How to Keep Going When You’re Triggered

One of the topics I get the most questions about is what to do in the moment when you and your partner are both triggered. It makes a lot of sense that this would keep coming up, because this is the hard relationship/communication situation. It’s easy to deal with situation where one person is acting like an adult and the other person is acting like a child.

So, I thought I’d throw a few ideas out there from my list of things to try.

Try something new.

Anything works for this one. (Obviously don’t violate your ethical system or anything like that.) Give yourself permission to experiment. The thing about being triggered, is that nobody ever does anything terribly original in that state. That’s sort of the point. You go on autopilot. If you can’t think of anything that seems likely to work, just experiment. Physically move in a way you wouldn’t usually. Say what’s on your mind if you usually don’t. Keep quiet about the things you usually bring up. Change contexts. A good friend of mine once told me that “Consciousness is the ability to interrupt yourself.” Interrupt away, and don’t feel like you have to have a solution in mind. Do anything except for what feels most familiar and natural.



Watch your childlike triggered selves argue, and hold off on intervening.

The other day, I was talking to a fried of mine who’s a mediator type. (I’m also a mediator type.) He was talking about how, a while back, he was asked to be there while two friends of his argued, but not to intervene unless they got totally stuck. He described this as an excellent learning experience, because he pretty much had a belief that other people could never work through their problems without him. But while watching, he found out that sometimes they could figure it out on their own. Definitely not always, but sometimes.

I’ve noticed that I have a similar belief, despite various evidence to the contrary, that it’s impossible to resolve anything without going meta, being really analytical, consciously accessing compassion, etc. 

It rarely occurs to me to just let my monkey-level behavior and the other person’s monkey-level behavior duke it out. But this can work better than I give it credit for! After all, actual apes do okay without mediators. They reach some sort of equilibrium and aren’t just fighting all the time.

I also get very inspired when watching babies resolve conflict. Here’s a video. They have almost no words. They don’t even have theory of mind! But somehow, they manage to do okay. I even noticed that Charlotte, a 7.5 month old, is about as good at getting objects that Lydia wants away from her without making her mad as I am. Maybe better!

If you’re like me, you try to micromanage your impulses. Decide on a few things that you’re not okay with (say, physical aggression and name calling), and then try to intervene as little as possible. You might surprise yourself.

Ask yourself for a solution.

Focus on your wisest, most resourced self for a moment. Visualizing can help, so can remembering something that fills you with awe and wonder, or imagining something that brings up compassion, like a child or a puppy. If you’re doing it right, you should feel a bit more spaciousness in your head. Then, ask that thing to give you an idea of what to do. It doesn’t always work to ask your best intuition for its best idea, but I’ve often had success with it. 

The answer won’t necessarily come as a fully fleshed out verbal plan. Maybe you’ll get an emotion, a fleeting image, a body sensation, or a single word. My experience with intuition is that you communication with it gets higher-bandwidth as you practice. And the best way to practice is to trying to respond to what it suggests if it answers at all.