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Easily Triggered!

Written By: Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart

That’s not what I am trying to say.” Most couples have a difficult time getting

across their point when arguing. Too often they get lost in details and tangled in

that’s not what I meant, you are taking it the wrong way.’ Quickly a couple finds

they are arguing over tone of voice, choice of words or an attitude. The way

something is said often becomes the point, which misses the point all together.

In this time period, couples are living with a low level of constant simmering stress.

Walking around in masks, stepping aside to keep 6 feet apart from others,

constantly disinfecting hands and distancing from friends and co-workers creates an

atmosphere of alertness. We are constantly told to be aware of and careful of the


When danger is in the air, it is our amygdala (the almond shaped part of our

emotional brain) is called upon to constantly scan the environment. When it senses

danger it alerts us so we can face and deal with the danger. Our amygdala is always

listening in the background and too often, before it can verify the details of the danger, it helps

us react as though the danger is real and confirmed.

That is why small comments can easily be taken the wrong way, tone of voice can be heard as negative and intentions viewed as hurtful.

Here are a few tips to help you listen to your spouse so you can stay on topic and

understand your spouse’s point. And do it before your amygdala hijacks the

conversation redirecting your attention to your spouse’s tone of voice. Resulting in

you misinterpreting your spouse’s point.

1. Ask your spouse to share their point in a healthier way. Don’t make how

your spouse talks the point. Otherwise you will miss your spouse’s point.

Maybe your spouse talks loud, giggles at awkward times, losses track of

his/her own point, stammers to find words, deeply sighs after each sentence,

has long pauses before responding, repeats the point over and over, shares

too many stories, or has a business style of talking. These ways of

communicating can sound attacking, blaming, accusing or ill-mannered

triggering the amygdala that danger is at hand, putting you in a defensive,

self protecting position. The conversation can quickly shift to your spouse to

share her view louder triggering you to be more defensive. Bring up what

you would like changed during another conversation where that is the point

of your conversation. Be clear to your spouse as to what is hurtful

I don’t want your tone of voice to be the topic of our conversation, can you please say

what you’d like me to understand in a different way as I really want to hear your


2. Look past the pain to find the point.

If your spouse feels attacked or not valued, his amygdala will sound the alarms

alerting danger. What could be so dangerous? The most feared thing in a marriage

is the thought of being falsely attacked and losing the relationship connection.

When your spouse is protecting their heart from being hurt or protesting the hurtful

things being said, slow things down. What they are sharing is their pain, not their

point. Look past the pain to find their point.

3. Kindly acknowledge your spouse’s point.

Before you rebuttal your spouse’s point with your defensive argument about how

you are not wrong but rather they are wrong in thinking you’ve done anything

wrong, acknowledge your spouse’s point.

“What I hear you say is that when I take a phone call during dinner it makes you feel

unimportant as though I don’t care about our date. You also feel this way when I get

distracted with work on our vacations. I can see that, I am sorry. I would like to do

that differently.”


We are living in unique times right now. Uncertainty is all around us. Will

businesses and schools open up or stay limited? What will next week bring? We

don’t know. With so much uncertainty and alertness for danger, having the safety of

our most important relationships brings stability, hope and courage. We all need to

be assured that home is a safe harbor where we are loved and difficulties can be

resolved and hurts repaired.

“Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding”

Proverbs 2:2

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a person of

understanding.” Proverbs 17:27

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