Hope for Dealing With Triggers In Marriage
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Triggers in marriage can take many forms, but there’s hope! Guy and Amber Lia share insight on communication and the fulfillment we find in Christ.
Hope for Dealing With Triggers In Marriage
Bob: Disappointments will happen in a marriage relationship; all of us will experience being disappointed. Amber Lia says the key for her has been to reset her thinking in the midst of her disappointments.
Amber: In order for me to feel loved in my relationship with my husband, I had to stop thinking about all the ways I didn’t think Guy was meeting my needs. I had to start thinking, “What can I do to make sure he feels loved?” This is convicting, as I’m even saying it now, because I know this is an area I need to work on right now still.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 14th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Are there areas in your marriage, where maybe you need a mental reset?—a little recalibration? We’re going to talk about how to think rightly about your marriage today. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. When we were working on the Love Like You Mean It® video series—that we produced that a lot of couples have started going through; this is really exciting to have small groups going through this new video series that we’ve put together—but we invited eight or nine couples to come and just share with us their experience of the things in their relationship that have challenged their love for one another.
There was one couple, Harold and Candace, who came and told a story about—it fits in with what we’re talking about—talked about how Candace would do things in their relationship that were triggering for her husband/for Harold. Here’s/let me play this for you, because here’s what they shared with us.
[Love Like You Mean It Excerpt]
Harold: So one of the biggest issues I would say in our marriage is finances. She was used to buying what she wanted. If she saw something she liked, she got it. Whereas, I came from an area/I’m very conscious about what I’m buying and looking at what I’m buying and researching. Recently, we just made a very large purchase; we bought a camper. She went and bought some $25 stickers to put on the back wall as a backsplash. [Laughter]
Candace: This is the/this is a used camper; and it was in really, really good condition. It looks like they never used it. I loved everything except that fabric, and I don’t like that little wallpaper strip that they have in the back of the backsplash. I did buy $25 stickers to stick to the backsplash. The thing is there was only four of them; and I needed like six packs, because it was only four stickers for $25.
Candace: But I took it back!
Harold: She did take it back because she saw my face when I opened the door and she told me how much those cost. [Laughter] It’s one of those things that it took a long time for that understanding; right? In the beginning/I would say, if this happened six years ago, we would have had an all-out argument over those stickers.
Candace: And I would have thought to put the stickers up before he saw them; that way, I wouldn’t have been able to take them back.
Harold: Right. One of the things that always happens is—in the beginning of our relationship and our marriage—that one action turned into a thousand actions. We never got to the issue that was at hand because we were too busy talking about everything else and trying to one-up each other.
Candace: Instead of discussing what was at hand, which is the finances, we used to be focused so much on: “Are you right?” “Am I right?” And if I can’t say that you’re wrong on finances, I’m going to find like 16 other things that you did 17 Tuesdays ago.
Harold: She was really, really good at timestamping. As a male, I’m really, really, really bad at timestamping; so it made me even angrier, because she had all these timestamps. I had to start keeping a calendar of all the stuff she did. It became this tit for tat.
It just caused so much issues that—it came to a point to where we got some great advice from our pastor—he told us that we need to pray for each other every night. We need to learn how to put God first in our relationship. That’s the one thing that we have kept to this day is that—when we feel things are starting to get off balance in our relationship, and things are not going the way they are supposed to—
Candace: —it’s like a quick reality check.
Harold: —it’s a quick reality check.
Candace: Because only God can do those changes and mold those things that we need to do to each other for anything.
Bob: I love that clip, but did you hear all that was involved with that? There was the finance issue. Then there was the bringing up other issues—if I’m fighting with you about something, and I don’t have an answer for that one, I’m just going to bring up something else to weigh out the scales—then, at the end, it’s like: “So here’s what we learned: if we pray together, that changes things; that makes a difference. That puts us back in the right focus.”
Ann: That made everyone want to go through your small group curriculum. [Laughter] That is good stuff—
Ann: —your Love Like You Mean It curriculum.
Bob: Well, there’s such a need for couples to know: “What do we do when we run up against these things that are just those perpetual triggers?” There’s no better word for it.
We’re talking this week about triggers in our marriage relationship. Guy and Amber Lia are joining us. Guys, welcome back.
Amber: Thank you!
Guy: Thank you very much.
Bob: Guy and Amber have written a book called Marriage Triggers, where they’ve taken 31 triggers/things that couples will say, “Boy, these are where we just keep finding ourselves in conflict; and we just get annoyed with one another.”
Is money one of the things that couples identified as a trigger?
Amber: Absolutely; finances are our—
Guy: It’s probably one of the first.
Amber: Yes; one of the bigger ones, for sure; yes.
Bob: Because typically in a marriage, one person is going to lean more in the direction of: “We need to conserve, and save, and buy on sale, and be thrifty.”
Ann: That’s boring. [Laughter]
Bob: The other one—
Dave: I wonder who that is in our marriage.
Bob: The other one is going to be the person, who says, “No, we’ve got it; we should spend it. We should/this is why you have money, so you can spend it on stuff—
Ann: —“on other people.”
Bob: —“we…”—[Laughter]—or “maybe on other people.”
When you do have—I was sitting down with a couple recently—and the husband said, “Do you know how many pairs of shoes she has?” [Laughter] And he/you could tell this was a trigger for him and how money got spent in their home. What do you do if that’s an issue that you’re dealing with in marriage? How do you get to resolution on that trigger?
Amber: It would take us a whole series just to talk about finance issues; right? And there are better people, more equipped on the issue of financing and budgeting, that can help people on that than us; but what we’ve learned, ultimately, is that the root of all of these triggers—and it’s true for finances, too—is this is about coming together, communicating well, and then, establishing a respectful boundary and pattern of behavior that we’re going to do or not do.
If we’re going to talk about finances, we would get into arguing about finances—because he’d come home from work, and it’s getting late; we’d get the kids down; I’m tired; he’s tired—and then I would want to start a conversation about finances: “Okay, I’ve paid the bills today. Let’s talk about this.” Okay; that was a disaster waiting to happen. We talk about in our book—not just “What are the triggers?”—but even “What are your trigger moments?” Because we would often try to talk about finances late at night after the kids went to bed. That was our time we could finally talk about these kinds of things; it just was always so volatile—
Ann: —because you’re tired.
Amber: —because we’re tired.
Guy: I was exhausted; it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had been waiting all day to sit down with my wife and just relax; and now, she wants to start talking about deep, hurtful, sore areas of whatever.
Amber: “There’s not enough money here,” and “This thing I need here.” It just was not/well, not a good idea to have those conversations at those times. Really, whether it’s finances or any other tough issue, especially if you have people that have differing views or styles, it’s really important to have these conversations outside of conflict and at a time when you are refreshed/when you can both be reasonable about it.
We often try to have meaningful conversations or problem solve in the heat of conflict,—
Amber: —and it never works! You look at your children, and you try to teach them a lesson as they’re bawling their eyes out/tantrum-ing on the floor—“Now, I’m going to teach you a lesson”; and it doesn’t work.
We’re the same way. Now why did I think it was a good idea, just because the kids weren’t around, that this made it an ideal time to have a conversation about finances? It wasn’t an ideal time. I needed to talk that out with him—you know, once a month—“Let’s go over our budget and kind of see where we’re at.”
A lot of people have an established salary; we didn’t. We worked in the entertainment industry—writing books—things like that. Every month looks a little different; so we have some unique challenges, where we need to get our finances in order. We have those conversations; the key is respect and finding out what matters to each person.
Dave: I think, as you broke your book into external and internal triggers, the financial one often is internal. It can be easy to say: “I’m triggered by my husband bringing this up,”—or “…my wife…”—but it’s really probably fear. That’s a real trigger in the middle of a marriage. It’s like there’s a fear-thing going on in one of us or both of us; and it’s easy to point the finger and say, “You brought this up.” It’s really inside; and that’s a thing we’ve got to take to God and say, “You’re the only One that can help with the fear-thing.”
Amber: Jesus recognized that this whole topic of money—it matters—because it’s a reflection of our hearts.
Bob: And your point about when, and where, and how we have the conversations to resolve these issues—whatever the issues are: whether it’s money, or parenting, or romance, or whatever is triggering you—one of the things we talk about at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways that we do is: “When it’s time to address conflict areas, you need to stop and say: ‘What do I want to say?’ ‘How do I want to say it?’ ‘When is the best time to communicate this?’ ‘What’s the best location for having this conversation?’ rather than, just in the moment, ‘I’m feeling this, so now we must talk about it.’”
Ann: And all of that requires self-control.
Amber: That’s right.
Ann: It’s such a good thing to stop and not just go on what we’re feeling in the moment—because many times we’ll just let it all out, and it’s not healthy or good—but instead, it gives you time to pray, to consider, to think about how I’m going to say it or present it.
Dave: Well, let’s talk about another internal trigger I think is one of your big ones in the book is the trigger—you call it: “When you don’t feel loved,”—I mean, that’s external and internal. Talk about that one; because I’m guessing the second we just said that, everybody just went/they’re leaning in right now, like, “Help me with this one.”
Amber: When we are in a marriage that’s triggered, there are a lack of feelings often. We know that we’re committed to each other—Guy and I—but we didn’t want to just be committed; we wanted to feel loved. Guy and I talk about, for a long time, we didn’t feel loved; and so we were reactionary. Everything was a reaction to one another.
If this was going to change/if we were going to start feeling loved, we had to actually put commitment to the test and really decide that we were going to commit to be proactive instead of reactive. We had to ask ourselves—instead of just trying to resolve conflict all the time—“Why are we not on the offense mode—of ‘Let’s be proactive,’—to actually foster our loving relationship?”
I have to, in the heat of the moment when conflicts come, I have to remember, first of all, that Guy’s on my team; he’s not the enemy. I need to think about: “Is the way that I’m talking to him loving?” God says, “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” Am I being a peacemaker?—or am I trying to win this argument?—or am I trying to allow love to win this situation? Is love going to win, or am I going to win?
In order for me to feel loved in my relationship with my husband, I had to stop thinking about all the ways I didn’t think Guy was meeting my needs. I had to start thinking, “What can I do to make sure he feels loved?” This is convicting, as I’m even saying it now, because I know this is an area I need to work on right now still. The key difference though is that, when we’re not feeling those loving emotions, it’s very easy to go to a pity party place. I had to start just saying “Lord, I don’t even know where to begin, necessarily; but I know that You are love, and so help me demonstrate what that looks like in my marriage.”
Bob: Let me get real specific here—and I want to do this in as delicate a way as possible—but there are some spouses, who are triggered when their spouse says, “What about tonight?”
Bob: There are other spouses, who are triggered when their spouse says, “Aww, not tonight.”
Bob: So what do we do when there is disappointment in this area?—or when there’s frustration on the other side, where it’s just like, “I feel like there’s more demand here than I have capacity for.”
Amber: A lack of intimacy/a lack of affection, both of those things can be incredibly painful triggers, at times, in a couple’s relationship.
Guy: I think it does come down, again, to communication about where we’re both at and having to talk that through a bit. Amber and I/I think, when we dealt with this kind of an area, and I was not feeling loved, I would shut down. When Amber was not feeling loved, she would turn on in many ways; and she would start demanding more. We were on very different pages. I think, when I started to realize that, and I could see it, I was able to adjust; but it took a long time for me to get to that place.
Amber: The main issue, I think for a lot of us, is just to recognize this [marital intimacy] is something that God ordained in marriage.
Bob: That’s right.
Amber: It is for our good. Once again, this is about: “Why is this not happening?” and “Can we work through that?”
We have a chapter in the book that talks just about busy schedules. Sometimes, it’s not a lack of desire; it’s just all the things that are pressing in on us—and especially, once you have children—it’s hard to just make time for one another to foster affection/to foster intimacy. Again, this is about being proactive. We get our calendar out; we got out colored pens, and we just started coloring in our calendar: “Okay, all the stuff in blue is boys.”
Ann: You have an intimacy calendar?
Amber: We have an intimacy calendar. We put it in/we tell couples: “You know what? Foster this by putting it in your calendar.”
Dave: What color does this get in your calendar? [Laughter]
Bob: Let me just say I have talked to couples about this; because I think there are a lot of people, who hear you talk about scheduling intimacy, and they go, “Are you kidding me? It should be spontaneous.” I go, “The only thing that is worse than scheduling intimacy is not having any.”
Amber: That’s right; that’s it.
Bob: So if your option is: “Let’s have perpetual frustration,” or “Let’s mark out some times when we’re going to be together, and we can look forward to that,”—there’s nothing wrong with that.
Dave: —which is really good advice; because you know/I mean, I’m sitting here, listening to the conversation. I’m like, “Well, I was triggered by this issue, especially, when the kids were little,”—triggered; and I was frustrated, and—
Ann: And I was triggered at his lack of affection, like: “Why don’t you hug me anymore?” “Why don’t you kiss me anymore?” We’re both going off on these triggers.
Dave: And that’s—Amber, what you said earlier; I thought was so beautiful—it’s like it was so easy for me, and I guess Ann was doing the same thing, to only see it through my lens. It’s your problem until I understood what she just said: “You’re not affectionate,” “You don’t kiss me,” “We don’t talk lovingly.” It wasn’t until I was like, “She’s feeling the exact same thing”; I never considered it.
It came down to—Amber, I said this/you said this so well earlier—I thought, “We can’t miss this.” Because when you were feeling—and you put in your book you were really sad, because you weren’t feeling loved—most people think: “Well, I need to get my husband to love me,” or “I need to get my wife to love me.” You said, “No; I had to flip it and be: ‘How can I love him?’”
Dave: Nobody goes there. They go the opposite: “I have a need. You’re not meeting it; you better meet it,”—rather than—“I have a need that’s not being met, and guess what? I’m going to love and serve my spouse, who’s not meeting it, and find my happiness there,”—which, when you said it, I thought, “Jesus said, ‘You want to find your life?—lose it.” It’s the paradox that none of us thinks makes sense; but when you do it, we’re all shaking our head, going, “That’s exactly what happens. When you serve your spouse, the need you thought you were trying to fill gets filled in a beautiful different way.”
Ann: I’m guessing, Amber, that for you, you went to Jesus with that need.
Amber: Yes; I recognized that no person, no position, no possession was ever going to fulfill what I was looking to fill by looking at Guy. Nothing was going to do that; it had to be Jesus. Jesus was it, because Christ says your number-one role in the world is to love God and love others/love your neighbor and love God. If this is the number-one thing I’m supposed to be focused on—that doesn’t just mean the person next door—that means my husband. In order for me to do that, I need to be fulfilled from Jesus and from my relationship with God, not from him [spouse]. I’ve got to get poured into, so I can be the one to pour out to him.
We talk in the book about having a me-first attitude. This is a real lightbulb moment for me. I recognize I had to have a me-first attitude. You think about that and you go, “Does that mean you’re like selfish?”—like, “Me first,”—but really, it was: “Okay, all these things I’m expecting from Guy: I want him to be the first one to do the dishes; I want him to be the first one to schedule a date night with me; I want him to be the first one to compliment me/to woo me.”
Then I began to realize:
No, Amber; you need to have a me-first attitude that you do that first. You be the first one to do the dishes.
If you want him to go on a date night, and plan a romantic getaway, how’s that serving you, Amber, to be bitter that he’s not doing it yet?—that he’s not picking up on the hints. It’s not serving you very well; is it? It’s just making everybody miserable; because now, you’re just bent out of shape; and he doesn’t even know why, because you’re not even willing to communicate with him why. He just has to guess. [Laughter]
Now, I just recognize this has got to be about me having a me-first attitude.
Ann: I love the theme of, every time we’ve talked to you: “I’m going to look at me.” That’s a good point.
Dave: A new book! Me-First Marriage, [Laughter] which sounds ridiculous; but when you understand the concepts, like: “That will change [each other].”
Bob: This is really what we’re talking about. James 4 begins this way: “What causes quarrels and fights among you?” So in your marriage, what causes quarrels and fights among you?
Ann: What are your triggers?
Bob: How does the Bible answer that?—this way: “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Now, we think what causes fights and quarrels among us is this other person.
Bob: The Bible says: “No; what causes it is what’s at war within you: ‘You desire and you don’t have, so you murder.
Amber: That’s right.
Bob: “’You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.’”
The Bible’s telling us the source of the conflict that you’re having is the war inside of you; and if you want to deal with the conflict—I mean, I think you guys are right: you have the coffee dates, and you have those conversations, and you work out/you adjust your expectations—but you also go: “What’s at war within me? What are the passions that I’ve got to deal with?”
And ultimately, you go, “Lord, help me here. Lord, I need to deal with the issues in my own heart and my own soul.” The trigger is not necessarily my spouse; the trigger is something inside of me: “Let me deal with that,” and “God, help me deal with that”; right?
Amber: It can be an idol; it becomes an idol.
Amber: Because the desire for intimacy/for an ideal marriage became an idol for me.
Ann: Me, too.
Amber: The minute I started to bow down to that idol, our marriage worsened. The minute I decided to tear down that idol, and put Jesus back in His proper role as my Savior and my everything, then Guy was finally free; and the Holy Spirit was free to work on Guy, because I got out of the way.
Bob: I think, if a listener is going to order your book, which they should, you should probably text your spouse and say, “Just so you know—and you don’t get this in the mail and go, ‘Oh, you ordered this book?’; okay, I’m ordering this for me.”
This is a great book for couples to just open it up and say, “You pick two; I’ll pick two. Let’s have a coffee date. We’ll talk about these.”
Thank you, guys. Thanks for the book; thanks for the conversation. So glad to have you guys here.
Amber: Thank you.
Guy: Absolutely, thank you.
Amber: We’re so grateful.
Bob: And I’m thinking a lot of our listeners are going to want a copy of the book. We’re making the book available this week to any FamilyLife Today listener who can support the ongoing work of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you are willing to invest in the lives of other couples/other families so that they can be strengthened, and equipped, and encouraged with practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and for their family, we’d like to say, “Thank you for your donation,” by sending you a copy of Guy and Amber Lia’s book, Marriage Triggers: Exchanging Spouses’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses—that’s the subtitle. I think it’s what we all want, and this book helps us understand how we do that: “What are the things that trigger us?” and “What’s the right way to respond when we are triggered?”
Again, the book is called Marriage Triggers. It’s our gift to you when you invest in the lives of couples and families, all around the world, by investing in the work of FamilyLife Today. There are hundreds of thousands of people, every day, who are plugging into FamilyLife® to get the help and hope they need, and you make that possible through your donations. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number; 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Be sure to ask for your copy of the book, Marriage Triggers, when you donate. We’re happy to send that to you; and thanks, in advance, for your support of this ministry.
And while we’re talking about people, who are supporting this ministry, David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with us. You want to give a shout-out today to the folks who support us every month—our Legacy Partners—right?
David: That’s right. The consistent faithful giving—of that ongoing month in/month out—that enables us to know the capacity we have to continue to take these timeless truths of Scriptures—and marriage and family help—to as many people as possible. I just got this email, recently, from a Legacy Partner, who said, “I’ve only listened to FamilyLife Today for a few months; but I have found that it’s almost always a great combination of enriching, and useful, and edifying.” He says, “While I can only give a little, a bunch of folks giving a little adds up; and I love being able to, at least, chip into something as worthwhile as ministering to marriages and families.”
I just/I do just want to say, “Thank you,” to this listener, who’s giving what he can, and to all of you who give monthly. You allow us to take the gospel and the biblical principles of marriage and family to more and more people on every corner of the world.
Bob: Yes; thank you, Legacy Partners. We are indeed grateful for your faithful, regular support of this ministry; it means so much to us.
Now, we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow. We’re going to talk about how important it is for us to be patient as parents. Our kids can provoke us and can irritate us the same way we can irritate one another in marriage. How do we respond patiently when our kids are pushing our buttons? Chap Bettis is going to join us tomorrow to talk about that. We hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some help from Bruce Goff today and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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