Friday, September 6, 2013

Feeling Stuck: How to Deal with Triggers

My husband came home a few weeks ago from work and, like most days, gives me an overview of his day. A funny story, perhaps. A meeting that went well or not so well. This particular day he mentioned that he'd had lunch with a salesperson, noting that he'd offered up, what he thought, was a smart way this person's company could improve their business.
In the telling of this story, something was, to me, notable. He mentioned he'd had lunch with A salesperson. Singular. But as the story went on, he didn't refer to this salesperson as a "him" or a "her" but as "they".
Red flag!!!!
My body tensed. My heart beat faster. My mind raced.
I knew, without asking, that this was because this salesperson with whom he'd had lunch was a she. And I feared that there was something about this she that made my husband avoid any discussion of it.
So I asked him whether this "they" was a male or female. He told me what I already knew.
And then I screeched something about how I couldn't believe he'd lied to me and was this ever going to end and on and on (I hardly remember) about how I can't trust him.
He panicked and doubled down in attempts to placate me. That he hadn't "lied" (Bullshit, I said!), didn't want me to draw the wrong conclusion, that there was nothing. (Heard that before, I said.)
In short, we both blew it.
Our counsellor offered us a far better approach.
She said my response was normal and made it clear to my husband that when he seems to be hiding ANYTHING, that's a huge trigger for me. It takes me right back to where I was six years ago when I found out. That it's the deceit that's the trigger, not necessarily the lunch with a female.
And then she told me to ask my husband what I really wanted to know.
It's so hard for me to open myself up to vulnerability. It has been a lifelong struggle and though I'm better, it's really, really hard.
Nonetheless, heart pounding, I asked: "Are you attracted to this woman?" No. "Is there anything going on that you would not want me to know about?" No.
He insisted, got defensive, said all sorts of unhelpful things about how she's older and more mother-like to him and how he's never sure if he's allowed to be attracted to anyone but me ever again even if he never intends to act on it and on and on until our counsellor stopped him. She told him, pointedly, that this wasn't helpful.
And then she guided him through what was helpful. Reminding me that he's working hard on his issues so that he never again betrays me. Reminding me that he doesn't want to be that guy ever again. Reminding me that he loves me and values our marriage and family. That he won't jeopardize that.
I cried. But then I practically floated out of that session. It empowered both of us. Me to realize that allowing myself to ask for what I needed and opening myself to vulnerability isn't going to always mean hurt. Him to realize that by reminding me that he's NOT that guy anymore is also reminding himself that he's come a long way. That it's a source of pride about who he is now instead of a source of shame about what he did.
Triggers can appear no matter how far we are along the path of healing. And when they appear, they transport us right back to that horrible moment when our world spiralled out of control and we felt alone and scared. Trusting ourselves to ask for what we need in that moment, and our spouse to offer it to us binds us closer together. Triggers can be teachers.


  1. Elle... I read some more of your blog and it struck me what an amazing person you are. You are so bright and kind, especially how you give people a venue to share their stories on here and how you reply to each story with great compassion. You deserve a king to make you your queen :) and give you all the treasures and goodness in the world because people like you are so rare.
    I still think you do deserve better but I guess we all have to keep walking the path we have chosen as best as we possibly can.

    1. Lisa,

      Thank-you for your kind words but you give me far too much credit.
      I've tried to create here what I desperately needed when I was first dealing with this. It was the loneliness and isolation that was almost as damaging. We need to talk about this. We need to hold each other up. We need to remind each other that this is something that happened to us -- but it doesn't need to define who we are.
      I'm glad you think it's working. Your words mean a lot.


  2. Elle,
    Wish I had your counsellor. I am about a year and a half out. And boy those triggers are amazing. I am getting much better at bringing them to my WH, but I need to work on clearly stating and asking for what I need. I am not ready to be that vulnerable yet. Approaching 1 year from last broken no contact, and the A season is in high swing with lots of significant dates, all coinciding with holidays, and our 15th anniversary. I will keep moving. Thanks for all you do.

    1. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable after betrayal is really tough. But it's the only way. I'm a big fan of Brené Brown, whose book Daring Greatly is basically a vulnerability guide book. Or check out her TEDx talk. Might help you.
      In the meantime, try and accept that right now you're in a bit of a minefield. Stay attuned to your feelings right now, especially how vulnerable you feel and how deep your hurt goes. Give yourself space to feel those feelings, express them (whether in a journal, or by just crying, or a long walk, chat with friend, whatever) and trust that you'll get through.
      Thank-you also for your kind words. They mean a lot.


  3. Elle, Love your words. So appreciate the true and kind help. I am commenting on this because of my stuckness. Feeling like I want to tell my story and get a better perspective from you and readers, just not sure where to start here. I have sought by reading everything I can find online but have not yet found the healing peace I do desire. Can you advise where on you site it would be best to start my connection. haswife

    1. Along the top you'll see various "Share Your Story" tabs. Pick the one that best suits where you are (Finding Out, Feeling Stuck, etc.) and simply post. The healing and peace take time. But sharing your story is a good place to begin.


  4. Would that the spouses could break themselvs of their automatic slip into those little white lies that make them feel "protected" - I, for one, get frustrated with that also - why is it always ME that has to not "over-react" instead of him being forthcoming and honest and not triggering the situation he's dreading in the first place? Why can't a grown man seem to figure out that it's HIS behavior that's making the situation worse? Does your husband *understand* that the fibbing is what is setting you off? I have repeatedly told my spouse that and he still continues to do's ingrained, I suppose. But why is it *I* am supposed to change my reaction but not him??

    1. I hear ya, sister!
      It's not so much that we're "supposed to" and they're not, but that, frequently, we're better equipped to manage our reactions. In my husband's case, the "white lies" were a lifetime habit, a sort of knee-jerk response to his constant fear of getting in trouble, whether or not he'd actually done anything wrong. It had become a survival tactic to avoid his parents' anger over various perceived transgressions, from hanging around the wrong kids to dating the wrong girl to taking the wrong courses and so on.
      Your husband should, of course, be working on understanding that inclination to lie -- where it comes from, how to recognize it and, eventually, how to stop. It would be nice if they could they could just make that connection (I lie, she gets triggered, all hell breaks lose) but it's not always that easy.


  5. My husband forbids me to mention any triggers. He won't go to therapy and wants me to deal with this by myself , otherwise he feels that I am bringing him back to that state that he was in when he cheated. He climbs he always respected me by not having sex with the ow. He thought out was over between us and that he was doing me a favor.because we were emotionally detached. He was totally going through a midife crisis.I found out about out because the ow threatened him that if be cuts of contract with her she will tell me. He had been ignoring her, so she notified me. She emailed me and included many details about our lives to prove she is not making this up.she probably knew that I never expected this or believed her.



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