What are the common trigger points for conflict in marriage–the real causes of conflict?
When I was reading an advance copy of Karen Ehman’s book “Let It Go“, she was talking about one way to mend our control-freak tendencies. She advocates figuring out what your “trigger points” are during the day when you’re likely to blow up at someone, and then figure out how to do things differently.
So let’s look at that today–trigger points as causes of conflict.
My mother was often stressed with her family as a teenager, especially on Sunday mornings. Her parents were not the most organized, and Sunday mornings were hectic. My grandfather was a pastor, and he was always missing something–his keys, his tie. My grandmother could never find her glasses. And they would yell and run trying to get out the door. My mother, meanwhile, would be all ready. She had to teach Sunday School, and she had to get going. But invariably she was late because her parents were late.
So eventually she stopped waiting and decided that on Sundays she would take the bus to church. It took a lot longer than the car ride, but it was a lot less stressful, and she could make sure that she wasn’t late.
Sunday mornings were her trigger point. She knew that was coming.
What are your trigger points?
A good exercise is to start keeping track of the times that you become angry or aggravated at your husband (or your kids), and then ask yourself:
What led up to this? What else was happening at the time?
Usually when we react in anger the problem is not solely the thing that we are angry about.
So if your husband walks in the door ten minutes late, one night you may blow up at him, while another night it bounced right off of you and you didn’t care. The cause of the conflict is not what it may seem.
What’s the difference?
Similarly, there may be times you’re ready to tear your husband’s hair out for leaving his socks on the floor one more time instead of getting them in the hamper, while other mornings you’re happily picking up the clothes while humming to yourself.
We dwell on the infraction–being late, not picking up the socks–but we often fail to realize that there are other things that are also contributing to the problem.
If we recognize what those other things are, we can see that these are our “trigger points” for anger. It isn’t necessarily what our husband does that makes us mad; it’s what else is going on that is causing us to see our husbands in a bad light.
Here are some common ones to get you thinking:
Cause of Conflict in Marriage #1: Feeling Overwhelmed/Busy
Ever feel like this?
You’re just so weighed down by demands.
Let’s say that the night that your husband came in ten minutes late and you exploded was also the night that one child had soccer practice right at 6:45, and another child had swimming lessons right at 7, and all day you had been obsessing over how to get each child to the right place at the right time without making anybody late.
You have no leeway for error.
Or perhaps you just have had no time to yourself for a week because you’ve been chauffeuring kids everywhere, and you have a busy work schedule, and some other family things have come up. And you’re just feeling very put upon. In that case, those extra socks can feel as if your husband is standing over you, saying, “here’s something else you have to do! Your whole life is one big to-do list!”
Ask yourself: the last few times that I’ve gotten annoyed, have I been extremely busy? If so, maybe the best thing I can do for my marriage is to take the kids out of some activities and start learning to say “no”.
Cause of Conflict #2: Feeling Tired
When we’re exhausted we get grumpy. Little things our husbands do bother us so much more. And yet if we were bright eyed and bushy tailed we may be able to laugh it off!
Ask yourself: Have I been getting enough sleep lately? Maybe I need to start going to bed earlier, and training the children to sleep regularly, on their own, so that I can invest in my marriage.
Cause of Conflict #3: Feeling Defensive
Have you been angry at yourself lately? Maybe you’re mad because you can’t seem to lose that weight. Maybe you feel like you should be further ahead in your career right now. Maybe you feel like you should be a better mother. I was speaking at a conference recently and a woman came up and asked for prayer because she found that she was constantly angry at her kids. She didn’t want to be that kind of mom, but the house was chaotic and she was always angry.
We got to talking, and I shared with her that anger is usually a secondary emotion. We react in anger because we feel something else first, and that feeling is too sensitive, or too difficult to deal with, so we deflect it into anger. In her case, she had an immense fear of failure. She was afraid that she wasn’t a good mom. So when things around the house got chaotic and seemed to prove that fear was justified, she became angry.
The problem, though, was that she was already angry at herself. And when we’re angry at ourselves, we usually deflect that anger to other people, because it’s psychologically easier. So when you’re angry at yourself for not being able to keep on top of things at home, and then your husband leaves socks on the bedroom floor, you’ll get angry at him. It’s not the socks; it’s just another trigger that the house is out of control.
Ask yourself: Am I trying too hard to be perfect? Do I constantly feel like a failure? How can I pray through this and work through this with a friend/mentor so that I don’t project my anger at myself onto other people?
Cause of Conflict #4: Feeling Disconnected
A couple is supposed to feel like a team. They’re supposed to feel intimate, like they’re supporting each other and loving each other. And sex is a big part of that.
When you’re not making love regularly, you start to feel disconnected, because something is missing. Sex was the primary way that God created us to experience intimacy in marriage, and when we’re not pursuing it, it feels as if we’re keeping our spouse at arm’s length, even if that isn’t our conscious intention.
That’s when it’s easy to feel unsettled in your relationship. We start to second guess each other and question each other because we haven’t “checked in” on the relationship lately by making love. When you make love, you say, “I love you. I forgive past hurts. I want to be close.” When you don’t make love, those things may still be true, but you haven’t shown it tangibly in the same way. So we start to doubt.
We’re not defensive about ourselves in this case; we’ve become defensive about the relationship.
Ask yourself: Have you made love regularly, or are you going through a dry spell? To improve your marriage, commit to making love regularly–say at least twice a week. Love covers a multitude of sins, but sex also covers a multitude of misunderstandings. And my book 31 Days to Great Sex is a fun way to work through this trigger point!
Cause of Conflict #5: Feeling Hormonal
Finally, let’s not forget hormones. If I were to track all of the times that I’ve been a crying mess in front of my husband in the last few months, they would line up almost exactly with…well, you know what I’m talking about. And believe me, this gets way worse when you hit your 40s and perimenopause starts. Your hormones really are all over the place.
One day that sock is just a sock. The next day that sock is Evil Incarnate.
Ask yourself: am I feeling angry to a schedule? Maybe it’s time for me to look ahead of time at the calendar and look at when I’m likely to be difficult, and then warn people beforehand.
Here’s why these exercises can be so helpful: If you can identify the times when you’re most likely to blow up, then you can try either to avoid those times entirely–by becoming less busy, for instance–or you can plan more “alone” time for the times in your life when you are more likely to react badly to those you love.
So here’s the plan to Stop Conflict Before It Starts:
1. Think back to the last three times you reacted in anger towards your husband. Were any of these five things in play?
2. If you can’t remember the circumstances surrounding the last few times you’ve been angry, get a notebook out to keep track of things for the following month. Whenever you start to feel angry, take a step back and ask yourself which factors are affecting you.
3. If one particular trigger point keeps rearing its head, make a commitment to deal with that. For me, I’m going to block off the next day when I’ve got really bad PMS and just plan a day apart. I think it’s healthier for everyone!
4. On a related note, focus on the things you do well together. We’ve talked today about looking for the triggers for conflict; but we also have triggers for laughter. Figure out what you were doing the last time you laughed together, and do more of that!
If we could notice our trigger points for conflict, we’d have far less conflict in our marriage. So take a good, long look at yourself–and resolve to deal with those triggers!
Now, what advice do you have for us today? Leave the URL for your marriage post in the linky below! And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great marriage posts.