How to Stop a Fight Before It Starts

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Are you tired of fighting all the time? Do you feel as if you are constantly stepping on each other’s toes? Does your partner shut down when you try to talk with him/her and you don’t know why? Do you want to know how to stop fighting in your marriage?

Avoiding Triggers Reduces Conflict

Everybody has “hot buttons.”  Those are the vulnerable spots each of us has that, when “pushed,” make us completely crazy.  It’s extremely important to know our own and equally important to know what words or expressions tend to generate strong reactions from our partner. Learn them, respect them and, where possible, avoid them.

I call these triggers.  These triggers are typically caused by painful and/or threatening experiences from the past and can cause you or your partner to strongly react.  Knowing these triggers and avoiding them altogether can go a long way toward keeping your discussions pleasant and productive.

On a personal note, my trigger is the word “Relax.” Don’t tell me to relax.  Nothing makes me more instantly and irrationally irritated than to be told to relax.  I find it dismissive and condescending.  For my husband, however, don’t roll your eyes.  For whatever reason, based on everything that’s happened to him before he married me, he reacts very negatively to eye-rolling. We know this about each other and respect it.

Every person has their own trigger words or behaviors that can make them instantly angry or unhappy.  People react this way most often because these words or behaviors cause them to feel a real or perceived threat to their competence, worth, independence, or desire to be included.

Some of the most common triggers I hear in therapy are terms like “lazy,” “controlling” or “bitchy.”   Many of these types of trigger words feel like name-calling to the person who hears them.   Often the person saying them doesn’t admit that they’re name-calling because it’s not technically profanity.   But in actuality, any judgmental word we use to describe our partner is name-calling and unacceptable, period.

Now that you know the power and impact of triggers, talk to each other.  Figure out what your and your partners’ “hot buttons” are and do everything you can to respect and/or avoid them.

To learn more about how to stop a fight using our online videos and downloadable exercises, check out our StrongMarriageNow System.

Do you and your partner know each others triggers?  Tell us about them! Please comment below.


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Cherie Bannon 13 years ago

I feel my husband has too many trigger points. One of these is my having to help him. Recently he had a cateract removed and the person doing it hit his optic nerve. Since it happened every bad thing in his life is my fault and he never fails to tell me at least 50 times a day. This is not a line of crap either he constantly repeats himself it one sentence. Our friends do not come around any more as they can't stand it. When he repeats himself I just want to yell shut up! Sometimes I wear earplugs because it is so bad.

Chanti 13 years ago

The words in this article "any judgmental word we use to describe our partner is name-calling and unacceptable, period" is exaclty what I think. We would be joking around about silly stuff, and in the end it turns out a fight, why is this? We both have very strong personalities, and I think that both of us want the "upper hand", but when he gets mad at me, he doesn't think about the things that he say, and it sometimes hurt. When I see a fight coming (as most of them are so unneccesary) I tell him to just leave it, then he carries on and on and on, and when I ignore him (because I don't want to fight) he gets mad at me for ignoring him?

sarah 11 years ago

Wat do u do wen ur in a relationship that majority of the time all words are ur spouses trigger words.

John 11 years ago

This is a very informative and useful article. Now I understand where a lot of my wife's rage type reactions came from when we argued. She ALWAYS reacted to stressful situations by lashing out at me (even when I had nothing whatsoever to do with the cause of the stress). My reaction was to ask her (in a low monotone voice) to "calm down and stop yelling at me" so we could discuss the problem and find a solution. Typically she would respond (even louder and more aggresively) that I was yelling at her. Next, I would talk slower and in a still quieter voice, which made her even more angry ("you're demeaning me!" was her typical response). So apparently I was just nailing one "trigger" after another. Unfortunately, the only way to handle this (that I knew) was to walk away or stay and fight which meant that the original problem never got resolved. We had so many unresolved problems in our marriage for so many years, we are now in the process of a very nasty divorce.

Rocky 11 years ago

My trigger words are ones that are not spelled properly, such as "wat" and "wen", or which are shortened text message-style to "u" and "ur". Really irritates me, sarah.

Rocky 11 years ago

I've experienced something similar, John. Learned early on in my marriage that I could never raise my voice, even when I was "justifiably" angry about something. That would just make her more upset. But trying the calm, rational approach without emotion and triggers (e.g., eye-rolling) also makes my wife angry, and she tells me I'm patronizing her. Then she shuts down and it's all over. No resolution. It feels like I can't win, but I say that realizing it's not about winning (usually), but just wanting to work through the issues. I haven't yet figured out how to succeed in an argument or angry situation. But I have learned that so many relationship problems result from selfishness or self-centeredness, and it's only with selfless caring and giving to the other person that two people will succeed in their relationship.

Sharon 11 years ago

I hate it when my husband always throw up in my face about his kids. He is constantly telling me my kids this and my kids that and my kids deserve this and that. I want for my kids just like you want for your kids. My kids, my kids my kids . I'm so sick of those 2 words I could scream. They mommas sit back wait for whatever he has to offer his kids.......

Nancy 11 years ago

My worse trigger is YOU KNOW EVERYTHING! This one makes me want to throw something at him. Husband reacts furiously, even though he is a very controlled person, when I even mention hurts from the past, which I don't entirely blame him for as he considers the past over and done with and what good is it to bring it up? But since I have never been able to reconcile something very out of character that he did and I desparately need more than half truths from him that he claims he doesn't remember, I am plagued with a feeling of distrust and betrayal that will not go away.

Linda 10 years ago

I have similar issues; something he did, him not being truthful, he also claims he doesn't remember. I am angry that "getting over" this falls on me and he seems to be oblivious to how hurtful all of this is. I also am plagued with feeling of distrust and betrayal that will not go away. It's been a year now and I will probably give it more time but I am so tired of living in this hell. We have been married 27years but a divorce may be the only answer. I get up in the morning thinking about what he did, live it all day long, and go to bed with it.

Rw 10 years ago

What do you do when your wife of 35 years, will not talk to you and she filed in February. I just found out that she has been suckered into an emotional relationship for nearly a year. She says she can't trust me? Our communication was and is horrible. Can I possibly get her back.

sl 10 years ago

My husbands triggers are askimg him questions. He hates to do anything I ask and if I remimd him, he doesn't do it cause Im "nagging" him. I have decided to shut down because he hates talking things out. He tells me to work me, I'm the problem.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

It sounds like you both are in a hard place right now. Maybe until he is ready to recommit as well, you can look at a few ways to help rekindle your marriage -

Ryan 9 years ago

I'm a recovering addict and it is a sensitive spot area for both me and my wife. My hot button however is not in the fact of acknowledging my past as I accept what I have done and I feel my past has created the person I am proud of today, it is when my wife speaks speaks harshly and degrogitively to me infront of our boys. I feel this is unacceptable and inappropriate. It show a total lack of respect. But being that I am accepting of my recovery I feel all to often that my past and the hurt it caused puts me in a position with no ground to stand on and it sucks.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 9 years ago

Hi Ryan - It sounds like she is having trouble letting go of her anger. In a calm and respective manner, let her know that you have no problem being open with your struggles to your children, but that it hurts you and it hurts the way they see you when she speaks like that.

cherise 9 years ago

my husband is a narcissist how can i cope in a hurtful and lonely marriage

Mike_Olsen_SMN 9 years ago

Hi Cherise - I would try to get to the cause of his behavior.

Rafael 9 years ago

My wife and i have been married for 11yrs and i feel bad about having two physical fight with her. the first one she hit me first and i held her down to stop hitting(2005). the second time we in the middle of a very heated discussion about finances and submission. we both got in each others face and i pushed her down, right after that i felt like a real horses rear(2014). now since she turned 50 this past december, and i'm in march she wants a seperation, since i got saved i no longer believe in divorce, but working things out. i am currently attending anger mgmt session through my jobs EAP and they have really help me identify my triggers. But my wife still thinks im full of it. she's hurt and mad keeps saying i must leave the house, if i do our home becomes uncovered. I really Love my wife and I feel we can save our marriage, but she's all madder than a hornets nest right now. i show my love through all my actions and interactions with her so she can see im a changed man. she has resorted to trying and getting me mad and flip but i see the trick and im focused on my healing. today she finally sought counseling, now we can get on the road to recovery. she says she wants out but her actions show she want to stay. Any one got any advice.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 9 years ago

Hi Rafael - I'm glad you are getting the help you need, but you have to understand this happened over years for her, and it will take years to heal. The best I can offer is to continue to show her you have changed, honor her wishes for space if she asks, and continue to make yourself a better person.

Blanca 8 years ago

My triggr is he never accepts he's in the wrong the ignoring lack of comunication. His is that my anger tends to make me raise my tone voice to a strong, loud, that im yelling.

Blanca 8 years ago

My triggr is he never accepts he's in the wrong the ignoring lack of comunication. His is that my anger tends to make me raise my tone voice to a strong, loud, that im yelling.

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