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Marriage The Long Haul – Understanding Our Triggers


By Mark and Jan Yokers

Have you ever wondered why, in an instant, your emotions can escalate from 0 – 10? Your spouse is late again for dinner and forgot to call you, so you open the door with a response of anger. Or, at a holiday gathering, you argue with your wife and then leave the conversation for the back patio to grill meat, and don’t talk to her for the rest of the day.

In 1915 American physiologist Walter Cannon addressed this sudden escalation as “the acute stress response.” It was he who coined the familiar terms: ”fight” or “flight”. Over the years, psychological circles have added “freeze” or “fawn” as responses in acute stress situations.

  • Fight is to face any perceived threat aggressively with anger and defensiveness.
  • Flight is to run away from the danger by leaving the situation, by dismissing the          danger, or by detaching.
  • Freeze is to become paralyzed, unable to think or act.
  • Fawn is to avoid conflict, trying to fix the situation by pleasing others.

Automatic acute stress responses intend to regulate a sudden escalation by minimizing, stopping, or escaping perceived danger. However, while these fight-, flight-, freeze- or fawn- responses may seem to promise a return to peace and control, these solutions only bring temporary relief and don’t permanently solve issues in relationships.

When you have an encounter with someone, especially in a marriage relationship, and the person’s behavior, words, moods, or reactions cause an exaggerated response, it is a called a ”trigger”. And when we are triggered, we are less able to communicate, problem-solve, think logically, and stay engaged in a constructive way.

Can anyone relate?

Why do we have these exaggerated or acute stress responses and triggers?

And, what is a healthy way to respond to a trigger when this happens?

Stay tuned for more to come.

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