Causes of Conflict in Marriage: What are Your “Trigger Points”?

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own marriage posts below.

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 it got me thinking: what are the common trigger points for conflict in marriage–the real causes of conflict?

Causes of Conflict in Marriage: What are your trigger points?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 yours?

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.

What’s different?

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?

'Too Heavy Burden' photo (c) 2008, Ainis - license:

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

Feeling Disconnected--Trigger Point for Conflict

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.

31 Days to Great SexAnd when we’re doubting, those socks on the floor seem to be saying, “I don’t really care about you.” Or they’re saying, “I’m mad at you, so I’m not going to consider your needs or your comfort.”

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.

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!

Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.


  1. Once again, an excellent article, Sheila! I find that many of my triggers are physical…not enough sleep, a sugar crash, or just plain tired. It’s so important to identify what the real problem is before we jump down someone’s throat!

    Shared your link on Facebook with my young married tribe!


  2. This is a great list Sheila! I deal with almost everything you’ve listed but my biggest most frequent trigger is # 5, Hormones! It doesn’t help that PMS shows up with physical symptoms as well – extreme tiredness, headache, tenderness, cramps.

    I’ve found it helpful to let my husband know when in that zone, he’s very understanding. Still, it’s not an excuse to be all over the place, rather understanding where I am coming from helps me know WHY am feeling a certain way, look for solutions (e.g slow down the pace of my day) and to keep a “this too shall pass” attitude, which is so key in tiding over challenging moments.

    Reading about your mum has shed some light on my own family! There are some things I haven’t figured out but your point has me thinking. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Wonderful post!
    Ngina Otiende recently posted…Submitting to Loving Leadership in MarriageMy Profile

    • Me, too! We’re probably about the same age, so I hear you! It’s been really eye-opening to me to go back and journal my really angry times at my husband and realize that they were related to my period. It’s not that the issues between us weren’t important; it’s just that on another day I would have handled things so much better, and would have been far more open to seeing his side. I think on those days it’s likely best if I just steer clear of most people. :)

  3. When my son started weaning at about 9 months old, I started feeling tired all.the.time. I felt overwhelmed for no good reason. I was defensive, angry and weepy. We thought it was just motherhood and adjustments, but when I started on a fertility med (clomid) 10 or 11 months later, it all just stopped, all of the sudden, the day I started taking the fertility med. I felt great. I had energy. I was pleasant to be around.

    Way back, when my son was just born, at the 2 week follow up, the NP asked if I was dealing with depression and its symptoms. But none of it hit till my baby was 9 months old! That is still postpartum depression and I wish either Hubby or I had recognized it.

    I’m pregnant again, and I plan on keeping an eye on these things. Sometimes, knowing your triggers means knowing yourself, and what is ‘normal’ for you.

    I really enjoy reading your stuff, Sheila, thanks for continuing to write.
    Rachael recently posted…Writing Inspiration — goals and excusesMy Profile

    • Depression is such a HUGE issue, too. I think we all need to “know ourselves”, as you said. And that can sometimes be scary! :)

  4. Great list of questions and ideas about how we get where we end up emotionally. Taking time to evaluate what is going on holistically in my life often leads to understanding how to move forward in changing my behaviors. Thanks for sharing!

    Megan@DoNotDisturb recently posted…Sexual Snooze ButtonMy Profile

  5. Sheila,
    Your story about the woman being angry with her kids, and then realizing it’s because she doesn’t feel like she’s a good mom described me to a ‘t’…..I hate failure….I am afraid of failing, and when I think I am failing I do get angry and defensive and I lose the enjoyment that should come from motherhood sometimes, and in turn that makes me feel like an even worse mother! This is something that I am praying about…..but I am plagued with the perfectionist personality….And it doesn’t help that we have so many schools of thought on how to parent and what is right and wrong and if we do ‘a’ we will scar our children for life, but if ‘b’ happens they will still be scarred for life, so on and so forth. It’s so much pressure, and I’ve let that pressure get the best of me. I truly and sincerely just want the best for my kids, for them to know Christ, and I want them to be happy and well-rounded and to feel loved….and I just don’t want to mess that up, you know?
    Sorry for the sob story…lol…The weird thing is that I don’t feel like a failure as a wife. And because of that, I don’t feel pressure and I enjoy it very much.
    Anyway, excellent post…something I really needed to read today :)

    • You’re so welcome! Glad I could encourage you.

    • melissa says:

      Steph, I just wanted to encourage you. I have been where you are not wanting to fail at motherhood and feeling like you are failing every step of the way. I moved forward by changing my perspective. I stopped looking at my children as a “job” where I was going to be reviewed on how well they turned out but as a treasure and a blessing that I was given the privilege of raising. I stopped looking at motherhood as a performance where I was constantly being judged but as a journey and a gift…a work of art in the process of being created. This quote by author Susan DiMikele became my motto “If motherhood is a performance test, we’ll never win. But if motherhood is a faith journey where we live by grace, we’ll never lose. Jesus always has our back. Just as our kids aren’t perfect, neither are we.” Give yourself grace because even moments when we fail are filled with grace to grow and learn.

    • Stephanie says:

      Oh Steph, we share more than a name! Today was one of those parenting days I just wanted to call my own mom (can’t she passed 6 years ago). Felt like a failure… and so I got angry, then my youngest got mouthy and I got more angry. Wound up driving all three to school while I cried. Rough start to the day… but a beautiful finish! Thanks for the quote!

  6. Hi Sheila
    It is amazing how God works… This morning in my quiet time I was challenged about my words with my children. I’m a bit like Steph- I’m ok with my marriage, it’s the children that I fight with.
    I have identified 2 causes for me- but I will do your pointers and see if I can identify more triggers.
    Tahnk you once again for a great post.
    Cheryl recently posted…Websites for the Greater Good: Non-Profits on WordPress.comMy Profile

    • Hi
      I’m not sure what happened there, but I have linked up to a website that isn’t my post… I’m new to blogging so apologies.
      I actually posted a blog this morning based on my quiet time revelations and the identification of the 2 causes. Definitly God is speaking to me about my patience and my triggers!

    • You’re so welcome!

  7. Great post! Husband and I have discovered that I have trigger “words” or “phrases” that cause me to almost revert back to when I was growing up and the pain I would feel then, causing me to lash out in anger because I’ve forgotten that my husband isn’t my parents. Realizing that has helped us tremendously because now my husband doesn’t use them for asking questions, he phrases things differently and I don’t get angry & defensive.

    Also, I’ve found that texting my husband has helped a lot with those trigger moments. He usually texts me in the morning and asks how my day is, how the kids are and I reply with an honest answer. He gets to pray for me during the day, especially on those rough ones, and I find that it helps him so much to have a little idea of what he’ll be coming home to. There have been days when the kids or I are in a particularly foul mood and he’ll often come home with a little gift for me or will text me that he’ll make dinner when he gets home. Obviously it doesn’t work all the time, but at least he knows that if I do get angry with him it usually isn’t him but something else.

  8. I feel every way except number 5 almost all the time. I’m busy, tired, overwhelmed and disconnected. I need to get a grip. The problem is that I don’t know where to start.

    Makasha Dorsey recently posted…Forgiveness and RepentanceMy Profile

  9. Great advice. I know one of my triggers is feeling controlled. I had zero control as a kid and it’s a huge issue with me at home and anywhere else. If I don’t feel like I have control over myself, I start to get angry. Another issue is keeping blood sugar in check. I’ve always had problems with my blood sugar, even before I was diabetic. If my blood sugar gets too low, I get really angry and I can’t think straight. Knowing that helps me check myself or allows my husband to ask if my blood sugar is low without it turning into a huge fight. Lateness is one of my pet peeves. It’s one thing to be a few minutes late but to be really late all the time, every time, is not okay. To me it says, “You’re not as important as what ever I was just doing or who ever else I was just with.” Or that MY time is not very important to the other person. I once had two girlfriends leave me sitting for over an HOUR in a restaurant alone, waiting for them to show up on my birthday! :( I’ve stopped doing things with those two because it was like that every single time we made plans. Obviously we can’t stop hanging out with our spouses but we do need to be aware of certain things that make them feel bad or uncared for.

  10. I pretty much only get upset with my husband when I have PMS. I’m working on it – hormones are so crazy sometimes!!
    Megan G. recently posted…some days are like that, even in AustraliaMy Profile

  11. Ashley M says:

    I love the sock as Evil Incarnate. That cracked me up; you hit the nail on the head with that one.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I just wanted to say I thought this was a great post. I wanted to offer this peace offering as I leave. I know I have caused quite a stir here and while I get several folks that agree with me each time I realize I’ve also upset some people, some severely. I want to apolagize for that. BW, Jenny, Sheila…several others who I can’t remember…I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me. I never meant to harm your feelings. When I started here a long while ago my wife Lily was very, very sick and I was looking for anyway possible to improve my marriage. I’m embarassed to say how bad our marriage was and how much information I shared on here…truly embarrassed. No matter how hard I tried and no matter the advice I listened to and no matter how perfectly I tried to execute it things never improved. Finally, after more than twelve long years of marriage we discovered it was hormonal and with that under control I have my lovely, beautiful wife that I never had (the birth control pills before the marriage started it). I know I’ve caused quite a stir here and have promised to leave but Lily my wife keeps dragging me back into conversations on here I guess because she thinks I’m wise….sorry I haven’t stayed away. After several emails over the week with Sheila we’ve just come to realize that many of you are just in a different place and whatever I have to offer would not help in the least, the situations are just too different. I’m sure most of the advice Sheila gives to women is spot on and a blessing. All I ask before leaving is remember the men here are here because they are looking for hope and to unlock some kind of knowledge to make their marriage better also and there are very few resources for men on marriage. And if the response to Sheila’s writing is any indication she’s helping you gals. I try to be as honest as possible but maybe I’m not objective enough of the male sitaution. All I ask if you guys go a little easier on the guys…the topics discussed, the language used, the attitude towards certain subjects really do look much different from a man’s perspective. Even good, christian, loving, giving it all they got christian men see things different quite often than the perspective given here…and that’s okay. Just please respect it. It doesn’t make us evil. Guys do a better job of respecting them also and being more gentle and objective with your answers.

    All that said as I sit here stealing 10 minutes away from my wife on a trip to celebrate our 14th anniversary is that honestly I could not ask for a better wife or marriage. This last year has been the best year of my life and it all has to do with my now healthy wife. We honestly had the worst marriage of anyone I know (and I was a pastor for a long while and saw some real bad ones so I know just how bad it was). We now have the best marriage of anyone I know by a large margin. I couldn’t imagine it being better. For those of you out there hanging on by a thread…we’ve been there. Hang on. Keep working at it with everything you’ve got and trust in the Lord. Miracles do happen.

    Thank you. Forgive me. Thanks for putting up with me as I worked thru my hurts. Goodbye. God bless. And Jesus, thank you for my wife.

  13. This came at just the right time! Thank you for posting it!.

  14. This is terrific, Sheila! And yes, I’m guilty.

    I’ll reveal one trigger. My husband is a way slower shopper than I am. He’s the browser, while I’m the hunter. I have lost my patience over this more times than I can count. Recently, I’ve started carrying a book into stores we visit together. If I get bored while waiting for him, I take it out and read. Reading almost never feels like a waste of time to me, and that way he can have the time he needs to be sure of his selection. I wish I’d lightened up and discovered that fix eons ago. I could have saved our marriage that trigger point and the resulting conflict.
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…Should You Share Your Sexual Fantasy?My Profile

  15. During my time of the month I usually can control myself because I realize right away why I’m feeling so frustrated and angry. I may snap at husband once or twice and sometimes when we’re laughing about something I’ll start sobbing like a nut case but husband understands. Something that I think gets overlooked quite often though, is that men can have hormonal imbalances too. My husband has this problem. For a couple of days a month my sweet, ornery, loving husband turns into this emotional, mopey, angry person. During that time he refuses to admit that it’s his hormones that’s his problem so he won’t do anything to control himself. It’s a very frustrating time for my whole family. But I’ll tell ya what, once he gets back to his good natured, fun loving self, I appreciate him 10x more!

  16. I know for myself, being rushed and late makes me very upset. I could be perfectly content and then realize I’m running behind and all of a sudden everything is an emergency and I can get downright nasty with my attitude! Thank you for this post – I think it helped me to realize that. I need to build in extra time in my day to chill – chill in the morning, on my way to work and back, etc. :)

    Nicole recently posted…SALE 6 Crochet Kitchen Dishcloths, Dishrags, Dish Scrubbies, 100% Cotton, Eco Friendly and Reusable, Cool Blues by CraftyBeardsMy Profile

  17. I do pretty good at holding myself in check. 1 and 2 almost constantly apply, but I’m ok unless I’m pregnant. I feel terrible because I don’t catch myself until I’ve lost my temper. My hubby is great about taking over with the kids when he can tell I’m overwhelmed. I’m so grateful he understands.

  18. KellyK(@RNCCRN9706) says:

    I know this is an old post but since it popped up on my Pinterest feed I reread it.

    If a woman is tired a lot, be sure to have your Dr check your thyroid levels. Even being on the high end of normal can put things out of whack as the thyroid controls a lot of bodily functions. During a work-up for my unexplained infertility, it was discovered that I had hypothyroidism. Previously, I’d done three rounds of Clomid to no avail. Three months after being started on Synthroid, I got pregnant without clomid!! So obviously my thyroid had a major cause in my infertility. I know a previous OB/GYN had checked it two years prior but all I was told was that it was normal. But was it on the high end of normal? I don’t know because I was never told the exact value.

    It’s been 10 years since I started synthroid and my levels are still up and down. So I’d also recommend having your TSH, free T3 and T4 levels checked by a physician.

  19. This was timely to see on Pinterest today! I can attest to the Sunday Morning as one of my triggers. But, mine deals with a differing issue than time, stress, rushing, or disorganization. My trigger is completely on a spiritual level. My husband and I differ on the choice of which church to attend (even though we’ve been going to the same one for years). So, I am going to have to take a step back and just give this issue up to God. I believe that the underlying issue to this trigger is either hormonal or chemical. I tend to react irrationally when I am hormonal or feeling depressed.
    I will definitely keep this article close by whenever I feel the urge to explode on a Sunday morning.
    Thanks again for pinpointing these underlying issues.
    Jeanne recently posted…The Middle of the Teeter-TotterMy Profile

  20. Thanks for this never really thought of how disconnected I feel when we go for LONG periods of time with no sexual contact. My husband is not a touchy kind of person so unfortunately sex is the only human touch I get. I know that is something that somehow I need to get him to notice.
    Our main trigger is kids. We are a blended family and we are constantly at war about it. It has been almost 8 years and he still has no connection with my kids. And his kids are damaged from being rejected by there own mother. So there is a constant struggle. SO many issues it is hard to decide which to start with. Just alot of prayer and hoping the Lord will give me wisdom to know where to start.

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. Any comment that espouses an anti-marriage philosophy (eg. porn, adultery, abuse and the like) will be deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are replying to another commenter, please be polite and don't assume you know everything about his or her situation. If you are constantly negative or a general troll, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Sheila Wray Gregoire owns the copyright to all comments and may publish them in whatever form she sees fit. She agrees to keep any publication of comments anonymous, even if you are not anonymous on this board.


  1. […] linked with Wifey Wednesday, What I learned Wednesday, Whimsical Wednesdays, Works for me Wednesday, Pour Your Heart Out, […]

  2. […] at your husband, remember that it’s probably just hormones (remember the post I wrote on the Trigger Points for Conflict?).  Don’t try to win any argument or make a point. Why not agree to talk about the issue in […]

  3. […] elaborate on that here–but remember: when you’re angry, ask yourself if the problem really is entirely with […]

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge