is more costly, and takes longer, when there’s a wall of resistance between the two people responsible for making the decisions. When communication goes off the rails, both parties pay. One party can break the downward spiral of communication and seek to understand what the other party’s saying.
Here are five important ways to address hot buttons
- Take the time to think about what the hot button issues are for each of you. Write them down and if you can, think about their origins. For example, if your spouse’s hot button is the house, is it because he/she is overwhelmed by the idea of moving? Afraid to be disconnected from close friends or family? Worried about how kids might respond? Identifying the underlying motivation for a hot button can help both of you come up with a compromise that addresses the real issues.
- Think big picture. Keep in mind that this bumpy road will smooth out much sooner if you can back away from, rather than push each other’s hot buttons. Is there a way to address a sensitive topic without it escalating? Think about how to do that.
- With thought and awareness, you can choose HOW to respond, instead of REACTING in the moment. Offer a constructive response instead of taking it personally when you notice you’ve hit a hot button. Try,“Maybe we should pause this conversation for now so we can both cool off,” or “I see how strongly you feel about this, tell me why it’s so important to you,” rather than, “I’m so tired of you digging in on this issue. You have to be reasonable; you’re being ridiculous.”
- It’s not about you. Remember, a strong reaction is an indicator the Lizard Brain has taken over and is trying to keep its person safe. This may help you take a response less personally.
- Work to step out of the hot button cycle when you see it coming. Pause, breathe, ask questions, and listen to the answers to move things forward.
If you’re looking to minimize conflict and move toward compromise, anticipating the issues that will likely trigger your spouse/ex, will help you de-escalate, not inflame the situation.