If You’re Triggered and You Know It Take a Pause

“The most power we have during a conflict is to notice when we’re triggered. Look for physical cues, sensations in your body, your tell-tale signs. As soon as you notice the tightness in your jaw or the heaviness in your chest, walk away. An argument is not what the conversation is about as much as the strong emotional reaction that happens when you’re triggered, and one of the keys to conflict resolution is to try not to engage when you’re triggered!”

– Interview with Leila Talore, Conscious Weddings Premarital E-Course: For Couples Who Want to Begin Their Marriage with the Best Chance for Success

What happens for you when you’re triggered? Does your voice change? Do you feel your heart close? What are your tell-tale signs? If you don’t know, just ask your partner; I guarantee you that he or she will be able to rattle off your signs without a moment’s hesitation!

The interview with Leila Talore that I quoted from above is one of the best powerful interviews that I’ve ever conducted, and I’m quite certain that if every couple watched it before they married or early in the marriage, the divorce rate would dramatically decline. Where do we learn to notice our tell-tale trigger signs? In high school? College? From our parents? Not likely. It’s only when you’re in an intimate relationship that the deepest wounds and vulnerable places are activated, and it’s also within the crucible of marriage that these wounds can heal. But we can only heal when we have the right tools, otherwise we’re unconsciously re-activating old childhood patterns and re-creating dysfunctional environments.

The first simple key to resolving conflict might sound obvious: if you’re triggered, take a pause.  This might mean remaining in physical proximity but taking a few deep breaths or it might mean taking a break and walking away. When you’re feeling open again, re-connect and take responsibility for your part in the conflict. But what sounds simple on paper is often profoundly difficult to enact in real life in the heat of a conflict. It’s like a magnetic pull of planetary proportions keeps you locked into the tension with your partner. There’s often a quiet but insistent voice inside of you says, “If I only say this in just the right way, my partner will ‘get it’,” and when you listen to this voice, trying to explain your position with increasing intensity, the conflict escalates.

How often have you remained engaged in a conflict with your partner, sometimes for hours, only to finally disengage, cool off in your corners, reconnect from a completely different space, and resolve the conflict in less than three minutes? It’s happened at least two hundred times in my marriage. But over the last several years, both my husband and I have become much better at the skill of taking a pause (for us this usually means walking away to create some physical space until one of us can re-open). The moment either of us senses that rise in tension, the tell-tale sign of tight lips, the slight shift in tone that indicates that someone has become defensive or reactive, one of us walks away. And when we come back with openness and accountability, we speak directly to the heart of the issue and resolve it within minutes.

Leila lays out her steps to conflict resolution beautifully and clearly in the interview. Here’s an abbreviated version of what we discussed:

1. Notice when you’re triggered. Pay close attention to your tell-tale signs. Leila also offers three concrete steps for handling the trigger in the Premarital E-Course.

2. Lovingly disengage by saying, “I’m feeling triggered right now and I need a few minutes.” If you notice that your partner is triggered, find a way to lovingly disengage by saying something like, “I don’t think it’s a good time to talk about this. Let’s take a pause.” And if you can’t find the words because you’re too triggered, just walk away without saying anything. It’s better than engaging in a conversation that will inevitably escalate into an argument. Again, as Leila points out, disengaging doesn’t always mean walking away. You can pause in the conversation and say, “I need a few minutes,” then take a few deep breaths, feel your feet, notice how your body feels, practice mindfulness.

3. Shift back to a resourced state or, what Leila says, practice Shape-Shifting. When we’re un-resourced, we tend to say or do things that are damaging and that we don’t really mean, but when you can nourish yourself and come back to center, you will be able to open your heart and take responsibility. Ideas for shape-shifting: take five deep breaths, drink a cup of tea, call a friend, journal, dance, take a walk or a run, practice mindfulness.

4. Come back to your parter and communicate with responsibility about your part of the conflict. Leila offers simple and effective communication skills in the course for this part of the repair process.

This interview is just one of many life-changing lessons in my Conscious Weddings Premarital E-Course. If you’re in a committed relationship, engaged, newlywed, or married several years and would like to learn these effective tools for conflict resolution, give yourselves the gift of this course.

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To learn more about Leila’s premarital counseling services, see her website at Skillful Relationships.