Have you ever been in a heated argument with your husband and wondered, “How did we get to this point?” Chances are, he has too. It is likely that the two of you are using trigger words to set the other person off, turning a conversation or disagreement into a full-blown yelling match. Trigger words are words, or phrases, that provoke unpleasant emotion, feelings or thoughts. If it really gets under your skin when people demand that you do something instead of asking, then your trigger word might be “you need to…”
My husband and I started identifying trigger words early in our marriage. One moment we would be having a simple conversation, then we would be arguing. We both wanted to figure out a way to keep conversations from turning heated as much as possible. One night we stayed up way past midnight replaying and dissecting the argument we had just hours earlier. We realized that we both had chosen to use certain words that triggered the person to respond in a negative way.
We went on to identify more of our own trigger words. For example, I had the habit of saying “you always…” This really got under his skin! Instead of acknowledging the action I was pointing out, he immediately sprang into defense mode because he disagreed that the accusation was true all of the time. This would make me angry because I felt like he wasn’t listening or was in denial. I’m sure you can guess where the conversation went from there.
So that night we came up with a plan to keep our conversations and disagreements fair and productive. Here’s how it went.
- We identified as many of our own trigger words as a we could.
- We asked the other person what they meant when they used this trigger word. This was important because it made us realize that the other persons intentions were not the negative ones we tied to the trigger words. (I did not literally mean that he always did xyz).
- Next we told the other person how the trigger word made us feel. (Me saying he always did xyz made him feel like I hadn’t acknowledged his previous efforts to improve and that I was only concerned about negative actions).
- Then, together, we came up with different ways we could express ourselves that would not involve the trigger word. (Instead of speaking in absolutes I agreed to only address the specific incident I was confronting him about). The important thing here is that we both had to agree on the new words or phrases. It had to both express the speakers feelings and not offend the listener.
Was it time-consuming, yes! It took many hours and multiple conversations to work through it, but it was worth it. I won’t go as far as saying that we never argue, but when we do it is fair. We address trigger words, address the actual issue and move on.
I think it is important to understand that in no way am I saying that other people are responsible for our actions. You are responsible for how you respond to people no matter what they say and vise versa. However, when you are in a marriage it is important to be mindful of your spouses feelings, even when you are upset. By not using trigger words you are not provoking them and you are allowing the opportunity for great communication.
If not using trigger words doesn’t seem to be working, try the power of silence. Communication takes time and effort, so be willing to work at it and show a lot of grace to yourself and your husband. Your marriage will thrive as a result.
What are some of your trigger words? Let me know in the comments below.