The concept of understanding our partner’s “language of love”, or how they give and receive love, is one that’s often pulled to our awareness. This idea feels big and illuminating, because it fosters deeper connection in relationships by allowing us to feel more seen and understood, as well as allows us to show up for our loved ones in the ways that they look for.
On that same note, what if we were to put more attention on understanding and knowing our partners triggers? First off, a “trigger” can be defined as a stimulus or situation that can resurface old feelings, memories, or emotional/physical sensitivities in a given moment. Triggers can be a result of past traumatic experiences or emotional wounds. Essentially, we all have ongoing experiences we come across (consciously or not) that may bring up emotional reactions from a younger place, or unhealed wounds that can become our “hot buttons”.
An example of this can look like:
You already have tentative plans with your partner on Saturday, but “the crew” is now making big plans too. You haven’t seen your friends in weeks and want to attend, and assume your partner will or should understand too (after all, you spend time with this person often). You share your new plans with your partner and ask to reschedule with them. You notice an ‘intense’ emotional reaction surface around this experience for your partner, but it doesn’t “add up” for you. Now you’re growing upset too.
This can be an example of a trigger your partner may be experiencing from a younger place. For example- abandonment, neglect or not feeling prioritized. While it may not translate to abandonment for you, it can simply benefit us to have a level of awareness and empathy toward our partner’s sensitivities. Something to note is that triggers can surface in nuanced ways, and not appear as “exactly” what happened in the past (this is normal!) Knowing this can help inform how we communicate on our needs, listen to our significant other’s, and work through conflict.
Here are some ways to foster empathy and awareness toward our partners sensitivities:
1. Always assume you and your partner see the world differently.
This is normal and healthy (otherwise- you’d be dating yourself). What makes sense for them, doesn’t need to make sense for you. It can help to foster empathy to consider if you have any ‘hot buttons of your own’, and increase some relatability.
2. Aim curiosity at their reaction.
Talking with your partner instead of at them in these moments can go far. When you’re feeling defensive, ask yourself, “Am I needing to be right, or am I open to understanding?”
3. Develop communications tools and ways to work through similar triggers in the future.
Examples of this can look like:
– both parties pausing and taking a breath
– taking healthy space with promise to return to the conversation later
– or discussing “the story” you are both telling yourselves in the moment.
4. It takes two to tango- you are not a mind reader.
As important as it is to be curious and empathetic toward your partner, it’s also your partner’s responsibility to have curiosity toward themselves and develop awareness and accountability around their reactions. It is not your job to mind read or to do all the emotional labor for your partner. This work can take versions of ongoing self-reflection, compassion, collaboration and communication (on both parts).