Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pull the Trigger on Triggers

Dealing with emotional triggers is a common problem for hurt spouses. Repentant unfaithful spouses establishing no contact also deal with triggers.

What Are Triggers?

Triggers are any reminders of an emotional trauma that renews the negative emotions of that trauma.

For example, someone involved in a wreck with a semi-truck will feel the emotions of fear while driving in the vicinity of a semi on the road. Seeing a semi on the road serves as a trigger to activate that fear and hurt again.

For hurt spouses, triggers vary widely depending on the circumstances. What triggers one spouse may not trigger another hurt spouse. Not everything that could be a trigger becomes one.

Nor do hurt spouses chose what will trigger them. It is an automatic emotional reaction to something that they experience. They cannot will to not feel that way. It just happens. Most of the time, the hurt spouse wishes they did not have these triggers. They don't want to experience that pain again.

There are three main classifications of triggers for hurt spouses.

  1. Words used during the affair.
  2. Things used during the affair.
  3. Events/places that are related to the affair.

Words are grouped into three sub-categories: words/phrases used on the affair partner, used on the hurt spouse particularly during the affair, or words that appear deceptive and non-transparent.

If the unfaithful spouse referred to his affair partner as "Sweetie" and the hurt spouse knows this, and has never been called that before, being called sweetie post-discovery day could trigger a hurt spouse into recalling the betrayal.

If the unfaithful spouse said, "You're my wild flower," during the affair to the hurt spouse, continuing to use it could remind the hurt spouse of the affair.

Telling the hurt spouse, "Hold on. Let me do a couple things before you use my cell phone," can sound like the unfaithful spouse is hiding something, precipitating the suspicions the hurt spouse felt in the days leading up to discovery day.

Things can be any physical object used during the affair. Gifts given to or by the unfaithful spouse and affair partner, vehicles used--including color, make and model--, a bed, mementos retained by the unfaithful spouse, music listened to, or a credit card, just to name a few examples.

Events and places can be any holiday that was tainted by the affair--like discovering the unfaithful spouse was with the affair partner on Easter. The couple's anniversary, a job, the gym, a restaurant, sex, or company picnics.

Unfaithful spouses also have triggers involving two main areas: guilt/desire for the affair partner, and once guilt for the affair sets in,  the same list for hurt spouses can remind the unfaithful spouse of what they did, triggering shame and more guilt.

How To Deal With Triggers

There are seven main ways of dealing with triggers.

One, realize they are going to be there. All hurt and unfaithful spouses will run into these triggers. The main strategy is to minimize and deaden them as much as possible.

Two, remove as many as you can. This might involve getting a new job, a new vehicle, new furniture, avoiding restaurants that are triggers, deleting/getting rid of mementos, moving to a new city, etc.

Three, get back on the horse, even if the affair partner was riding it before. My own example is my wife met the second affair partner at the gym. I started going to the gym with her. Initially, it was awkward and uncomfortable. But after a week or two, I relaxed, and no longer felt triggery about the gym. Creating new memories with her at the gym rendered it ineffective as a trigger.

Four, invest new meaning into a trigger. Anniversaries--both marital and discovery day--tend to be big triggers. As our first discovery day anniversary approached, we'd been successful at rebuilding so that we both had a lot of hope for the future. A year prior to that, I didn't know if we'd still be married by that point. So our first discovery day anniversary became a celebration that we'd made it that far in good shape.

If you can't do that, due to a rough and uncertain rebuilding, treat it as a memorial, like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor is nationally. Be grateful for lessons learned and any progress made, no matter how small, while acknowledging the losses.

Five, hang on, they do deaden with time if not reinforced by new occurrences of the affair. Time may not heal the wound, but it will lessen the impact of the wound emotionally. The safer the hurt spouse feels as time goes by without new cheating, the less impact triggers will have.

Six, focus on strengthening your romance. Couples who feel in love with each other will not be as negatively affected by triggers. The book, His Needs, Her Needs is an excellent tool to aid in that process.

Seven, both hurt spouses and unfaithful spouses should realize that feelings are not controlled directly by will power and reasoning. They can influence emotions, but can't turn them off and on like flipping a light switch. It takes time to modify emotions. This is true whether we're talking about feelings of pain and anger from a hurt spouse, or the unfaithful spouse feeling in love with their affair partner. Because a trigger flairs those feelings up from time to time doesn't mean the person has gone back to square one.

There are perhaps other methods of dealing with them. What has worked for you?

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