The Toxic Tango of Triggers And WW Linkup

Song of a SaviorToday I’m continuing to unpack more in our series about the wounds of our pasts by sharing another one of my triggers, as well as how that impacts and often serves to trigger my husband in a certain way.

I’m sharing this because …
[Tweet “We most often experience our triggers in the closeness and confinement of our marriages.”]

I think that’s because our spouses (and children) are our most important relationships other than God, so it makes sense that we would experience each other more powerfully and painfully than any other type of relationship.

When I was young, it seemed to me that my (now deceased) mother allowed her anger at my (now deceased) father to grow into bitterness, because my father often avoided dealing with the issues she would bring to him. However, I saw this as my father resisting arguing, out of a commitment to avoid saying and doing things they might regret.

Usually there was a low-level of tension that they muddled through most days, but every now and then, my mother would lose her temper in a very volatile way. The last straw would be broken and she would lash out primarily at my father, but the rest of us often got caught in the crossfire as well.

That created a tremendous fear in me of conflict—especially when anger erupts unexpectedly.

Guess what type of man I married?

Yep! A man with a tendency toward a hot-temper! (By the way, he’s given me permission to share about his tendencies and triggers too! Yay, Gary!)

So on occasion, when his temper gets the best of him, I feel triggered. It’s easy for me to assume the blame or feel extreme shame, even when his anger is not about me.

My default response in our very messy marriage years was to withdraw emotionally from Gary like my father did with my mom. However, over the years and at Gary’s urging, I’ve learned to remain engaged. Though, at first, as we worked through this balancing of conflict, my “engagement” often caused more problems than good … if you know what I mean! 😉

The fact is, whenever I withdraw, that triggers Gary’s sense of abandonment.

His adopted/step-father (the primary father who raised him) was rather emotionally detached. Going further back to his biological father, his parents divorced when he was a toddler, so there was another opportunity for him to feel abandoned on some level.

Gary’s default response in our very messy marriage years was to pursue me more with even greater anger (which is really his fear in disguise)further spinning us out of control! In other words …

[Tweet “We hear the tune of our “triggers” and begin to dance that dysfunctional dance. #crazycycle”]

I’ll be sharing a tool next week that Gary and I now use to pray and process through these triggers. Using this tool has helped to lessen the frequency of our wounds getting triggered and has brought healing to our hearts and marriage with Christ’s help. Yay, God!

But for now, consider taking one small step in this journey with us …

[Tweet “Consider keeping track of the triggers in your life by cueing into your emotions of hurt & fear.”]

If you and your spouse are more passive in sharing your feelings, this may take you longer to identify—so pay close attention to your negative self-talk. If you both share openly and without filters, you probably will have plenty of “insights” to glean in this project!

You’re probably also a lot like us in that your triggers trigger your spouse’s triggers. Say that three times fast! 😉

On the bright side, this can reveal an abundance of understanding about the reasons you and your spouse do that “toxic tango”—giving you “new, healthier steps” that lead to the foot of the cross.


Care to share with us a trigger that you have with your spouse?


What do you think is the feeling behind that trigger—shame, a sense of abandonment, fear of losing control, etc.?


Joining with my friends at Giving Up on Perfect, Wifey Wednesday, A Little R & R Wednesdays, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Coffee and Conversation, Coffee for Your Heart, Sitting Among Friends, DanceWithJesusFriday and Wholehearted Wednesday.

Join our Wedded Wednesday Linkup!
Add any links that are uplifting, helpful and encouraging to our spiritual lives, marriages and families! Be sure to add a link on your blog back to Wedded Wednesday or Messy Marriage as well. For Wedded Wednesday guidelines and buttons, click here.

Messy Marriage

  • I love when you stop by and share you insights with us. I would have to think on this question for awhile. Thank you for challenging us to be better in our marriages. Thanks for sharing at Sitting Among Friends on Wednesdays. Hope to see you back again this week.

    • Thanks so much for encouraging me here, Jaime! I’d love to have you link up with us here at Wedded Wed whenever you can too. Have a great week, my friend!

  • Beth, this reminded of Bill and Annabelle Gillham’s story. She said she came into marriage being super sensitive. She realized God wanted her to toughen up before her husband would become more sensitive. In other words, as iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another! I’ve seen how my husband’s and my weak areas rubbed each other and drove us to God for understanding. God has used these irritants for our sanctification. Perhaps we could say He’s using them to make pearls!

    • I’m not familiar with their story. I checked out their website and I do think her book, Confident Woman sounds familiar. Will have to check them out more, Debbie. Thanks for the heads up. And yes, iron does indeed sharpen iron. We’ve learned so much together through these harsh encounters. God is refining us through them, so they are a cause for encouragement in my view! Yes, they are irritating during the “polishing process” but oh so worth it! Thanks for your encouragement and insight, my friend!

  • pioneerpat1

    I think that we need to look at this in our lives when dealing with everybody.

    • Definitely, Patrick! I wholeheartedly agree that triggers happen in all types of relationships. Thanks for adding that insight to the discussion, my friend!

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Wow…what a raw and redemptive and inspiring story. I am sure that a lot of people, reading this, will look at their own marriages – and at themselves – with new eyes.

    Not really well enough to say more now. I’m sorry.

    • Thanks so much, Andrew. That is my hope–that people do see themselves in our story. It might give them the courage they need to deal with the triggers more proactively. Often we get overwhelmed by the shame of them and attempt to bury them in our lives so no one will see them. But that’s the worst thing we could do. We must bring them out into the open where we can see what we are dealing with and God can help us find healing and forgiveness moving forward. Praying for you to recover and have less pain, my friend!

  • Hey Beth!

    As always, it’s a pleasure linking up with the Wedded Wednesday Community!

    Have a blessed week!

    • Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Tiffiney! Always a pleasure to have you in the linkup, my friend!

  • What a blessing this posts is for me!! I think what you have shared is so totally true. What an encouragement you always are!! Beth, thanks for the linkup, my sweet friend.

    • Thanks so much, Judith! Your words of encouragement and friendship mean a lot to me!

  • Hey Beth,

    I love your honesty and hearing about your journey. It’s a weekly reminder to keep pressing forward in my own healing and growth. Thank you for hosting another fantastic link-up too!

    • Thanks, Jed. And I do hope it is a reminder and help to those who want to find healing for those wounds of our past. We all have them, so the shame must give way to a unified effort to be honest and proactive! Thanks for joining the linkup too, my friend!

  • Mary

    Yay for Gary for allowing you to share his triggers too. This conversation is so important and one that many want to ignore or pretend doesn’t exist because they perceive it is easier. I am the type of person who withdraws if others are beginning to get heated or raise their voices in conversation. I feel backed into a corner that I cannot get out of and this goes back to my marriage. I experienced a withdrawal of emotions from my spouse but when they appeared it was more often than not in the form of anger. My withdrawal and his outbursts did not solve the problem as you can imagine. As I have said, we were missing he key component in our marriage-God. We needed him to ground both of us and our marriage.

    If we ever meet in person, I bet I would have a lot of words about this subject!!! Thank you for “going there”. I hope many are reading this series.

    • Yes, he is a brave and authentic one. God couldn’t have chosen better for me in a husband! And I’m grateful that he is willing to share how this impacts us as a couple, because I think there is a lot of fear in coming clean about situations like these in a public forum. The kind of dysfunctional dance that we had in our marriage, sounds like you had in yours as well, Mary. Without God it certainly can spiral way out of control for everyone involved. In fact, even though we are believers, we’re not immune to this getting way out of hand. It takes the courage and faith to trust our Lord to intervene for us. That’s where I’m going with this series. Thanks so much for your constant friendship and encouragement, Mary! And yes, we need to get that date on the calendar with you. I will check with Gary about when we will exactly be going through your community in May and hopefully schedule that lovely face-to-face chat over some coffee! Yay!

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  • I HATE confrontations, especially angry ones and I hide and withdraw when my husband shouts at me. I also withdraw when I FEEL he neglects me…
    But God is my help, I depend on Him each day and I see progress… maybe not as fast as I would like… which is also totally my fault… I have to yield everything, ALL THE TIME.
    Beth, keep on, I believe a lot of self discovery, healing and improvement is taking place.
    Have a super blessed day!

    • Yes, I know that your childhood had some similar elements to mine, Ugochi. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why anger is a trigger for you as well. I’m so glad that you rely on God for His help in those moments. I’m working on relying on God faster and more completely too, Ugochi. It’s a work-in-progress but I’m excited to share more about how we’re doing that–running to the Lord in times of anger and fear. Thanks for coming by and encouraging me each week, my friend!

  • Mary Flaherty

    First, I love your meme. They saying is great, and how did you get the messymarriage to go along the guitar? Do you use picmonkey? I know how to turn mine, but not follow a curve. Advanced techniques! As I was reading this, I thought, “Yeah, that’s Brian and me.” Except I’m Gary and Brian is you. My father had a quick temper, and I lose my cool quickly. I don’t lash out at him, but just spew in general. He retreats. Sometimes, on a particularly unhealthy day, I might spew in hopes that he will pick up on my frustration and come to my rescue (instead of simply asking for help). And when he doesn’t because he is wisely ignoring me, I get more angry…never realized that all these things were triggering abandonment issues (for both of us)! Great post, as usual.

    • Thank you for the kind words on the graphic I created. I do love doing that part of the blogging thing. My bachelors degree was in fine art, so anything that gives me the chance to play with shapes, images, colors, fonts brings me back to my drawing and painting days. I do use picmonkey, though there are some things I’m not able to do but would like. So I’m contemplating moving to something more comprehensive–other than photoshop. I have that already but can’t figure anything out. Maybe it’s the version I have, but I don’t have the time to learn all the ways to use it.

      I bet we, as couples, would get along great, Mary–since we’re mirror opposites, with the genders swapped. That’s often a great dynamic for a close couple friendship, I’ve found. Anyway, I hope this series not only gives you some insight into yourself but into your husband through my own tendencies. Hugs to you!

  • One thing that has helped my husband and I in our seven years together (married for 1.5) has been a commitment to forgiveness. Whenever our buttons feel like they are getting pushed we openly talk about it and resolve it before any bitterness can set in. Happy to be your neighbor on the Coffee For Your Heart linkup! Have a blessed day!

    • Oh yes, that’s where this series will in some ways lead. It’s always about moving toward grace and forgiveness in these kinds of dynamics. But I believe we can’t race past the hurts and wounds without examining and processing them. Then God is able to do that forgiving work in our hearts, Lauren. I’m so glad to hear that you and your hubby are doing a great job of keeping bitterness at bay. I think that’s crucial to a young couple steering clear of a deeply messy marriage. So kudos to you both!

      • Yes! I totally agree. It’s not easy, but it’s been essential for us. We’ve only been married for a year-and-a-half but in that time we’ve sold our house, moved states, started new jobs, received devastating health diagnosis and experienced loss in the family. It’s truly amazing that my husband and I are doing as good as we’re doing, and I praise the Lord for keeping our marriage strong. Looking forward to the rest of this series.

  • I’m learning that when I “think” I know my husband’s motives, and I’m assuming a bad anti-Michele motive, I’d better ask him about it. That really helps me to think more clearly — and it helps him to see where I’m coming from.

    • Yes, when wounds are triggered, all reason seems to go out the window, Michele! So yes, it is important to gain clarification instead of “assuming things.” My hope with this series, however, is to deal with the roots of the wound. Communication is certainly key to navigating well in the conflict, but understanding our hearts before we even get triggered is where I want to explore as this series moves forward. Thanks for adding to the conversation, my friend! Always good to have you here and in the linkup!

  • Oh, the joys of triggers! I’ve had to really work hard in this area! And there is still more work to do! If I *think* Marcus is mad at me or frustrated with me, I can withdraw, I have had to work through the anxiety of thinking he will leave me, or stop loving me – that’s the big one. Sometimes he is mad at me and sometimes it is just me overthinking things. Most of the time I overthink;)

    • It sounds like you are more like me in those times of triggering, Aimee. And yes, it is hard work to avoid letting the trigger take over all reason and compassion in the heat of the moment. With this series, I want to explore how we can heal and prevent the triggers from having such a strong and negative impact on us moving forward. I’m sure you have a lot of insight into that, so I welcome your comments here each week, my friend!

  • Interesting take on abandonment issues and how that impacts how we ‘do’ marriage …

    • Oh yes, that dreaded abandonment does a number on our hearts, Linda. I just need to always keep in mind that Gary’s more afraid than he is angry with me in any given moment. Thanks for stopping by and encouraging me, my friend!

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  • Thank you for hosting the linkup! I’ve been gone for a few weeks and it was so good to be back and follow along with these posts 🙂 I’m feeling inspired!

    • Glad to have you back, Mary! I’m so glad to hear this is inspiring to you, my friend! That’s an encouragement to me.

  • Hey Beth! Thanks for providing his awesome linkup! There are so many good linkups here, I don’t even know where to start! :o)

    I want to take a small step in this journey with you and search for one of my triggers, but I will have to pray about it because I can’t put my finger on anything right now – and me and my husband are not passive, but are both vocal. So I will pray and see what the spirit shows me.

    Have a blessed week!

  • Beth, I love this series! My husband’s tendency is to blurt out with an angry tone. It triggers my feelings of rejection so I used to get emotional, cry, and disengage. Interestingly, as I was healing from my past and peeling back the layers, I went through a phase of lashing out in defense. Thankfully, I have come a loooong way and now I can catch myself, and express my feelings or displeasure with his tone without extreme emotions. Always a work in progress, though!!

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