If you’ve been in a romantic relationship for any length of time you are probably familiar with the feeling of shifting from being lovey-dovey with your partner to thinking he or she is completely out to get you—and that shift can sometimes happen in a split second.
If you’ve ever had this experience, you’re not alone.
Almost everyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship has experienced this at some point in their relationship. When it happens, it’s usually related to the some issue you’ve had before:
Your partner didn’t put the cup in the sink, again!
Your partner left their socks in the middle of the room, again!
Your partner didn’t take the trash out to the street, again!
Your partner was out with their friends all night long, again!
Your partner’s mother invited herself over without letting you know, again!
I bet if you think back on it, you will be able to identify the most common hot button triggers that get activated between you and your partner. It is usually the same argument over and over again.
When you think even deeper about it, you’ll find that it’s also usually related to a need you feel you have that isn’t getting met:
The need to be heard and understood.
The need to be taken care of.
The need to be in connection and communication.
The need to have consistency and stability in your home.
As humans we are social beings. We are wired for connection. We are built for relationships and we are made to be in community with one another. Part of being in community means shared responsibility and meeting one another’s needs.
That’s why when you feel you have a need that is not being met, you can go from fully functional adult to a tantruming child within seconds. It’s the reason you can go from being lovey-dovey one moment, to feeling like a triggered 5 year old the next.
Life is all about relationships, and when you were a child, it was your parents’ (or primary caregiver’s) responsibility to take care of your needs. However, because your parents are human and cannot meet 100% of your needs 100% of the time, your child brain interpreted that as “need not met” and filed it away as a fear that your needs might not be met.
Even the most loving and supportive of families can experience this.
A brief review of a child’s developmental tasks might help shed some light on why. Survival is a child’s sole function in life. That’s the reason children do anything they can in order to get the attention of the primary caregivers in its life, including throwing tantrums, crying, screaming, and even being “the good kid.” When a need isn’t met, the child perceives that as a threat to its survival.
Evolutionary science teaches us that fear is a primal response to survival. Science also teaches us that threats to our survival get registered in our brain and filed away to be accessed later if ever we are faced with the same or similar experience again. The caveat is, our brain cannot tell the difference between what is a real threat and what is an imagined threat. The brain cannot distinguish between what is a present day threat and what is an unprocessed threat from your past which is replaying itself in your mind today.
Hence, all of a sudden when you are faced with a situation that triggers your primal survival response because some part of you is reminded of that one time your needs weren’t met by your parents, you can go from fully functioning adult to tantruming 5 year old in a split second.
Here’s the other fun fact: most of the time we are unable to get resolution of our childhood wounds/threats to our survival from our parents, so where we get it instead is in our intimate relationships—most often our intimate romantic partnerships.
That’s why when your partner leaves the cup on the sink instead of in the sink, all of a sudden you feel unreasonably triggered and act in ways your adult self normally wouldn’t.
If any of this sounds familiar, we invite you to reach out to us for support.
Our relationship therapy for individuals can help you as an individual if you want to learn what your triggers are so that you can learn how to manage them better. As a result you will feel more connected in your relationships and your life.
Our couples counseling and marriage therapy couples intensives, which are a type of couples retreat in San Jose, can help you and your partner together learn what triggers you and how you trigger one another, so that you can have more awareness and stop having the same old fight in the same old way that you’ve always done it.