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April 21, 2024

Triggers in relationships are part of all romantic relationships. Learning to deal with and manage emotional triggers can have a strong and positive impact on relationships. You would not be human if you did not have emotional responses to events, statements made by others, or the actions of others, including your spouse.


  • The goal is to manage, not eradicate, your triggers.
  • Breaking the cycle of triggering each other begins with you.
  • Follow the 9 steps below to deal with your triggers.

“ The good thing about having our buttons pushed is that we can no longer ignore the sensitive areas where we need to heal.”– Mary Buchan

The goal in addressing different types of triggers is to cope with them, not to eradicate them.

That would make you a robot with no intense emotions. The goal is to recognize each emotional trigger and manage them so they don’t rule your life and your relationships. You and your mate can even learn to help each other manage triggers in daily life so that it becomes a game or a secret language between you. Your relationship will become a safe space with healthier relationship dynamics.

It begins with you!

Managing your triggers doesn’t begin with changing your mate, however. It begins with you. Even if your mate could avoid triggering you, someone else would…someone in a store or, at work, on your team, etc. The following steps can be an effective strategy for dealing with emotional wounds and developing work or on your team, etc. The following steps can be an effective strategy to deal with emotional wounds and develop healthier interpersonal relationships.

Step 1: Identify your triggers

So, what are your triggers? Are they trauma responses? Do some introspection and self-evaluation. Take ownership of your painful emotions and hot buttons. Don’t expect your mate or others to know what your triggers are if you don’t. Get a blank sheet of paper. Now look at the list below and write down 3 to 5 of your “hottest” triggers. This is not a comprehensive list, so feel free to write down any that aren’t on the list. Begin with the thought: I am triggered when I feel…

Judged, Lonely, Powerless, Invalidated, Defective, Devalued, Abandoned, Neglected, Condemned, Despairing, Rejected, Failure, Misunderstood, Not Trusted, Worthless, Humiliated, Unimportant, Unwanted, Threatened, Controlled, Disconnected, Afraid, Unhappy, Ignored

Think about this: “Every trigger has an origin, and it is not your spouse!” Your trigger did not originate from your current situation. Imagine that you have a broken leg and are sitting on the couch with your injured limb propped up on the coffee table. Your spouse walks in with both arms full of groceries and accidentally bumps your hurt leg. “Ouch!” you yell and then scream at them, “You clumsy ox! You broke my leg!” Would that be fair? No. Did your spouse break your leg? Absolutely not. It was already broken. They just bumped into it, and it hurt! The same is true of emotional triggers. They don’t originate with your spouse, but it does hurt when they are triggered by something that your mate says or does.

What created a particular emotional trigger? What negative experience is the root of your trigger? Was it a controlling mother or a father who devalued your thoughts and opinions? What is being humiliated or bullied at school? Did you feel abandoned because a person or people near to you you died when you were a child? Whatever the feeling, go back as far as you can in your memory to a time when you felt that emotion being triggered. That is most likely representative of why you have this trigger.

Step 2: Beside each emotional trigger that you wrote down, now write down where you believe that this trigger originated.

It is possible that the original event creating each trigger was a traumatic experience. Once you have identified some of your emotional triggers and where you believe they originated; you are ready for the next step.

Step 3: Replace that negative thought and feeling with a positive thought and feeling.

What is the truth about you? What is a positive affirmation that you could make about yourself? Are you really worthless, unimportant, stupid, controlled, powerless, unwanted, without a valid opinion, etc? The truth is usually the exact opposite of these negative emotions. “I am valuable, important, smart, empowered, wanted, with a worthwhile opinion, etc. “Write the truth about you underneath or beside each hot button that you listed. You may not completely believe the truth/positive affirmation yet, but it is important that you begin to speak it and believe it if you want to neutralize the trigger and then grow out of it.

Step 4: Practice managing your emotional triggers.

Don’t wait until you’re in the heat of an emotional exchange with your mate to practice managing your triggers. Flight mode or avoidance is not productive either. Take the list that you have made and go down the list, one by one, following this pattern:

  • Take a deep breath and then say: I am being triggered, and I feel _____ I realize that this is coming from my childhood/youth when _____. The truth is _____.

Example: (Deep breathing exercises) I am being triggered, and I feel controlled. I realize that this comes from my youth when I felt very controlled by my mother. The truth is, I am an adult, and no one controls me unless I give them permission to.

  • Practice identifying the trigger, recognizing where it is coming from, and remembering the truth or positive affirmation that you want to use.
  • Do this for every trigger that you can identify.

Step 5: Share your emotional triggers with your mate.

Now, you are ready to share these with your mate. Let them know that you are working hard to manage your triggers because he/she and your relationship are important to you. Ask if you can share about your emotional triggers and say that you would like their feedback and help in managing them. Sharing your personal histories can deepen your connection. Hopefully, your mate will respond in a positive fashion and be willing to identify some of their own triggers and learn to manage them as well!

Step 6: Explain what your spouse can do to help you manage the trigger.

If your spouse is ready to proceed with this discussion, be vulnerable and let them know what they could do to help you manage each of your personal triggers. Be gentle, not accusatory, and take ownership of your trigger. You can start with, “What you can do to help me manage this trigger is….” Or “What I need from you is…” This will take a fairly high degree of empathy from your spouse.

Some examples of what you might need are assurance, a hug, knowing that they understand, just listening, or adapting their response so that it doesn’t trigger you further. Making meaningful connections with your spouse and including them in healthy approaches to triggers will proactively address many relationship issues.

Example: (Control) “You could really help me manage my trigger of feeling controlled if you would speak to me in soft tones so that I don’t feel that I’m being ordered to do something. Also, if you could phrase thoughts more as questions, asking me what I think or feel, that would really help me with my trigger of feeling controlled.

Step 7: Establish healthy boundaries.

Now that you are aware of your triggers, where they originated, and what will trigger them, it is a good time to set healthy boundaries. Boundaries are a defensive tool that you can manage for your own benefit and well-being. For instance, I once had a client whose uncle had been sexually inappropriate with her when she was a child, but only when he had been drinking. If, as a married woman, her husband had even just one drink and attempted to kiss her, that strongly activated one of her personal triggers, and she felt in danger. Her boundary, then, was a strict “no alcohol” policy before or during sexual intimacy.

Step 8: Practice self-care.

Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually is crucial to managing triggers. A healthy diet, adequate sleep, exercise, meditation, listening to encouraging podcasts, reading, and mindfulness are just a few of the ways to practice good emotional health and mental health.

Step 9: Work with a professional

If you constantly feel triggered or cannot manage the approaches to triggers successfully, it is time to seek coaching, counseling, or other sorts of professional therapy. You need a life raft! Working with a counselor or life coach can help you and your spouse face your relationship challenges. Relationship counseling can help you develop or refine your coping strategies for a positive outcome and build stronger connections with your partner. Love Recon can help—it’s what we do!



About the author 

Cliff Poe

Cliff Poe is Founder and Lead Coach for Recon Coaching. He and his wife, Jeani, are Master Coaches and their passion is to help individuals and couples form healthy, lasting and satisfying relationships. Cliff has a M.Div. in pastoral counseling and ministry. He enjoys writing and coaching as well as his family which includes 2 adult kids and their spouses, 6 grandchildren and a fur family composed of a Golden Retriever and a Mackerel Tabby.

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