Note: This is the first of a two-part series
What sets you off? Are there predictable landmines that trigger fights, arguments or angry outbursts—in your intimate relationship, with your children or with other close people to you? Here are a list of hot-button issues and emotional triggers, many of which come from Ellen Wachtel in her book We Love Each Other, But… (St. Martin’s Griffin). Which of these describe you, your partner or your intimate relationship?
• Do you tend to feel that you are not the number one priority in your partner’s life?
• Do you feel hurt easily?
• Do you like things “just so”? Is it hard for you to see things done the “wrong” way? Is it hard for you to delegate responsibility to someone else?
• Are you afraid of too much closeness or dependency? Do you keep yourself removed, walled off, uninvolved or largely unavailable?
• Do you fear abandonment? Can you easily feel neglected or slighted?
• Do you get jealous easily?
• Do you tend to feel that you are being taken advantage of?
• Are you more critical than you would like to be?
• Do you speak with an edge in your voice when you think your partner should already know something, or when she repeats herself?
• Do you have difficulty relaxing until everything on your day’s “to do” list is accomplished?
• Are you overly sensitive to criticism?
• Do you worry about being controlled?
• Do you push yourself to the point of getting overwhelmed?
• Do you revisit decisions over and over again that have already been made?
• Do you mull over what is bothering you for a long time before expressing your feelings?
• Do you blame or lash out when you are frustrated?
• Are you stubborn?
• Are you moody?
• Do you have trouble admitting to or apologizing when you are wrong?
• Do you interpret your partner’s clutter and mess in the house to mean that s/he does not care about what is important to you?
• Do you feel you give a great deal more than you receive from your partner?
• Do you feel your partner lacks empathy or is unresponsive to your feelings, needs or desires? Do you feel that your partner doesn’t treat your desires as important?
• Do you have poor control over your anger, reactivity, defensiveness, anxiety or fear?
• Do you feel your efforts go unappreciated by your partner?
• Do you feel badly treated or poorly respected by your partner?
• Are you craving more nurturing, friendliness, affection, tenderness or sex?
• Do you feel betrayed?
• Is there secrecy, withholding of personal information or dishonesty in your relationship?
• Are you reluctant to commit?
I will address how to diffuse relationship triggers in next week’s column.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website www.heartrelationships.com.