No, I’m not talking about guns.
(But fun picture, isn’t it?)
Milan and Kay Yerkovich define a trigger as
…a strong reactive feeling about something that is happening in the present, a feeling turbocharged by a hurt in the past.”
Ever have one of those?
Yeah, I thought so.
It took me years to understand that when my reactions to situations or people were far greater or stronger than the setting warranted, it meant that some hurt or trauma from my past was amplifying my current emotions. I did learn to recognize the pattern, and it has helped me navigate my life better. But today, I discovered through reading How We Love, that ANYTHING can be a trigger.
Apparently, and it makes sense why communication in relationships can spiral out of control so quickly and easily. If the tone of someone’s voice, or their opinion, attitude or behavior can trigger an unexpected, agitating reaction in me, then I can become defensive or angry at the other person whether they said or did something good or bad in that moment.
Even my sincere, valid emotions can trigger another person.
Wow. I had no idea.
Perhaps because of what that person has suffered and not fully dealt with in the past, my comment or start of a conversation that to me is neutral, or my sharing a feeling about something that occurred during the day or my tone of voice because of that situation can cause the other person to react negatively.
I probably wonder why they are reacting and may take it personally. After all, if I don’t know what is happening for them, and don’t know to ask, it seems reasonable that their response is directly related to me.
So I respond in a defensive manner.
They do likewise. I react back. See how that happens? We’ve now set a pattern of communication which is not desired, nor intended, but spins out of control leaving both parties shaking their heads in confusion, hurt and disbelief.
Well, the good news is if we are aware of triggers in ourselves and others, we can deal with our past and have grace for the other person’s stuff. Maybe we can even help each other by using the following practical tools to build rather than destroy our relationship.
- Take a deep breath.
- Settle yourself. Take a brief time out if necessary.
- Ask yourself three things:
When have I felt this way in the past? Who was I with? What soul words describe my reaction? What would I like to say to that person (in the past)?
See, that wasn’t too hard, was it?
Okay, so it’s not always easy, and it can be painful. But the benefits to removing triggers by dealing with these issues is two-fold. We become healed and stronger, and we develop healthier relationships.
But there’s also a third benefit.
If we share those feelings with our spouse, and willingly listen to them share with us, we’ll build trust and a stronger, more intimate bond with them.
That’s a win-win.
I credit the Yerkovich’s with all these insights. I’ve been sharing what I’m learning from their book, How We Love. The great thing is that our church has been presenting a series on marriage called, A Love that Lasts. Our pastor’s teaching lines up with this as well.
I don’t believe that is coincidental.
As our pastor, Matt Keller, has shared (and I agree) we have an enemy who is out to destroy every marriage. Marriage is the foundation of community. There is a power in family that can’t be denied. That’s because the union between a man and woman was created by God as a picture of his relationship through Jesus Christ with his bride, the church.
Satan hates us and anything that displays God’s love for us.
So if you thought even for a moment that the enemy I mentioned in the earlier paragraph is your spouse, think again. Our enemy is Satan. But oh, how he’ll use each of us to hurt the other one if we let him.
But our spouse isn’t the enemy.
I for one am going to work hard to remember that, to deal with the triggers in my life and be open to the probability that triggers cause grief for my spouse as well. And other people with whom I interact.
Maybe that’s why God has grace for us, and asks us to love others the same way.
I’ve linked a number of resources in this post. I’d love to know in the comments below if you find any of them helpful.