Relationships are beautiful and awesome, but they can also be really painful when your major triggers come to the surface. So what are the biggest triggers that come up in relationships, and how can you deal with them? To get to the bottom of this, I spoke with 14 relationship and love experts about the things they see come up the most in relationships — and what they advise you to do when such issues pop up, so you don't have to be tormented and troubled for too long.
It seems as though there is quite a cornucopia of potential road bumps we can hit in relationships, depending on your own personal melange of past baggage and present worries. But no matter what comes up — trust issues, exes, fears, resentments — there are solutions to the way you feel. You don't have to grin and bear it; on the contrary, everyone has triggers, and when they show their ugly heads in relationships, if you pause and address the concerns immediately, you have a way better chance at resolving the whole thing peacefully. As such, here are 14 common relationship triggers — and how to handle them, no matter what comes up.
1. The Past And The Future
"Most triggers are about the past, and so they connect to fears of the future," zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. If you had something happen in the beginning of your relationship that was traumatic, it'll keep coming up. "For instance, if you dated openly in the first month of dating but your partner opted not to, this might come up over and over again, as a fear for the future," Paiva says.
"The past often shapes how we see the present and future, but in zen we look at staying in the present andbeing at peace with the moment," she says. "If you do that, you will see that life really isn't filled with triggers — but baggage. Let go of the baggage, you'll feel lighter."
"Since a relationship is about becoming vulnerable, trust can be a huge trigger," Dawn Maslar, a.k.a. “the Love Biologist,” tells Bustle. Without trust, you can feel incredibly uneasy in a relationship. "[Women] fall in love and bonds with the help of oxytocin," Maslar says. "Oxytocin is something called 'the trust molecule,' because it builds up as we learn to trust someone." If you don't fully trust yet, be patient: It takes time.
3. Former Partner's Behaviors
"A major trigger that can come up in relationships is when your new partner displays a behavior that your ex use to do," author, life strategist and speaker Carey Yazeed tells Bustle. "This can trigger feelings of insecurities."
If you really want to avoid things that happened in your past relationship, the display of past partner's behavior can be upsetting. "One way to deal with this trigger is to communicate with your new partner, and also ask yourself — why does this behavior bother you?" Getting to the root cause will help you make sense of the whole thing.
4. A Conversation With An Ex
"When your current partner says they are going to talk with their ex," sex and relationship expert Megan Stubbs tells Bustle. "This can bring up a whole host of emotions with the current partner and it can be difficult to navigate those feelings." If this happens, don't keep your feelings to yourself.
"Find out the motivation behind the need to talk and see if the answers they provide you give you more clarity and make you feel comfortable with this happening," Stubbs says. "Explain to your partner your concerns about this meeting and go from there. Hopefully you can reach a space where both of you feel that you have been heard and seen by the other. Communication, even when messy and uncomfortable, is so important in relationships." And will help you let go of this trigger.
5. Being Cheated On In The Past
"You might worry that a partner is not being honest or still talking to other people or on dating apps," Gestalt life coach Nina Rubin tells Bustle. "If you've been cheated on before, you may be sensitive to this." If you've dealt with such issues in the past, you'll be vulnerable to feeling nervous in a new relationship.
"You can handle it by talking to your partner and by remembering that this is a different relationship," Rubin says. "If your instinct is telling you he or she might not be honest, trust your instinct. It usually won't deceive you." But if you have old trauma here, try to figure out what's really going on before overreacting.
6. Fear About Exes
"Exes are triggers for insecurity and fear," New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "No matter how much you want to be friends with your partner’s ex, the relationship your partner maintains with that ex can trigger anxiety, fear of abandonment and jealousy." Even if you don't think there's anything going on between them, those fears are real.
"Even if you and your partner are committed, there’s often still a spark between exes, and even sparks that are not acted on can trigger emotions that are uncomfortable," Masini says. Tell your partner how you're feeling — do not delay.
7. Mystery Around Exes
"Exes are a major trigger in relationships," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "The best way to handle them is to get in front of them as soon as possible." If you see something happening in this arena, talk about it.
"You don't need to be discussing your exes on the first date, but once you two become official, it's best to start revealing information about your past," Rogers says. "It doesn't have to be scary." Just talk it out.
8. Emotional Withdrawl
"In my clinical practice, one major trigger that often comes up in relationships is emotional withdrawal or inattention to the relationship," Boston-based clinical psychologist Bobbi Wegner tells Bustle. "This creates a lot of anger, sadness and anxiety in the partner." The best antidote? Once again, communication.
"Over and over again, we hear how important communication is in relationships is — and it is true," Wegner says. "Understanding why the person is less available — big project at work, feeling overwhelmed, distracted by other issues — helps the person know it is not the relationship but other factors contributing to the lack of emotional availability, which is often tolerable in the short-term and needs addressing only when it is a longer-term issue and actually represents a falling out of love and emotional disconnection, rather than being distracted." If it's just a short-term thing, relax — and distract yourself with your own projects.
"One of the most common yet least talked about triggers in a relationship is the proper allocation of time," dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. When you ask someone if they took care of something and they say they didn't have time, this can really trigger you.
"Although this is a definite cause of grief in a relationship, the thing that is the true trigger in a relationship are the unspoken time issues," he says. "Often, people in relationships that lead busy lives don’t allocate enough or quality time to their partner."
But they might see friends or do other things. "They may have the time for their friends to go out to a ball game, or go for a spa day, but they may not even consider that they have been neglecting their partner," he adds. "Once in a relationship, individuals unfortunately think that their partner will always be there, but this is a recipe for heartache." If this comes up, talk about it. Tell your partner how it feels.
"With all of the holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's — all coming up in a few months, a lot of anxiety of how you plan to spend the holidays comes up," Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. "Before you get anxiety, you need to have talks about expectations and needs for what you need in your relationship." If you want to spend Thanksgiving with your partner's family, discuss it. "Sometimes the holidays show if a relationship is moving forward," she says.
11. A Wandering Eye
One major trigger can happen when your partner looks at an attractive person passing by, psychologist Erika Martinez tells Bustle. "Talk about it" if that happens, she says. You can be direct; try something like, "Honey, I noticed that you were checking out the person that just walked by. Did you find them attractive?" she says. ""Ask what they found attractive and then drop it," she says. You don't have to make it a huge deal unless it happens frequently, in which case you need to have a serious talk.
12. Unmet Expectations
'Unmet expectations always trigger disappointments or anger in relationships, especially around anniversaries or birthdays," relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver tells Bustle. "You love the big romantic gestures and your partner is more low-key — that will trigger conflict." But you can work it out if you tell them what you need.
"Your partner is not a mind reader, so be clear and concise with your expectations," Carver says. "Throw in a dash of reality too: If your partner is shy, than the big splash may not happen, or if your partner likes creating 'moments' and you cringe, then just don't hint what you want — say it out loud to them."
"A big trigger than comes up in relationship is the limitations we put on ourselves in setting boundaries," Darren Pierre, educator, speaker and author of The Invitation to Love: Recognizing the Gift Despite Pain, Fear, and Resistance , tells Bustle. "So many times, we think we don't want to hurt the other person, or sabotage the potential for the relationship, so we limit the communication of our needs." But this, of course, is a terrible idea.
"In doing so, we build resentments, and sometimes that can lead to the suffocation of love," he says. "The trigger is the boundary broken. Share the boundary, so your partner can move with a conscious understanding of the needs you have in the relationship." Then you give everyone a chance to be happy.
"Resentment is a huge trigger in any relationship," executive editor and founder of Cupid's Pulse Lori Bizzoco tells Bustle. "Couples are bound to fight and even blow things out of proportion sometimes, but the key is solving the problem and moving forward."
Obviously the real key is to let go of resentments before they get too big. "Holding a grudge is no way to maintain a happy, healthy relationship because it will only create tension and cause more fights," she says. If a resentment starts to crop up, do everything you can to let it go before it festers.
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