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  • Writer's pictureCoty Nolin

Couples Therapy Insights: What Are My Triggers?



queer couple holding hands and face

Couples therapy questions: What are my triggers?



The word “triggered” is fairly mainstream these days. A “trigger” is a perceived threat or experience that may elicit a specific reaction. Usually “triggers” are reminders of traumatic experiences, challenging relationships, or other unpleasant stimuli in one’s past. Most people have “triggers”, and some people have many triggers- the amount of behaviors or actions that elicit complex feelings is usually dependent on our life experiences. However, since most people will experience being triggered at some point, it is beneficial to have some understanding of your triggers and your partners.


It is almost certain you will feel triggered in a long term relationship. We all have wounds from past experiences that we carry into our relationships. First and foremost, what are your triggers? An example of a relational trigger might be if you were ignored often as a child by your parents when you wanted recognition or attention, you may feel triggered when your partner ignores you. So if the trigger is the perception of being ignored, how do you react to that? What feelings does it elicit in you? What is your first impulse? How does your partner react to your being triggered? These are some questions you may want to ask yourself and your partner. 


Something that is important to note is that you are responsible for your reactions to triggers. I know, no one wants to hear this. This is tough for most people to own because it often means we have to acknowledge the pain our experiences have caused us. As adults, our partners, friends, and community can tend to that pain and support us through our healing process- but no one can undo the painful experiences we have had. However, it is also empowering to gain a deeper understanding of why certain behaviors or actions create a heightened response in us. It is also powerful to learn we have the agency to understand and heal the pain that has caused the triggers, individually and relationally.


So how does this happen? Identifying and understanding your triggers are the first step. Next, we can tend to the wounds that cause the trigger in the first place. This can be done through different kinds of psychotherapy like inner child healing, “parts work” or internal family systems, or “shadow work”. There are also a variety of somatic therapies that help desensitize triggers and reactions through trauma-processing. Relationally, couples therapy can be beneficial in understanding and empathizing with your partner’s patterns and triggers. All of these are great options for gaining a deeper understanding of your triggers.

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