If you have challenges in the dynamics of your relationship, you might think there is something wrong with you and your partner as a couple. The reality is it’s normal to have issues in a relationship. After all, a relationship is composed of two imperfect human beings, each of whom has triggers and negative core beliefs that developed early on in their lives, no matter how great their upbringing was. When we stop looking at what’s wrong with us as a couple and start looking at what’s being activated as individuals, we can shift unhealthy dynamics to healthy dynamics.

A trigger is when a response outweighs the stimulus when you get upset over a seemingly minor incident. A simple technique you can use when you get triggered is cognitive restructuring. This concept gets you beneath the surface to see beyond an activating event to better understand yourself and what’s happening within you.

The process is seven steps:

Step 1, identify what triggered you. For example, my partner triggered me by asking me on two different occasions to do the laundry without even giving me a chance to do the chore the first time.

Step 2, what automatic negative thoughts came up for you? Why is my partner so condescending? Does she think I’m incompetent? Why does she treat me like a child who needs reminding?

Step 3, what feeling arose inside you? I felt angry, belittled, frustrated, embarrassed, and ashamed.

Step 4, what behaviors did you engage in due to the thoughts and feelings? I got crabby, and I withdrew. I walked upstairs to get away from her without explaining what was happening to me.

Step 5, what negative core beliefs were activated for you? I can’t get it right. I’m not good enough. I’m a failure.

Step 6, take the most activated belief and come up with one to three early memories from childhood where this negative core belief came up. In third grade, I felt I couldn’t get it right. My mom tried to show me how to make the bed the army way and when I didn’t get it right away, she took over the process, and I never learned.

Step 7, reframing – write down the opposite of the negative belief. Often, I can get it right.

In this example, you move from being mad at your partner for nagging to recognizing that there are feelings underneath this situation from your past arising. By undergoing this process, you take your power back and take accountability for your part in the dance.

It is inevitable to get triggered at times in a relationship, and it is up to you to decide how you want to handle these triggers. The more personal awareness you bring into a relationship, the healthier the dynamic becomes. Each partner has a role to play in any dysfunction arising.

When you first learn cognitive restructuring, it can be helpful to write down all seven steps, but once you get familiar with how it works, it is something that you’ll be able to do in your head quickly. It is helpful to share what you uncover from the process with your partner so they can better understand you.