When you and your partner argue, it can sometimes feel like you have no choice but to react. When she gets defensive, so do you. And you just can’t stand it when he walks away from you, so you yell a little louder in order to make sure he is really listening. Indeed, our partners can unwittingly trigger our most tender, vulnerable spots, making it difficult to keep cool and think logically. However, these automatic reactions may just become the norm unless you and your partner find ways to respond rather than react. Do not let your triggers take over. Here are 7 ways to handle yourself when you become triggered.

  • 1. Slow down. Before you say or do anything in response to your partner, take a breath. Put some time between what your partner has said or done and how you want to act. You just might be able to make a wiser, more productive choice when you slow down the action.
  • 2. Get some space. As with taking a breath, you may need to ask your partner for some physical space in order to cool down. Ask for a break and make an agreement about how long you need before you can re-start the conversation.
  • 3. Get to know your reactions. What are the first signals within yourself that you are getting triggered? Do you feel your face get hot, your palms sweat, or your chest tighten? The more you get to know the physical aspects of these kinds of emotional reactions, the better able you will be to handle yourself more appropriately.
  • 4. Say, “I feel…” When you feel triggered, say how you feel rather than act how you feel. Give yourself and your partner a chance to know your experience, get curious about why you got triggered, and ultimately work together to help you calm and soothe yourself.
  • 5. Try again. If you notice that you have just gotten triggered and are reacting rather than responding, ask your partner to start over. Saying, “I’m sorry, can I start over,” is one healthy way to handle your trigger and not let it take over.
  • 6. Find ways to self-soothe. When we get triggered, we feel flooded with emotion. All of that emotion can seem like too much to handle, but we all have ways that we can soothe ourselves. When you feel yourself become triggered, do something to soothe yourself — take a few calming breaths, focus your attention on a positive thought, and remind yourself that feelings come and go and that you will be past this soon enough.
  • 7. Remember the big picture. Triggers often arise because aspects of our present reality remind us of distressing parts of our past, and we lose sight of the present moment and all the positivity it encompasses. When in conflict with your partner, try to remember that you love and trust this person. Oftentimes this can help to manage the moments that trigger you.

Contributed by Staff Therapist, Rachel Goldsmith