Are 'Touchy Triggers' Keeping You From Loving Your Relationship?
It happens to all of us.
We hear an old song on the radio and it's like magic! We're instantly transported back in time to a tucked away memory when that song was part of our life.
Maybe it takes you back to summer barbeques with your family on the beach. Or perhaps it's cruising in your first car with friends, blaring the radio. Or it might be a memory of practicing your dance moves in front of the mirror.
Sometimes we're transported to a happy, care-free time —or to a season that brings back painful memories. But songs aren't the only thing that can trigger memories.
It's natural for us to view new relationships through the lens of our experiences with previous partners. Even though we may have left our past behind and we're moving on, sometimes circumstances in our current relationship can remind us of a negative experience from the past.
Following my divorce, it took a long time to recover from the emotional bumps and bruises I sustained throughout an unhealthy marriage. I joined a support group and met with a counselor. For several years I worked hard to overcome and to heal. So, after all of that I was ready to move on romantically…or so I thought.
Some use the term "baggage", but I tend to think of a trigger…a touchy trigger! Much like that familiar song that has the power to transport you back to a specific memory, touchy triggers are like a switch in your head…and before you know it, they've sent you somewhere you don't want to go.
My Ex was unreasonable, disrespectful and dissatisfied. His words and actions left me feeling inadequate and unlovable. My past with him created touchy triggers in my present.
After Mike and I married, it didn't take long for me to realize that I didn't have control over these touchy triggers. Every time Mike would make a reasonable request or give me respectful feedback he would trip one of my triggers.
Through my lens of those painful past experiences, I was unable to see Mike as a reasonable and respectful person. Instead I quickly reacted (actually, I overreacted). My touchy triggers became a painful pattern in our relationship and Mike had some touchy triggers too.
The wounds from both of our pasts would rub up against each other, fueling excessive conflict and confusion. We'd go round and round, triggering each other, over-reacting and lashing out.
Going into marriage with Mike, I was unprepared for the reaction these touchy triggers set-off in my head. I felt overwhelmed and powerless when relational replays would tear open those old familiar wounds! And before I even realized what was happening, "Irrational Influencers" would take over…
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"He thinks you’re a lazy wreck"…"He's not happy with you"…"You'll never be good enough" "He's trying to fix you"! These were the voices going off in my head whenever Mike hit one of my touchy triggers. And by the way, those voices are liars. None of these things were true.
Even something seemingly small and insignificant can trip a touchy trigger and result in an intense emotional response. A conversation, situation or even just a single word can trigger a painful memory from the past and activate those old voices — our irrational influencers. Then we start making negative assumptions and false projections about our current partner.
Your irrational influencers might be whispering different lies in your ears. But you don't have to let them convince you that their lies are truth. You can do something different.
The reality is that we will all find qualities or behaviors in our new partner that rub us the wrong way. They are imperfect and so are we. What's important here is how we choose to respond in those moments when touchy triggers hit. Do we choose to look through objective, non-judgmental eyes that are seeking to understand the truth? Or, do we allow irrational influencers to take over and dictate a negative response?
Here's three steps to help you stand firm in the truth:
- Humility. You've got to start by honestly admitting that your touchy triggers exist and that you've been believing the lies of your irrational influencers. First to yourself, then to your partner.
- Courage. Change always requires courage. It's scary to explore old wounds and commit to the work it takes to heal. I like this definition of courage: the decision that something else is more important than fear. Don't let fear win.
- Help. You'll need some help along the way. Help might just be a trusted friend to process with. Or you might need the insights of a coach or counselor. Whatever you do, don't try to face it alone.
Mike and I have both invested a lot of energy into healing. We've met with counselors individually and together. We can't say we now live conflict free, but we can say our current home life is peaceful.
Don't let your past corrupt your current relationship or rob you of enjoying and appreciating your new partner. Mike and I didn't stay stuck in conflict and painful patterns and you shouldn't either!
QUESTION: What touchy triggers are you still reacting to? (Who's brave enough to answer this one?!) Leave a comment below…