When you are in a long-term relationship, it is easy to forget that you are responsible for the care of your partner. In order to continually care well for each other over time, you must eventually become experts on each other. One of the most common complaints that I receive from the couples I see often involves difficulties in communicating due to partners becoming quickly reactive in disagreements. People often become emotional or angry when a sensitive part of them is triggered. Everyone has triggers: vulnerable parts of ourselves that have been hurt in the past. We work hard to protect these parts from further pain and so we often react instantly when someone transgresses against us in a way that we have previously been hurt.
Knowing what your partner’s triggers are will help reduce conflict in your relationship and also help your partner heal their past wounds. You can help your partner with their triggers by knowing what their soothers are. Soothers are comforting and reassuring actions and words that you can do or say. To learn about each other’s triggers and soothers I encourage both partners to reflect on the list of questions below and then set aside some time to discuss the information’s that you have discovered together. (If you are reading this individually, you can also gather some of this information about your partner on your own by thinking about past fights and make-ups.)
- – What pushes your buttons?
- – When do you feel most anxious or defensive?
- – When do you feel particularly cornered or vulnerable?
- – What makes you feel the worst in your relationship? What thoughts run through your mind in these moments?
- – Think about past incidents when you have felt particularly hurt. Do you see any connections in how you felt? Look for patterns across your lifetime.
- – What are the right words to say to you when you feel triggered?
- – What makes you feel most uplifted in a relationship?
- – When do you feel most loved?
- – What would be soothing when you feel anxious?
- – If your partner could take an action to help you when you feel triggered, what would they do?
Try this exercise together, and keep the new information you have learned in mind the next time you feel a fight coming on. Look for shifts in your partner’s mood, facial expressions, body language and voice changes to see signs that you are on the right track to learning how to help shift their mood.