Triggers In Marriage
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Why are some of our biggest triggers exposed in our marriage relationship, and what do we do about them? Guy and Amber Lia real-life examples of hurt and healing.
Triggers In Marriage
Bob: Have you tried nagging as a strategy in your marriage? How did that work for you? Guy Lia remembers when his wife, Amber, decided to quit nagging and start praying.
Guy: In Amber going from trying to change me—by being upset, and nagging, and all those things—she didn’t suddenly switch gears and say, “Okay, I’m going to change him by not nagging him and not doing all those things; and he’ll eventually change.” This was Amber genuinely saying, “You know what? I’m going to take this to the Lord, and I’m going to ask the Lord to change him,” and “I’m just going to do me.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 12th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Nagging is just one of those triggers that can lead to marital conflict. We’re going to talk about that and other triggers today with Guy and Amber Lia. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Back when we were working on the Art of Marriage® video project, we got a group of couples together/young couples. We set up the cameras; and we just said, “What is it that your spouse does that pushes your buttons?” [Laughter]
Dave: Did they know you were going to ask them that?
Bob: They knew what was coming. I want you to hear what these couples shared with us when we did this.
[Art of Marriage Excerpt]
Man #1: What pushes my buttons?
Woman #1: I always ask him, “Did your mother have you clean up after yourself?” because he’ll just be like [sounding dumbfounded], “Oh, I forgot; I didn’t think about that.”
Man #1: Feeling like there’s a lack of respect.
Woman #1: He might not be very considerate sometimes.
Man #1: “You’re so lazy.”
Woman # 1: “You have two hands and two feet. Get up and make yourself a bagel,” or “Make me a bagel; why not?”
Most fights end up spurring from these very minor emotional disconnects.
Woman #2: Well, the last argument we had was about us announcing our pregnancy.
Man #2: I didn’t realize it was an issue until just now still, but I also learned that a lot of these things aren’t issues until many of them are piled up.
Man #1: Like it wasn’t always like that.
When you’re fighting, you’re both/everybody thinks they’re right.
Man #2: I’ll say, “Let’s be ready at two o’clock; I want to walk out of the door at two.” Then, at like 2:15, she’ll ask me if I was serious.
Woman #1: He’ll say it in a way like he’s in the military or something, giving me a command.
Man #1: “Excuse, excuse, excuse; blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Woman #2: We kind of back track into past issues. Then it was like, “No, let’s talk about this issue.”
Man #3: I say this; you say that—back and forth and back and forth.
The only time I really feel like there’s any guilt is if, like deep down, you’re like, “Alright, I’m probably not right; I’m probably just arguing to win this.”
Man #1: Sometimes the emotion overtakes the logic.
Woman #1: He felt belittled, or like less of a person, or that I was insulting him in some way. [Screeching sound]
Bob: Hearing those couples talk about those things, I think all of us are going—
Dave: I want to know, Bob:—
Bob: What do you want to know?
Dave: —“What does Mary Ann says triggers you?”
Ann: Oh, yes; let’s hear it.
Bob: Oh, no; there’s been nothing in 41 years. [Laughter]
Dave: Of course, there aren’t any. [Laughter]
Bob: Do you have a trigger? Is there something Dave—
Ann: We have so many triggers. [Laughter]
Dave: No, we have none. We’re not going to talk about any of them.
Bob: We are going to talk about a bunch of them; because we’ve got some guys here with us today, who we’re 4 to have with us.
Dave: They’re the trigger experts.
Ann: We can relate to these guys.
Bob: Guy and Amber Lia are joining us on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome.
Guy and Amber: Thank you.
Amber: We’re so glad to be here.
Bob: Amber’s been here before.
Bob: You were here with Wendy Speake to talk about parenting triggers: things your kids do that cause you, as a parent, to go into the unhappy place.
Amber: —very unhappy place sometimes, yes. [Laughter]
Bob: Right; now you two have written a book on marriage triggers.
Bob: You had to get—I was told this—that you had to go line up people to talk to, because you didn’t have any of your own that you could bring—[Laughter]
Amber: Oh, I wish that were true. [Laughter]
Guy: We have a lot to pull from. [Laughter]
Ann: Were you triggered by writing together?
Amber: You know, praise God, there were lots of smooth processes through writing together.
Amber: But yes, of course. I think that’s one of the things we want people to understand is—and you guys know this—when you write a marriage book together, or a parenting book, it does not mean that you don’t have these issues and that you never will again.
Bob: Oh, exactly.
Amber: It just means that you’ve been through it, and you’ve had some growth and encouragement, and you want to share it with others.
Bob: You guys identify, in the book, 31 marriage/common marriage triggers.
Dave: One for every day of the month. [Laughter] Is that where we are going? [Laughter]
Bob: Did you sit down and brainstorm a list?—or how did you come up with these 31?
Amber: Yes; great question.
Guy: Amber looked back at our marriage, and wrote down all the things that I have4 done,—[Laughter]
Guy: —and said, “Wow; I’ve got 31 to start.”
Amber: We started there, yes. [Laughter] You know, with our parenting triggers book, Wendy and I/we’d do a lot of travel. We’d hear from readers all the time. It’s been an amazing ministry. Everywhere we went, we heard people say to us, “This book’s been so helpful in my parenting; and I am applying it to other relationships, too. But I sure wish there was a specific book about triggers in marriage.”
Amber: Right from the start, for several years, God had planted that seed in my heart. But I was resistant to it, because we had a difficult marriage for a lot of years. Just because you become vulnerable in one area of your life and ministry, doesn’t mean you’re always in a hurry to peel back another layer and expose yourself.
It took a lot of prayer; and me just being willing to say, “Okay, Lord, if this is really what You want me to do, then we’ll move forward and do it.” We’re thankful we did.
Bob: Okay, you just cracked the door open; so I’m pushing it open a little farther: “…a difficult marriage for a number of years.”
Amber: —a triggered marriage. I think what we realized is—there wasn’t a big case of adultery or some major conflict that happened—but for us, there was just this/we settled into a place of unhappiness. We couldn’t put our finger on it, like: “Why are we unhappy?” “Why are we bickering so much?” We could tell that there was a tone and a culture that was being fostered in our home that we didn’t realize was there until, one day, we just looked at each other, and we were pretty far apart.
We began to invite God into our marriage. It started with me needing to be humble; because I spent a lot of years nagging, and a lot of years yelling, and a lot of years pointing fingers. Then finally, the Lord was like, “Amber, why don’t you stop trying to fix Guy?—because that’s not working. Why don’t you just do what you would like him to do for you?”—The Golden Rule; right?—“‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you.’”
I thought, “Okay, Lord, I’ll try that.” As soon as I said, “Okay, Lord, work on me,” I began to realize that Guy’s sin did not justify my own. When I recognized that, little by little, we grew back together again. It was by identifying all those little things: being a backseat driver, poor communication skills, when the house was a mess, when we were not parenting on the same page—all these little things that just added up—we began to tackle one of them, at a time, in our own marriage.
Dave: Now, Guy, did you notice a change? Because I’m hearing Amber’s story—and it’s pretty similar; Ann had a similar thing—and I noticed something changed. Did you notice, when Amber started, maybe, stopped nagging? I don’t know what she did; I want to know what she did.
Guy: Yes, I did notice. We came into marriage/we got married later in life. I think I was—
Amber: We were old; you can say it. [Laughter]
Amber: We were a little older.
Guy: I think I was fairly set in my single ways, and I was taking care of—
Bob: How old were you when you got married?
Guy: I was—
Guy: —37, yes.
Bob: In 38 years of singleness, you developed: “This is how life is supposed to be.”
Guy: Yes; I mean, I had a thriving career as an executive. I had my own—an apartment that I lived in that I had—was very well taken care of; I just had my own ways.
I think I came into marriage with a picture of being this amazing husband; but the day to day, I didn’t realize what that really meant. A big piece for me that caused me a three-year stumble, I’d say, in our marriage was: when we got married, three months later, we got pregnant. I never had a foundation of a relationship with my wife as friends and as a young married couple. We literally exchanged wedding registry gifts for baby gifts for a baby room; you know? [Laughter]
Ann: Amber did you get morning sickness?
Amber: I was exceedingly ill my whole pregnancy; yes, almost nine months.
Ann: So you guys had three months, basically.
Guy and Amber: Yes.
Guy: In that three months, I was an executive; so I was working 16-hour days. I’d come home from work and have an hour or two with her; she’d go to bed. I’d stay up, working for another couple of hours. I’d wake up early in the morning and work, so we didn’t have an opportunity to have much of a relationship. It really caused a lot of tension in the beginning.
Bob: When she started to back off from nagging, did you go, “Hang on; what’s going on here?”
Guy: Yes, yes; I did. I forget exactly what that point was, but I did notice. It was a relationship difference between us; I had more room to kind of grow. I think that I also noticed—it’s that thing, where I would push back, prideful, and try to fight; and she wouldn’t engage—it caused me to go, “Wait a minute; what am I doing? Why is she not engaging? This is my own stuff.” It just created an air for me to grow.
Bob: What you’re talking about—this is interesting; because a lot of people, who start to feel the conviction that you were talking about, Amber, where you say, “I think the Lord wants me to just work on my stuff and back off,”—what they’re afraid of is that—“If I back off, and I’m not nagging, he’s going to think everything’s okay; he’s going to just keep in the dysfunction. It’s going to grow; I’m going to make things worse.”
Dave: Almost like Ann said, like enabling—
Dave: —this behavior.
Ann: “How would I ever back off? He’ll think I’m happy then, and then he’ll be worse.” [Laughter]
Bob: The fact that her being gentler/kinder caused you to go, “Wait; hang on. There must be something going on here,” that doesn’t always happen for couples. Sometimes, the guy’s like, “I’m just glad she quit nagging. Now, I can go back to my old bad, dysfunctional ways”; right?
Amber: Yes; so practically speaking, one of the changes was—that instead of yelling, and being angry or bitter, and withdrawing; because I tried all the things; right?—all the dysfunctional things I tried to do, and they weren’t working—what I recognized is that I had this really unhealthy pattern, and I had to replace it with a healthy pattern.
While I also stopped yelling, and doing the nagging, and all of those things—and not perfectly, Guy would tell you—we rented a car when we got here; and there was some backseat driving that still happened, even this week, so I’m still a work-in-progress, mind you—but what I recognized is: “What I need to do is set a regular time period with my husband, where I come together and communicate, proactively and biblically.” This is about exchanging those angry reactions for a gentle biblical response.
I would start saying to Guy—like if there were five things I was bent out of shape about, I could just, every day, do the huff and puff, or the eye roll, or make the statement under my breath; right?—none of that was working; it wasn’t godly—or I could say, “Okay, there’s five things I’m a little concerned about right now with my husband/with Guy, but I’m going to set aside a time and ask him if we could just have some coffee together on Saturday morning,” and “Would he be willing to just hear something that I want to work on in myself?”—and then, maybe—“Also, I could gently bring up one thing that I would like him to consider about his approach with me.”
Ann: Did you say that?
Amber: Not overtly at first, but I think that he saw that I was trying to make an effort. In that moment, he was able to open up; and I was able to open up. Because here’s the thing: when you come to somebody, and you are trying to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit toward them in a very proactive and intentional way, over and over and over again, it is very difficult for that not to impact the other person; you are going to have a positive impact. In those rare cases where you don’t, you may need counselling; there may be some further professional help.
But ultimately, I just recognized, “I need to not just clam up, and do my own thing, and let the Lord work on me. I also need to talk with Guy proactively and say, ‘Hey, this is an area I’m trying to work on. Will you pray for me?’”
Dave: Guy, those were meetings that you actually—like when I first heard you say it, I’d be like, “Oh, no; if Ann’s saying, ‘Let’s talk at ten a.m. Saturday,’ as her husband, I’d be like, ‘Oh, no; it’s one of those kind of talks.’ Because it’s—[Laughter]
Bob: I’m leaving for work one day; and Mary Ann says, “When you get home tonight, we need to talk.” [Laughter]
Bob: I’m going, “Don’t do that at the beginning of the day. Now, the whole day is like…”—seriously?
Ann: When a man feels that, he automatically thinks he’s in trouble?
Guy: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, yes.
Bob: Ann, when a man hears that, how many times is he not in trouble? Tell me that. [Laughter]
Ann: That conversation wouldn’t be just how amazing you are; it’s: “You’re in trouble.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, we’re in trouble.
What I just heard Amber say is—yes, you got down at ten a.m. to talk—but the way she did it, totally different than what most people would think. That’s why I’m asking/like, “Did that become like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a good thing, because it isn’t just going to be about me’?”
Guy: It was the way she did it. The approach wasn’t: “I want to sit you down to tell you what I’m upset about.” [Laughter] It was: “Can we sit down and talk about us? and “Can we talk about a few specific things?” The first time or two I think it was a little rough, but we came together to do it. We both knew that it was important.
Guy: But it was the way that she approached me.
But one thing I have to say, just to backtrack just a tiny bit, is that in Amber going from trying to change me—by being upset, and nagging, and all those things—she didn’t suddenly switch gears and say, “Okay, I’m going to change him by not nagging him, and not doing all those things; and he’ll eventually change.”
Ann: So it wasn’t manipulation.
Guy: Yes, this wasn’t a Tom Sawyer: “I’m going to white wash the fences and hope someone else comes along and picks up the job.” This was Amber, genuinely saying, “You know what? I’m going to take this to the Lord; I’m going to ask the Lord to change him. I’m just going to do me. I’m going to love on him, no matter what; and I’m going to exemplify these things. I’m going to pursue my faith.” That’s what I started to see; I started to see her go deeper into her faith.
Amber: It was a coffee date. I know my husband/that he loves his coffee. [Laughter]
He was like, “If coffee’s involved, I’ll talk about anything.”
Bob: I have to tell you: I think you’ve picked up on something pretty key here; that is—that the wife or the husband that says, “I think we need to have this heart-to-heart talk,”—if you don’t do the spiritual work in your own life first to make sure you’re in the right place/the right posture—humble yourself before the Lord, come ready to confess your own stuff—you’re not ready to have that talk until that’s what it’s going to look like.
Dave: Yes, that’s a beautiful example. A listener could right now go do this—like Bob said/like you guys said—“Start with me, not with him or her; start with me,”—and lead with that; and then, hopefully…
But I’ve got to go way back; because I’m wondering if anybody’s thinking this: “How do I know when I’m triggered?” I mean, your whole concept is about marriage triggers. I think we know; but I want to make sure: “Is this/am I being triggered?” or “Is this just a little pebble in my shoe, or is this a trigger?” You start the book talking about triggers, and anger, and that kind of thing. Talk about that a little bit.
Guy: Marriage is very—I think we all agree, it’s a very organic relationship—it changes day to day, month to month, year to year. There are some triggers that are not going to come out of me until year five in my marriage, when we suddenly have two kids. I come home from work, and she’s handing me a kid. I’ve had a rough day at work, but she hasn’t asked me about my day yet. She’s just like stressed, and gives me the baby and poopy diaper/the whole deal. Suddenly, there’s a trigger that’s going to come out of nowhere.
We talk about it in the book; there’s external triggers and internal triggers.
Dave: Right; right.
Ann: Some of the reasons we’re triggered could be old wounds that haven’t been processed, and we carry those in. Maybe Dave does something that’s not that big of a deal, but it’s triggering me because of my past?
Amber: Yes, definitely. I didn’t realize this at first; but I’ve come to discover that marriage is and can be a vehicle for healing from our pasts, if we allow it to be. Instead of looking at Guy’s past wounds, and his differing personality, and all of those things, and letting that trigger me, I can look at that and go, “Maybe this is an area, where I can be a vehicle of healing, and grace, and comfort to him.” I can show him empathy; I can show him compassion instead of taking it personally.
Ann: Do you have an example of that?
Amber: Yes; Guy and I talk about he had this background, where his family was very, very supportive. He had a lot of love and acknowledged his accomplishments and things like that.
I was more the tough love side of things growing up; so I never knew what was going to be coming down the pipeline with my family. My parents came out of a really difficult cult; they had a rough time of it. Then some people invited them to church; they started going to a Christian church. Little by little things began to improve in our home life. But in my younger years, it was really hard. I have this strong sense of justice, because I didn’t have a lot of justice. Everything was sort of you never knew why you were in trouble kind of thing.
But then with Guy, he rarely got in trouble; because he was really just doted on. That was great; I’m glad he had that experience.
Guy: I was a good kid. Come on; [Laughter] I worked hard for the doting. [Laughter]
Dave: You earned it!
Amber: I recognized that past wound in myself was just this need for justice, so I wasn’t about to let him get away with anything in our marriage. It’s like, “Oh no, I’m not going to do that.”
Guy: I will say I was/I had this slight issue with procrastination.
Dave: Slight probably means a big issue, Amber; is that true?
Amber: I’m going to choose wisely to hold my tongue in this moment. [Laughter]
Guy: It was aided throughout my entire youth in that my family always stepped up to help me in times of need instead of allowing me to flounder and find my own success.
I had a lot of support and did quite well. But you know, parents did projects for me—those kinds of things—it wasn’t that I was dumb or anything; I just was doing other things.
Amber: He had a lot of helpers. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, so—no, go ahead.
Guy: Just to get into marriage, Amber is the exact opposite; she is ultra-successful. If she has something that is due in two months, she does it today. She is a get-it-done-now kind of person. That was an area, where we had a really big misfire. That was an area, where she had to offer a lot of grace in learning, our first couple of years of marriage, about that piece of me that she didn’t know about, going into marriage.
Amber: Our backgrounds, our childhoods, our personalities, our wounds—all of those come out.
Dave: Yes, I haven’t heard too many people say it the way you just said, that marriage can be a healing of the wounds. You often think—and it should be that way; I think that’s God’s design and plan—but we often think, “Marriage just brings them out, and makes them worse”; because they trigger, and you don’t respond well. Many marriages end, because the wounds were really never healed; they were never embraced.
Even when you said that, I thought, “One of our big triggers—and it’s a trigger for 40 years—is my schedule.”
Dave: I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing—but busy/busy doing a lot of different things; always had five jobs at once—she would always be on me. I’d be like, “What’s your problem? I am providing; that’s why I do this. It’s not about me; it’s about you.”
I did not know, for decades, it was out of a wound she felt from her family of origin—whom I love—not seen; they didn’t see her. She was the last child, and everybody else was—then it’s like, “Oh, my goodness; she’s not being seen. Here it is again: ‘Dave’s off doing his thing, and he doesn’t see me.’”
Dave: For the last, hopefully a decade or more, I get the chance—what a dream come true—I get the chance to reveal Christ to her by seeing her, and loving her, and knowing that was at the heart of that trigger; it was that. I could have been like, “You know what? I can’t take this anymore; I’m out. All you do is nag and complain about me being gone,” rather than, “Maybe God wants to use me and us to heal through this trigger.”
Amber: So good.
Bob: What an important perspective to have on this: that when God brings us together, there’s going to be some stuff that’s going to float to the surface, and we’re going to go, “Oh, that’s there; I didn’t know that was there.” It’s there so it can be skimmed off, removed, taken away, dealt with rather—
Bob: —yes, healed; exactly.
Dave: I’ll just say this: “If it doesn’t just float to the surface—but like a bomb [creates a bomb sound], explodes it out of the water—you better take a close look.” [Laughter]
Guy: But isn’t it like—communication—the importance. I know everyone says: “Communication,” “Communication”; but it really is communication; because had she not shared that with you, you still would not know why she keeps reacting that way.
Bob: Understanding what does trigger you/understanding where those hidden spots are that can be easily provoked, this is the service you guys have done for us in the book you’ve written called Marriage Triggers: Exchanging Spouse’s Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. That’s what we want in marriage.
This week, we’re making your book available to FamilyLife Today listeners. Those of you, who’d like to get a copy of Guy and Amber’s book, Marriage Triggers, it’s our thank-you gift to you this week when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Your donations to this ministry make programs like this possible—our website, our app, all of the different ways we’re trying to provide practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families—you make all of that happen when you donate to support the ongoing work of this ministry. We’re grateful for you: grateful for our Legacy Partners, who give each month, and those of you who, from time to time, will say, “I want to pitch in and help.” Thank you for that.
If you can make a donation today, again, request your copy of the book, Marriage Triggers, by Guy and Amber Lia. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to give an online donation, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate by phone. Thanks, in advance, for your support. We know you’re going to enjoy the book, Marriage Triggers, by Guy and Amber Lia.
Let me also mention, if you’ve got a couples’ small group that you’re a part of—and you’ve been thinking, “What should we go through?”—we’ve got video series available here, at FamilyLife®, and we’ve also got workbooks that are available. If you want to do a series on marriage: Dave and Ann Wilson’s Vertical Marriage video series, the Love Like You Mean It video series, the Art of Marriage series. If you’re looking for study guides you can go through, we’ve got FamilyLife couple’s studies available: one on The Gospel and Your Marriage, The Power of Humility in Your Marriage, Your Marriage Has a Mission.
You can find out about all of these studies when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. If your small group is looking for something to go through/if it’s been a while since you talked about marriage, put that on the agenda and use one of the resources we’ve developed, here, at FamilyLife.
We hope you can join us back here tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Guy and Amber Lia about the things that provoke us to anger/that irritate us in marriage, and how we deal with that. How do we respond to those irritations biblically? We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help today from Bruce Goff; of course, our entire broadcast production team has been involved in today’s program. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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