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When You Get Triggered

Updated: Feb 7

When you get triggered in your relationship

A woman described a recurring frustration in her marriage: “I get so mad when my husband forgets to buy stuff on the grocery list. He never pays attention to what I tell him, he just doesn’t care about me.”


Her husband had his own version of their dynamic: “She’s always telling me what to do, like I can’t make up my own mind. I feel totally disrespected. I don’t even think she likes me very much”.


Yet another client was upset with her kids, saying: “They won’t listen to me. When I tell them to put their phones down, they just keep going. It’s like I don’t exist; I’m completely invisible”.


In this post, we’ll take these situations apart and you’ll see how every upset in your life or relationship follows a similar pattern. We'll end with a suggestion for how to handle triggers.


Different upsets, same process


The examples above represent three different everyday situations. But what's similar about them

The answer to that question holds the key to understanding why we get upset and what to do about it.

There are three important commonalities:

  1. Something happened (husband forgets to buy item on list; kids don’t put their phones down when told to do so).

  2. The “something” stirred a strong reaction in the person (mad, disrespected, invisible, hurt).

  3. The person then made one or more conclusions on the heels of the “something” that happened (husband doesn’t pay attention, he doesn’t care; wife thinks I can’t make up my mind, she doesn’t like me; I don’t exist, I’m invisible to the kids).


We can’t control it but we still try


These three elements are always present when you get upset.


One of the three, the “something” that happens, is hard or impossible to control. Even so, that’s where we put all our attention and effort.


The woman can’t force her husband to never forget an item on the shopping list. Not for lack of trying, though. She's literally been at it for ten years! She’s tried to reason with him, plead with him, yell at him, cry at him, and freeze him out. But he still forgets items now and then.


The husband can’t force his wife to stop giving him advice. He’s tried for ten years. He’s tried to reason with her, plead with her, appeal to her better self, educate her about what men need, yell at her, and give her the angry stonewall. Still, she gives him directions and advice.


Why do we do that?

The short answer is because we think the "something" is what's causing our upset, so naturally we try to make it stop.

Have you had much success with that approach in your own life?


What you can control


The other two elements, however, you can control, or at least influence. How you feel and what conclusions you make are the two elements of any breakdown or upset that are yours and yours alone. They do not require you to control, force, or influence the other person.

Hence the saying, "We can control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond".

This is easier said that done, of course, when you're right there in the thick of it with your partner.

That's why we created the Triggers Process. It’s a model that helps you to see your triggers clearly, separated into distinct elements. Once you see what’s going on, you can use the next steps in the process to communicate to your partner about it. Following a step-by-step process makes it possible to talk about charged topics and your triggers in a way your partner can actually hear (as opposed to our “usual” style of triggered communication: “You are so infuriating; I hate it when you do that!”)  


We consider it perhaps the most essential part of navigating your relationships to be able to handle the inevitable triggers with kindness and efficiency.


Learn the Triggers Process


You can learn and practice along with us and other couples and individuals in our mini-workshop, How To Handle Triggers. We’ve taught this process to thousands of folks who consistently tell us it’s the best tool and their entire toolkit. Clients have printed and posted this process on their bathroom mirrors, refrigerators, or in the car. They’ve taken pictures of it and saved them to their Photos app. All to have it readily available when a trigger happens.


A mini-workshop takes only 90-minutes and you can do it from anywhere. With your partner or by yourself.


Join us and learn a tool that will help you forever!

More here:

LoveWorks: We believe relationships are meant to be an empowering, fun, passionate, safe place to grow, love, and learn. Where we get to be more of who we are, not less. We know it’s not always easy, but it can definitely be easier! With our unique and practical approach to relationship, you learn how to resolve conflicts quickly and enjoy fulfilling intimacy for the rest of your life. To learn more or contact us, visit

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