5 Tips for Recovering from a Relationship Setback


You’re going along pretty well, then suddenly something happens that triggers you.  Here’s how to avoid getting consumed by feelings of ‘won’t this ever stop?!’

It’s no secret that my husband and I are doing pretty darned well these days.  And yet, not too long ago, he did something that really triggered me back into a negative place.  I spent a couple of days in a deep funk, thinking things like “Really?  Seriously?” and “Maybe there just is no hope.”  Now I know enough to understand that just because I’m thinking these thoughts doesn’t mean they are true – they are just ideas and, in this case, a reflection of my past, not my present.

This getting triggered back to feeling negative or hopeless can happen to anyone.  The good news is, you can recover. Here are my tips for doing so:

Tip 1:  (listen carefully!) Thoughts and reality are NOT the same thing.  At all.  And it’s really important to keep this in mind.  Because at the time when you are triggered, the rush back to your negative past feels overwhelming.  And because it feels so ‘BIG’ and overwhelming, it also feels true.  Even when it’s not.  I was triggered back to feeling depressed and negative…and yet the truth is that my husband and I are both very happy…and have the best relationship we’ve ever had.  So remind yourself that thoughts are only that – just thoughts - and that if you don’t engage with them, they often can fade away.

Tip 2:  Don’t dwell on the negative.  Instead, seek and reinforce the positive.  I’m not talking about making up stuff.  I’m talking about finding what is positive, and reminding yourself that it is there, to diminish the power of the negative upon you.  If you dwell on how bad the trigger feels, you will feed it and it will grow.  If, instead, you acknowledge the negative is there, and then focus on the positive, you starve the negative and it shrinks.  Look for facts (such as 'my husband shows me every day that he loves me') to deal with feelings of overwhelm directly.

Tip 3:  Move yourself into a new space – physically, if possible.  In 2014, after my second bout with cancer, I promised that I would try to make each day an adventure of some sort.  Lately I’ve lost a bit of that (out of sheer laziness).  When I got triggered, it was easy to feel a bit unmoored as a result.  So I reconnected with that promise to myself as a way to divert my attention to a habit that is for, and about, ME.  I borrowed a friend’s paddleboard and tried it out for the first time.  At the end of it, I felt much better – more centered, and with a renewed desire to take care of myself and live true to myself.  Notice…nothing there about feeling miserable or being triggered.  Or even about my husband.

Tip 4:  Don’t hide – share your experiences with your partner.  You have to do this carefully because the trigger came from your partner and the last thing you need is to have a pile on because your partner feels defensive and triggered him or herself.  The best way to execute this conversation is to: focus on your feelings, not your partner’s actions; be gentle but clear; back off if you see signs of defensiveness building; use conflict intimacy skills.  What you may well find (I did) is that even though I went to a negative place, it wasn’t backed up by my husband’s feelings.  He loves me deeply, and was able to reassure me that my feelings, while understandable, did not have basis in his feelings about me, or the relationship.  Further, he apologized for the event; and backed up his words with some meaningful, immediate actions.  The added benefit of sharing your own feelings is that your partner can (if willing) share his or her own feelings, as well.  You grow as you learn together.  Hiding, on the other hand, gives power to fear because there is no counterbalancing force to diminish that fear.

Tip 5:  Give yourself a break.  We all get triggered sometimes.  It’s a natural part of recovering from a difficult relationship.  It’s okay to get triggered – and the fact that you can get triggered simply means you are human, not that your relationship is bad.  So don’t worry about the fact that you ‘went backwards’ for a time – it’s okay.  It’s normal.  And you can recover…even learn from it.



Mapleman's picture

Comment on Tip 3 "Move Yourself Into a New Space"

Thank you Melissa for all these great tips.  I had to laugh when I read tip 3.  I am the ADHD husband (57). We are just beginning our journey to what we hope will be a happier marriage.  My wife and I recently started marriage counseling and I have new hope as I have learned she is reading your book.  She has put up with so much from me!!! She has led me to stronger faith, she has listened to me yell, she has kept the bills all paid, she has continued to love when some of us seem so unlovable.  

As we are working on our challenges it seemed it was time for me to move to the doghouse.  So we took your advice literally (we being our family dog and I) and moved into a new space.  We are in the "dog house," our Motorhome, until I learn some new skills and make some tangible changes. We pray that changes will happen soon.  God knows I love my wife, but no one deserves to live with the not so silly problems of being married to an ADHD spouse.

I'm kinda back there now

I'm glad that I read your article. However, I am having a hard time lifting myself out of the hole. This past weekend, there were a few triggering events. . . . . (a few disclaimers - I am the ADHDer)

1. I am a snorer, so of course I'm the one who gets the boot out of the bedroom. . . . .My DW has stated that my snoring keeps her up if she goes to sleep after me, but if she goes to sleep first, she is more apt to sleep through my snoring. . . .fine enough, but the kicker is that she stays up pretty late on the computer, so that situation rarely if ever happens, unless I want to get less than 4 hours of sleep. When I brought up a request that she go to sleep earlier even just a few times during the week so I can sleep in the same bed, she said that wasn't fair to her. Well, I don't think it is fair to me to be relegated to the couch because she chooses to spend all hours of the night on the computer instead of going to bed. The kicker - when I come back in the room in the morning to get my stuff, SHE is the one sawing a log with a chainsaw. . . .

2. We had several conversations in the morning about different topics - my beard, an issue with my daughter, and a few other things. About 30 minutes later she stated an obscure, "Well, it was what I suspected," and looked at me. When I didn't respond and gave her a blank stare since I had no idea what she was referring to, she said, “You have no clue what I'm talking about, do you?" - well with so many clues, how could I be so obtuse - I don't know. . . . .she then made a comment that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have a conversation with me because of this.. . . . . . this has happened a number of times when she makes some obscure reference to a conversation that we had earlier and I am left wondering what the heck she's talking about either because there were several other topics we discussed, or I just plain forgot. . .. however, when the same situation is played in reverse, I get lambasted for expecting her to read MY mind. .. . .

The coup de'grace was when I was driving behind someone who was following a VERY slow driver and that person wouldn't pass the slow car. My DW was getting very irritated because we were on the verge of running late and in turn getting irritated at me for not doing something about it, so she reached over hand honked the horn of the steering wheel that I was holding. . . . now I don't know about you, but that is a sheer violation of not only my personal space, not to mention dangerous, and above all, something I wouldn't even think of doing, nor do I know any sane person who would do the same thing. I shot her a very angry look and she gave me that "WHAAAT" look back at me like I was the freak. As it turns out, the slow person had their hazards on ND when I brought that up later, she said, "Well how was I to read your mind - you should have said that" and BAM, the whole incident was now my fault. When I brought up the fact that when I was learning to drive, my dad did the exact same thing, and I got just as pi$$ed at him as I did with her for the reasons I mentioned above. . . to which she just stated "You NEVER told me that - again, how am I to read your mind." Well, how do I even begin to work with that when I seem to have to rationalize with what seems to be with someone who is acting so irrationally. . . . .I can't even try and compare it to anything else except that I felt like she clearly overstepped a fat boundary - and I don't think I'm being a snowflake either. .. . . BTW, she also complains that I drive like her old Aunt Bessie because it is too slow for her tastes . . . which is apparently why she's so impatient. . . .

Don’t get me wrong – up until that point, we have been doing great and couldn’t be more in love, but this has turned that all on its heels. . . . I am now being given the silent treatment which usually ends when I apologize for being a jerk and she’s absolved of any wrong – again, I feel that this is very unfair given that I really don’t see too much that I actually did wrong. . . . . any advice – it is getting pretty cold over here in the heat of the summer.

On a side note

most people on this site have like no dran out paragraphs.... I bet the ratio off add to ocd is slightly tilted. 

Add people don’t read through your notes. Short. Sweet. And to the point.

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