Triggers (Part 1)

Carol:  “So what bugs you the most about me?”
Michael:  “When you ask me a lot of questions and make me come up with answers to explain myself or try to describe my feelings inside.”

Carol: “How often does this happen?”
Michael:  “Just about every time you look at me with ‘that look’ and your tone sounds like you are irritated.”

Carol:  “Every time I start asking you questions?”
Michael: “Just about.”

Carol looked at me and said, ‘see what I have to deal with.   (Tears) “Its been like this for 25 years.  He WON’T connect with me.   I’m furious at him.”
I said, “I appreciate your frustration, work with me and ask him these two questions (pointing to a piece of paper in her hand that I had given her).

Carol:  “So, what are the feelings that occur inside you when that happens”
Michael:  “I don’t really know.”

I pointed his attention to a list of soul words found on page 291 in our book How We Love.  I told him to take his time and to pick the words that seemed to describe his inner feelings.

Michael:  “I guess, afraid, shut down, un-easy, shamed, frozen, and nervous.”
Carol looked at me and protested, “But I don’t do those things to him!”

I said, Carol, just repeat back what you heard and ask the second question (drawing an irritated look at me).

Carol: “So I heard you say that you feel shamed, shut down, un-easy, frozen and nervous… are other times that you have ever felt this way in your life?  Perhaps when you were a child?”

The silence was deafening and Michael just stared at Carol and the wheels inside were turning.  By this point, they had completely forgotten that they were on a stage at a How We Love workshop and 150 people were themselves transfixed, frozen in silence and watching with baited breath.

Michael:  “It’s just like with my mom.  My dad never talked with me, and my mom only asked me questions to keep me in line.  She was always busy and in a hurry and when she would fire questions at me, she was impatient and irritated.  I would just freeze up and say as little as possible.  I couldn’t even think.  I would just stare and hope it would be over soon.”

I asked Carol to ask him one last question.

Carol:  “How old do you feel inside when you are in that emotional state?”
Michael: “Eight years old.”

The tears welled up and Michael started to cry.  Carol’s eyes soon filled with tears and she spontaneously reached out and took his hand and they sat in silence for one minute, just looking at each other.
She turned and looked at me and said, “I didn’t know this.”  In reality, neither did Michael.

They had been married 25 years and this subterranean trigger had been lurking, fully operational and animating his behaviors and her reactions and they were not even aware of it.  Nor, did they have a word to describe it.

What Carol really wanted was an adult spouse that could engage in dialogue, exchange thoughts and share feelings and ideas.

Reasonable request?  Absolutely.

What neither one of them realized however is that when the pressure increased, Michael turned into an eight year old and she didn’t even realize it.   No wonder they were both frustrated and irritated.  Michael was getting triggered which then sabotaged all adult communication.

25 years of this would build resentment in any couple.

Rare?  Common?

Every couple that comes into my office is getting triggered by the other spouse.  Almost always, core fights are trigger vs. trigger, agitation vs. agitation and child vs. child.

See yourself?  Take courage.  There is a way out.

Thanks and blessings,


Milan & Kay

Next week: Carol’s triggers and how that developed into a core pattern.