We've been sold this fairy tale of relationships where a couple who is fighting, in disagreement, or disconnected from each other is not "meant to be." In this relationship fairy tale, the "right" person will magically "click" with us. It will feel "easy."
But a relationship that is deeply intimate and loving is actually the opposite (at least once you get to the Triggered Phase). Getting triggered by our partner is actually a sign of intimacy, and it is the best possible opportunity to grow deeper in intimacy.
You see, the more intimacy we have with someone, the more intense our triggers will be. The reason is that intimacy is seeing someone as an extension of ourselves. When we feel deeply connected to someone, they become a part of us.
That sense of being one with another is both real and an illusion. Deep intimacy does give us a sense of connectedness, and, no one can really become merged with another person. We are always individuals with our own inner lives.
And that inner life is always telling us a story, spinning a narrative about what things mean and what might happen in the future. We are meaning-making and prediction machines. When we become triggered in our healthy, loving relationship, it's because of narratives and predictions (and subsequent rationalizations for why we are right).
Triggers may show up as strong emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, disgust, disappointment, or sadness, or they can be more minor, like annoyance or irritation. They are reactions to our perception of our partner, an expectation we had that is going unmet and the predictions our mind is making about what that means for the future. Maybe we wanted our partner to reach out during the day by text, but they didn't. Maybe we were hoping our partner would ask how our day was before talking about theirs, but they didn't. Maybe our partner loads the dishwasher like a raccoon on meth and it drives us crazy!
Some triggers we can trace easily back to childhood insecure attachment. Some triggers don't really make much sense until we peel back the layers and dip into the unconscious assumptions and projections we're making. (My ex-husband once got annoyed with me for only frosting two out of twelve cupcakes I made. It turned into "a thing.")
And this, peeling back the layers, is what makes triggers a good thing in our relationships. This is what makes them an opportunity to grow closer.
Upon getting triggered, a couple who is skilled at managing their triggers (they are able to regulate their nervous systems, own their projections, and express their honest feelings, needs, and fears) gets to learn about each other and themselves.
Instead of an escalating fight or sense of loneliness and disconnection, a couple can talk calmly, without taking things personally. They can be loving and caring towards one another in their hurt or anger. They can desire to support each other and themselves. They can hear challenging things and not feel criticized or blamed.
These conversations are a powerful tool in our lives for self-improvement and improving our relationship. Some of the most meaningful growth we'll ever have will come from hearing loving and honest feedback from our partner.
Triggers aren't a sign that your relationship is bad or that it's doomed. They aren't a sign that you aren't trying hard enough or not meant for each other.
They are a sign of your intimacy and an opportunity to know yourselves better and grow even closer than you are now.
Want to learn how to manage your triggers skillfully? This is why I created the Relationship Clarity Blueprint! It's for couples or individuals in relationships who are tired of triggers going unresolved, who want to have more fun and intimacy in their relationship again. Click the button below to learn more about the Relationship Clarity Blueprint!