We can all remember a time when we were cranky or out of sorts, when inclement weather canceled our plans, when lack of sleep caught up with us, or when our college basketball team lost the NCAA Championship in the last few seconds of the game (I still love my Tarheels!). No one makes it to the finish line without a few internal or external temper tantrums in the rearview.
What triggers your inner, tantrum-prone, three-year-old? Personally, I do not do well traveling, when I am tired, or when I believe someone is angry with me unjustly. These situations trigger some of the worst versions of myself. Eric cannot stand to be accused of incompetence, he despises being ignored, and he can be rather unpleasant when he has not slept enough over the course of several nights.
When something triggers Eric, there is automatic potential for a yucky conflict. When I am triggered, sometimes my mouth speaks and my brain catches up later. When we are both triggered… look out!
Friday Night Brawls
We learned long ago to keep Friday nights sacred. Friday night is not date night for us. It is not the night we worship. It is not the night we discuss anything important if we can help it. Why? Because Friday night is Eric’s most exhausted night. When I worked outside the home, it was mine too.
One of my funniest Eric memories was the Friday night he started fussing about something, but was too pooped to form his words. He reminded me of an oversized toddler who was fighting bedtime. We cannot remember what we were “arguing” about, but after he attempted to speak with no success, I chuckled and suggested he go to bed. He agreed. The next morning, he was happy as a clam and able to enunciate once again. ~smile~
So many perfectly nice moments are ruined when we react to our triggers. How many times have I let my mouth speak when my brain was too tired to determine if my words were edifying or necessary? (Too many.) Perhaps it is maturity or experience, but these days I mentally sooth myself more than I use to do.
“It will be over soon. I know you are tired, but you will get to sleep eventually. This time tomorrow you will feel better. It is only for the next little while. You can make it. You know you can.”
When I talk to myself instead of reacting, I am almost always happier with the result – and I imagine you are too. ~smile~
Am I Truly Angry or Did Someone (or Something) Hit my Trigger Button?
Sure, we can be truly angry after someone hits our trigger button, but is our anger realistic or blown out of proportion in those moments? That is a question best answered before we appropriate an emotion. When I am tired and Eric speaks sharply to me, am I furious because of his infraction or am I furious because I am looking at it through the lens of my exhaustion? “Would I be this angry if I was not tired? …. Probably not.” I can react the way I feel, or I can choose to react calmly with the understanding that everything seems worse than it really is because I am tired.
When you find yourself in those moments of frustration or anger, ask yourself these questions before reacting:
- Am I tired?
- Am I stressed?
- Am I disappointed about something else?
- Do I feel bad? Am I getting sick?
- Am I taking my frustrations out unjustly on my significant other?
- Is what I am about to say going to help or harm the situation at hand?
- Am I truly angry? If so, what is the root of that anger and how can it be resolved?
- Am I reacting to another issue(s) we never resolved that is still bothering me?
Rule out your triggers first. If your negative emotions are not due to your triggers, then you can narrow down your search for what is bothering you. If you react before thinking through your situation, you may cause an unnecessary blowup. Eric and I have endured many ruined evenings because one or both of us reacted harshly without stopping and accessing our emotions first.
It is not worth it.
A Recent Example
Recently, when Eric and I were in Denver, we were greeted by an April snow storm. (Did you know April is the second heaviest snow month in certain parts of the USA? I did not! But, now I do!) We came, we settled into our room, and we woke up the next day to that yucky white stuff we thought we had left behind for another year. While my East coast friends were enjoying tank tops and shorts, I was bundled up in a scarf.
We had plans that first Saturday to visit a friend who lived about an hour north of our hotel. Upon reading the conditions, listening to the weather, and discovering that the temperatures were going to drop, I did not feel comfortable making the trip. Not to mention, people do not seem to drive so cautiously around Denver – at least not from what I saw! Eric did not put up a fight to go, but he was clearly quite disappointed. The next hour was not the greatest. I was confident in my decision to stay off the roads, but still felt like he was internalizing blame towards me for canceling our plans.
For a while, I thought our night was going to be completely ruined. He was tired and disappointed. I was feeling unjustly blamed and also disappointed. It was great conditions for a trigger fight! We came very close – I cannot deny; but, thankfully, in the end, we prevailed by God’s grace.
We talked about our feelings, we decided to make an alternative plan, and we trekked across the street in the cold, wet snow for a SmashBurger. It was not our original idea, but it offered us sustenance and hopefully a funny-ish story to remember someday.
Knowing your triggers and learning to diffuse them may be one of the greatest ways you bless your future spouse. When Eric stops on the brink of a harsh response or sarcastic comment, I am blessed. When I back away from the ledge a split second before disrespecting him, he is blessed.
Pinpoint Your Triggers
If you have never thought about it, take a moment and ponder what seems to trigger your negative reactions. Go a step further and write them down. You can even post them on the wall of your bedroom or on a whiteboard. Remind yourself of them occasionally so you can be cognizant and one step ahead in those moments that spark quick reactions. You will never be perfect at cutting off every unhealthy reaction at the pass, but you can improve!
I have improved. (I have!) I have to remember that so I do not beat myself up too badly when I fail. We can choose to be either a work in progress or a lost cause. I prefer to keep growing and I hope you do too!
What are your and your sweetie’s triggers?