In a relationship, when we get upset and react. it is because we are triggered by something from our past. These are sensitive topics or issues that we all carry with us. When a partner triggers us, we react instantly, as if an old wound has been opened.
For example, perhaps a man is sensitive about being criticized. He may have grown up in a household where his parents were constantly telling him to do things differently, or better. Now, this man is older and in a relationship. Each time his partner asks him to do something differently, or simply shows him a new way of completing a task, he becomes defensive or angry. He is reacting to his old childhood wound or feeling, that he is not good enough or not competent. No matter what his wife says he hears it filtered through his past perspective.
When he becomes defensive or angry, he is not actually reacting to his partner’s actions, but to an old wound that she has triggered.
We need to take responsibility for our triggers.
Next time you become angry or reactive toward your partner, stop and ask yourself:
In this moment, what are you thinking?
What physical reaction are you having (check for tightness or tension in your body) to this trigger?
And finally, what does this remind you of? Have you felt this way before? Who else has treated you this way?
Sharing these answers with your partner can be a breakthrough.
In this case, the man in the example would share with his partner:
When I was young, my parents were so critical, and it seemed that I could never do anything right. When you comment on how I am doing something, I feel that you think I am incompetent and it makes me angry.
If your partner listens and supports you, it can help heal this old wound. In turn, your partner may share that each time you become reactive or defensive, it reminds him or her of an experience they have had, which triggers them, and causes a cycle of arguments in the relationship.
These conversations are often mediated by a couple’s counsellor, who is trained to get to the underlying issues. It is important that both partners are supportive, understanding and accepting of each other’s experiences, so that these wounds may be healed, and the cycle can end.