Triggering in Relationships

You may have noticed that the closer you get to another person, the more patterns of behavior arise that provoke stress and defensiveness in one of you. More often than not, it’s both!

This is not necessarily a sign that you have a bad relationship – it’s just that when you get really close to a person, your attachment to them begins to fulfill certain psychological roles in your life. Suddenly more is at stake! A negative experience that may seem trivial on the surface of things may strain your connection and make you feel as though the psychological needs your attachment is supposed to be meeting is under threat. The more time you spend with one another, and the deeper your connection becomes, the more you may find that little events crop up that wouldn’t have amounted to much at first, but they start to trigger one (or both) of you.

It’s good to have an understanding of what’s going on when that happens so that you can really be there for one another during these times and give each other the necessary quality of attention and support to work through these triggers and re-establish the connection you are both seeking. Often what usually happens is that one person’s response to being triggered (be it sharp words, excessive fawning, intrusive clingy behaviors, or simply wanting to isolate themselves and take space away from the other) triggers defenses in the other leading to an escalation of conflict. It would be better for us all if these situations could provide an opportunity to gain greater self-understanding. In fact, that self-understanding may be necessary if we want to avoid these situations continually escalating into worse arguments, feelings of alienation, and eventual break-up or divorce.

Understanding yourself and your partner better will help you both create an environment where little tensions can easily be dealt with more constructively when they arise. Understanding the psychology of stress may help us to disarm defensiveness in our own reactions and in those of the other people around us. When we are able to deal with these disturbances constructively in relationships, it gives us greater confidence in ourselves, our loved ones, and our relationships which strengthen and build value overtime.