TRIGGERED! The Unhealed Wound: Couples Only Survive when Individuals Do Their Work! 7 Steps to Help…

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Do you sometimes feel as if your partner’s main objective in life is to piss you off? Do you find that the harder you try to get along, the more you find yourself getting triggered? Do you think about ending the relationship once and for all  just because you are so frustrated and feel as if you can not take it anymore?

The trigger conversation comes up often in couples work and the question of “why is my partner always triggering me?” has a simple, yet layered answer. There are many who wonder why the partner they love more than anything is the one that hurts them the most. Conflict usually arises when one partner is triggered and reacts/responds with their default coping strategy/defense mechanism (by the way and for the record, that default coping mechanism is usually not your truth). It is often a way to protect yourself that you discovered/created in early childhood or adolescence for survival and although once useful, has probably run its course and is no longer healthy or appropriate.

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So your partner has triggered you, now what? The tendency is to turn to our partner and blame them for hurting us, for bringing up uncomfortable feelings, for our increased anxiety, and/or our inability to move forward. We blame them for our insecurities, the fact that we won’t go to the gym, the fact that our career is not where we want it to be, the fact that we are unhappy. Sometimes we react with a counter punch to shut them down and shut them up or we may become withholding, close off, and turn away, depending on what our coping strategy/defense mechanisms are. We then point the finger and become the innocent victims of our partners cruelty, usually failing to take accountability for our role or how we blew up or shut down once we were triggered. Sharing stories with our friends, family, co-workers and therapist around how our partner pushes all of the right buttons that cause us to react and act out of character. It is clearly their fault!

Being triggered hurts more from some people than others for a reason, usually because we have higher expectations and hopes of the people we open our hearts to and when those people say or do things that hurt our feelings (even when it is unintentional),the harder the fall…the deeper the wound. Although the wound may be deepening, it is not new and even though they might have said something hurtful, the wound of origin was not caused by them.

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The current trigger activates an old wound and not just any wound, a wound we have not fully healed from and may not be aware of. The wound of origin. That first wound that made you feel alone, abandoned, unworthy, unsafe, etc. Sometimes, our partners unintentionally trigger us, yet we make them wrong and leave no room for explanation, we tell ourselves the same narrative that we have carried around for years. When we are bought into our own negative thought patterns, we learn to extract all the information we feel will support our negative narrative, the one where our partner does not love us, is inconsiderate, is selfish and end up struggling to see all of the positive attributes our partners possess, all the ways they show love, and all the things they are presently doing “right.”

7 Things to do when your Partner Triggers you:

  1. So you have been hurt, something that your partner has done (or didn’t do), said (or didn’t say) has brought about an uncomfortable emotion. As soon as you recognize that you have been triggered, STOP (visualizing a Stop sign may help).
  2. Remind yourself that you are working towards having more self-awareness. Your goal is to respond, not react. You are working towards gaining emotional maturity.
  3. Turn towards your partner and share that you have been triggered, let them know what triggered you and the thoughts and feelings coming up for you around that trigger. If you are unsure of what you are feeling (go to step 5), ask for a few minutes to process what is coming up for you.
  4. Give your partner an opportunity to show up for you and the relationship. Give them a chance to validate your feelings and in turn, thank and validate them.
  5. Take a time out. Give yourself a few minutes to process what just happened. Usually the conversation escalates quickly after the trigger, slow down. Sit with yourself and identify what emotion is coming up for you and think back to your earliest memory of experiencing that emotion. Think about the thoughts that came up for you. What did that experience tell you about the world around you? and who you are in this world?
  6. Share with your partner what you learned about yourself and together you can work towards finding ways to work through the trigger when it arises. Discuss what they did or said that had a negative impact on you and share how it relates/links to a past wound.
  7. Acknowledge for yourself that you did it! You did something different, you just had a “win” because you handled being triggered differently! You are on the road to putting the pieces together, having an increased level of self awareness, and becoming less reactive when you are triggered by your partner.

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Everyone gets triggered it’s what you do in those moments that matter. The awareness and understanding of what is happening for you in the moment and why, will decrease reactivity. Return to the wound of origin, nurture your inner child, provide the support for yourself you wish you would have received at that time, the support you need now. HEAL. Only you have the ability to heal your heart, to provide the safety, compassion, and acceptance to all the parts of yourself. If you look to your partner to do it for you, they will fail.

If you truly want to connect with your partner and move past difficult conversations, you have to do your work. 

The trigger is an opportunity, it is a road-map to the place in your heart that is wounded.

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New Response – When triggered, rather than getting lost in the anger, practice appreciation for the fact that you now have information that will support you with finding, healing and releasing the wound of origin. If you do not do this work, you will continue to be triggered, you will continue to blame your partner, you will continue to have conflict, you will continue to be guarded, you will continue to be fearful, you will continue to be stuck and what causes the most danger to a relationship, is having unfair and unrealistic expectations around your partner’s role/responsibility in “making” you happy. 

Each of us has been wounded, no one comes out of childhood unscarred. The “work” is about knowing what those wounds are and how they are showing up in your life right now, present day, in this moment. You have the ability to create a more fulfilling life and a more fulfilling relationship. Yes, in a partnership you get to love and support one another however you can not do all the work for another person and they can not do all the work for you. It is impossible to grow together if one partner is stuck. Once you become emotionally mature you can make clear/rational decisions about your relationship. 

Avoidance, fear and denial will attempt to keep you stuck and blaming others. Awareness, acceptance, self-compassion and courage will provide the positive energy, clarity, and light that will set you free! Turn inward, identify, process, release, heal and share your journey with your partner every step of the way.  The key to a couple growing together is the acceptance that during the couple journey, there will be times in which you have to travel part of the way on your own and trusting that once you do, you will come back to one another with an increased awareness of self and more connected to one another.

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Wishing you effective conversations, peaceful resolutions, and the ability to take ownership of your emotions. All couples disagree at times, learning how to move past the disagreement and come out stronger is the best gift you can give to one another and to yourself. You’ve got this!

 

  • If you feel you may be in an abusive (mentally, physically, or emotionally) relationship, do not blame yourself, seek the help of a licensed professional who can support you with determining if you are a victim of abuse. 

Talk to Me! 6 Ways to Create Emotional Safety in your Relationship

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“Why didn’t you tell me?” “You never share with me!” “How come you are so quiet when I try to talk to you?” “Answer me!” “You’re so secretive!” “You never talk!” “Why don’t you ever tell me how you’re feeling?”

Have you said those things to your partner? Has your partner said any of the above to you?

How about when you do decide to share and the other person reacts defensively (yells, cries, criticizes) leaving you to make comments such as:

“That’s why I don’t tell you anything!”
“I can’t talk to you!”
“That’s not what I meant”
“I should’ve just kept my mouth shut!”

If the comments above sound familiar, if you’ve heard them or said them, chances are…at least one of you, probably both of you, do not feel safe in your relationship.

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When working with a new couple, one of the standard questions I ask is, “do you feel safe in your relationship?”

When talking about safety in a relationship, physical safety is what licensed professionals are trained to screen for during an initial couples session, however physical safety is not the only form of safety needed in a healthy relationship. When I ask if each partner in the couple relationship feels safe, I am also referring to emotional safety which include some of the following:

*Safe to express themselves fully and authentically
*Safe to share dissatisfaction about something their partner did
*Safe to share sexual desires, displeasure, and fantasies
*Safe to share their personal insecurities and fears
*Safe to have a conversation without it escalating to a full blown argument

Safe to share meaning that they can say any of the above without being met with yelling, name calling, blaming, shaming, exit language, and/or rejection.

According to the merriam-webster dictionary the definition of safety is “freedom from harm or danger : the state of being safe. : the state of not being dangerous or harmful. : a place that is free from harm or danger : a safe place.”

A safe place requires that you do not feel as if you are at risk of harm or danger and with emotional safety it means knowing that you will not be criticized, blamed, rejected, invalidated or dismissed by your partner.

Maslow believed that people’s behaviors are motivated through different stages of five needs. The second stage of the hierarchy of needs being safety and security (emotional safety included), the third love and belonging, and the forth being esteem (accepted and valued by others).

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As you move through stage 2 through stage 4, there is a strong connection to feeling emotionally safe, loved and connected, and valued by others. If we think about that in the context of our romantic relationships, it seems reasonable to believe that if we are not having those needs met, it will show up in our behavior in a negative or maladaptive way. If those needs are being met, the behavior will probably be more loving, trusting, and positive.

If your partner does not share with you, if your partner shuts down, if your partner finds it easier to talk to other people than to talk to you, instead of engaging in name calling and blaming and saying things such as “you’re secretive,” “you don’t know how to express yourself,” “you never talk,” “you’re such a coward,” “you don’t respect me,” etc, Turn inward and ask yourself:

  • What am I doing or not doing that is causing my partner to not feel comfortable sharing with me?
  • What can I do to show my partner that I am interested in what they want to share and I am committed to holding a safe space for them to express themselves fully?
While we can not take full ownership of another person’s feelings, what we can do is acknowledge and hold ourselves accountable for how we are showing up in the relationship. What are you doing to create safety for yourself and for your partner?
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6 WAYS TO CREATE EMOTIONAL SAFETY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP

1Listen non-defensively – listen to understand the emotions and feelings coming up for your partner and validate them. Having empathy is important, however even if you are struggling with feeling empathy you can still practice validation. Usually, when people do not share it is rooted in fear of being misunderstood or dismissed. Vulnerability is nakedness, and most people do not feel comfortable being vulnerable with someone they feel is a potential threat. If you want your partner to open up, create a space in which they will be able to do so.

Damage is done when you: get defensive, tell your partner not to feel the way they do, name call and/or blame, dismiss what they are feeling/sharing, change the subject, do not acknowledge or speak to their feelings, make overall invalidating comments.

Safety is created when youvalidate their feelings, when you empathize with what they are sharing, when you listen non-judgmentally, when you do not internalize and make it about you, focus on trying to understand your partners feelings.

 
2) Let go of toxic thoughts about your partner
. Rather than holding them to old labels you may have for your partner (overly sensitive, stubborn, combative, weak), open yourself to seeing them differently. Extend a tabula rasa aka clean slate. Challenge your old thought patterns and narratives about your partner and about the relationship, and instead of thinking “She feels like this because she is overly sensitive” practice not labeling who she is or her emotions. If you hear your husband share his feelings, try not to jump to “of course he’s feeling this way, he never sees anyone else’s point of view” challenge yourself to ask questions rooted in what feelings are coming up for him. As soon as you realize you are labeling your partner, identify it as a toxic thought, and make the decision to change it!

Damage is done when you: hold your partner to old negative labels of who they are, are bought into the belief that they will never change, struggle to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

Safety is created when you: give your partner an opportunity to show you something different, shift any negative/toxic thoughts to positive and loving thoughts, enter into the conversation open to experiencing them in a more positive light, practice trust.

 
3) Body language and Touch matter
. Body language matters a great deal in creating a safe space. Research shows that over 55% of communication is non-verbal. While there is some controversy around the actual percentage, current research tells us that it’s anywhere between 55% – 90%, in other words, it is pretty important. While words matter, body language matters just as much, if not more.

Damage is done when you: turn your back, roll your eyes, walk away, fold your arms, stand/sit at a distance, have a tense facial expression, sigh, etc

Safety is created when you: turn towards your partner, give them eye contact, make facial expressions that show them they have your attention, sit/stand in close proximity, touch their hand. In other words, join them where they are.

4) Emphasize and Reinforce your commitment. The most damaging reactions a partner can have is using exit language (I want out of this relationship, maybe we should break up, I think you should move out, I want a divorce), or shutting down/withdrawing emotionally. These two behaviors are extremely damaging as they lead the partner to feel unsafe, insecure, and may trigger old wounds/fear of abandonment. If you want to create a safe space, reminding yourself and your partner that you are in this together and committed to figuring things out is imperative to creating a safe space. Statements such as “we really need to figure this out” “we are better than this” “we’ve got this” “I’m not going anywhere” “I may be feeling hurt right now, but that doesn’t mean we are breaking up” all support reinforcing the fact that you are committed to your partner.

Damage is done when you: use exit language (break up, divorce, moving out, etc.), withdraw/shut down emotionally, and/or give your attention to other people.

Safety is created when you: make “we” statements around resolutions, talk about future hopes and goals for the relationship, speak to the commitment such as “we will get through this,” and comments/statements to let your partner know that you are committed to figuring things out and continuing to work on the relationship.

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5) Thank Them – whenever your partner shares with you, regardless of the content and how it made you feel, thank your partner for opening up. Thank them for trusting you, thank them for being vulnerable in front of you, let them know that you appreciate learning more about them. It does not matter if you do not see eye to eye, what matters is that you trust one another enough to have the conversation.

Damage is done when you: do not acknowledge when your partner is vulnerable and has the courage to share something with you that may have been difficult to share and/or you make negative/dismissive comments about what they share.

Safety is created when you: acknowledge that being vulnerable is not easy, thank them for trusting you enough to share their feelings, validate what they have shared with you, and encourage them to continue to open up and know that they will be met with love and understanding.

6) Be Consistent – with your words and actions. Consistency builds trust, because you know what to expect, words and actions are aligned, you learn you can count on your partner. Be consistent with your partner, if you say you are going to do something, do it. If your behaviors and your words are not consistent with one another, it will be hard for your partner to trust you. If you are consistently inconsistent, you are ultimately sending a message to your partner that you can not be trusted.

Damage is done when you: make promises that you do not keep, treat your partner lovingly and shower them with attention one day, and then have limited interaction with them the next day for what feels to them like no reason, you tell your partner that they can call you anytime and you will be there for them and when they call you are not available/do not pick up. Damage is done when you commit to do something and do not follow through. Inconsistency and unpredictability cause people to be constantly on guard which is a major cause of anxiety and stress, making it nearly impossible for someone to feel safe.

Safety is created when you: follow through on what you say you are going to do, keep your word, establish trust by being consistent. Be yourself at all times and if you put your best foot forward in the beginning of the relationship, then put your best foot forward throughout your relationship. Consistency sends a message to others that you can be trusted.

Remember, you are part of a couple relationship and if either you or your partner does not feel safe in any capacity, then you both play a part in what has been created. When emotional safety is created, conversations are smoother, trust is established, connection feels stronger, and sex is better! The great news is that at any point, the two of you can make a decision to create safety in your relationship, as long as you are both committed to the process and take ownership of your individual roles.

 

As always, best of luck creating the relationship you desire!

Validation Do’s and Don’ts for Couples: An Essential Component to Finally Feeling Understood!

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“Listen to me, indulge me, allow yourself to be immersed into our process and together we will come to understand the power of “we.” TF

Ever feel like screaming “Validate me!!!!!!?”

It probably sounds more like, “You just don’t get it,” “you don’t understand me,” “I give up trying to make you understand.” “Can you just listen to what I am saying.”

How many times have you and your partner had the same argument?  Many disagreements have occurred so often that individuals can predict their partner’s responses, as if the argument were scripted.

So many couples get stuck in what feels like Groundhog’s day, that same old argument and it can be about the same or different topics, the issue is the process, not the content. In other words, it is not about what you are disagreeing about, it is about how you communicate with one another.

The same old same yields the same results, yet so many of us continue doing what we are accustomed to doing. There is one sure-fire way to change the conversation, one sure fire way to feel heard and understood, one sure fire way to feel like your partner finally gets it. That sure fire way is validation!

It shows up in the therapy room quite frequently, at least 8 out of 10 couples are struggling to validate one another.

Top reasons why people find it difficult to validate their partner:

  • They do not feel as though their partner understands their point and they are not going to validate them, until they are validated.
  • They believe that they must agree with their partner to validate them and usually they do not agree. In fact, some people feel as though the other person is completely wrong and if so, can refuse to validate their feelings
  • They do not believe their partner should be experiencing the feelings that are coming up for them and try to convince their partner how come they should feel differently

Usually when someone shares something that they are experiencing strong emotions around, they do not want advice, they do not want someone to come up with solutions, they do not want to feel judged/as if they did something wrong, and they do not want someone to tell them not to feel that way. If the person would like advice, they will usually ask. Providing unsolicited advice without validating first and empathizing can leave a person feeling misunderstood, dismissed, and/or invalidated. Most non-validating responses are said with noble intent, however, to the person on the receiving end, they can still feel frustrated and misunderstood.

 Common Non-Validating Responses:

“Well, let me tell you about how bad my day was and then you’ll see that yours wasn’t so bad”

“How many of your friends wish they had a provider like me, so I missed our anniversary, I have a lot on my plate”

“Well you work hard for us, you’re supposed to work hard, you’re the provider”

“You’re too sensitive”

“You should have handled it differently, next time try to do it like this”

“Sleep on it, tomorrow is another day, let’s not talk about this now”

“I can’t believe you are that angry about something that doesn’t matter”

Some of the above are well intended attempts to “make” the person feel better, other responses sound dismissive, mean, and blaming. They are all equally non-validating. Have you said any of the above? Have people in your life responded to you this way? If so, how did that make you feel?

Then there are the attempts at validation such as:

“I get it, but…”

“I hear you, and….”

“I understand what you’re saying, so….”

The above ARE NOT validating statements, they come across as, “I hear you, and let me tell you why you shouldn’t feel that way.” Step one, slow down.

What Validation is and How to Validate Your Partner:

  • For starters remember, you are validating feelings and EVERYONE’S FEELINGS ARE VALID. The reason why they feel the way they do is not as important as addressing the feelings that they are expressing to you. Once you are able to let go of the content (which you may not agree with) and focus on how they are feeling (which is always valid), you will be able to support them.
  • Validation is the affirmation, recognition, and acceptance that another person’s internal experience aka FEELINGS are valid. 

 

What can I do? What can I say?

1. Listen, listen, listen. Listen to understand how they are feeling, do not internalize and make it about you, do not get defensive, do not try to solve. Again, listen to understand and be there for them. Simply being present and patient. You will have to let your guards down to be able to listen unfiltered. It is a practice, practice listening to your partner. You will have your opportunity for them to validate you later.

2. Empathy goes a long way. Again you may not agree with the content, however, you can empathize with the emotions they are feeling.

  • “It can be difficult to focus on the children, when you are feeling so hurt by what I said”
  • “I understand that our arguments drain you, it really bothers me when we argue as well.”

3. Repeat what they share in their own words or rephrase their words to show them that you are paying attention and that you understand. Ask questions about their feelings, to show genuine interest and gain a better understanding.

  • “So when I told you I was tired and wanted to go to sleep, you felt as though I was bored of your company”
  • “I am so sorry that when I did not pick up my phone when you called it brought up feelings of anxiety for you”
  • “I did not realize that when I walk away when we are arguing it brings up feelings of abandonment and makes you feel angry, I can see why that would upset you and I am sorry those feelings come up for you”

4. Normalize their feelings by sharing that most people would feel the way that they do if they were in a similar situation. Share with them that their feelings are “normal” given the circumstances.

  • “Anyone would probably feel hurt if their partner forgot their anniversary”
  • “It makes sense that you feel lonely, anyone who has a partner that travels as much as I do would”

5. See it through their eyes. Try to see the situation from your partner’s perspective and think about other times similar feelings have come up for them, or other times they shared their feelings with you and you might have missed them.

  • “This reminds me of last year when I forgot our Anniversary and you felt as if I do not share your values, I am sorry for forgetting something that is important to you”

6. Touch them. Physical touch is one of the 5 love languages. Sometimes a simple, gentle gesture such as taking their hand, rubbing their back, stroking their hair, or giving them a hug can be all your partner needs. During conflict, this may not be the best time to get physical, however if you are discussing the situation calmly, it can be an opportunity to connect.

7. Use your Body Lean in, make facial expressions that match theirs (if they look down, you look down, if they shake their head, you shake yours). Do not stand with your arms crossed; do not look away when you do not agree. Stay open to your partner and they will be more inclined to stay open with you.

When couples do not see eye to eye, it can be challenging to validate. It is important to remember that both partners, regardless of their stance, deserve to have their feelings validated. It is a reciprocal process, which can turn that same old argument into a brand new effective way to communicate! Validation creates a feeling of safety and trust. Validation allows defenses to go down. You both deserve to feel heard, loved, and understood. The tools above will support that process. Find a method or methods that you feel most comfortable with and feels authentic to you, and then put it/them to practice!

Wishing you the best in creating the relationship you deserve and desire!