The SAP Method for Dealing with Emotional Triggers

Dealing with Emotional TriggersEvery time Bryan and Jill go to her parents’ house, they have a huge argument. One that goes nuclear. And Bryan thinks he knows why.

“Jill gets weird around her family,” he says. “It’s like she’s a different person. She picks on every little thing I say. Normally I’m a pretty tolerant guy, but a weekend with her parents is enough to make me wonder why I’m with her.”

Samantha has a different problem. Every time she brings up the possibility of her boyfriend changing jobs, he lashes out at her.

She says, “I know he hates where he’s working. I’d totally support him if he wanted to look for something else. But I can’t even bring up the topic around him. It’s like he turns on me.”

What’s going on?

Hidden deep within every single one of us are emotional tripwires, also known as triggers.

If someone stumbles across that tripwire, they’d better duck, because an emotional explosion is on its way.

Maybe you’ve noticed it in past relationships. You say something innocent, and he goes ballistic. His reaction is totally out of proportion. And to be frank, it’s kind of scary. You wouldn’t have pegged him for being so irrational.

But we all have triggers. They’re left over from the past.

For Jill, the company of her family was a trigger. She grew up in a household where fighting was the norm. Even though, as an adult, she learned better ways to handle conflict, being back home activated those old pathways. When Bryan made a light-hearted comment, she perceived it as an attack—just as her siblings used to try to get her to react.

Samantha didn’t know why her boyfriend got triggered when she suggested changing jobs, but she could guess. His father was chronically unemployed, and he grew up listening to his parents argue about money. No wonder he overreacted at the idea of leaving a secure job.

Getting to know your own triggers—and the triggers of the man you love—is an essential investment in your long-term romantic future.

It’s tough to eliminate a trigger entirely, but you can “SAP” the energy from it until it’s barely noticeable. Here’s how.

S – Spot It

The quickest way to defuse an emotional overreaction is to name it. If you realize you’re being triggered, you can step back from the feelings before they escalate.  Continue reading

How to Save Your Relationship from His Children

how to have a relationship with a man who has childrenBecky thought she found the perfect guy.

There was only one problem:

His daughter hated her.

Becky told me she could understand—really, she could. From his daughter’s perspective, Becky was stealing away her dad. But that wasn’t Becky’s intention at all.

She respected the fact that her boyfriend was a father first and her partner second. She didn’t want to change anything. She just wanted to be given a chance. After all, she was young, fun and cool. Her sister’s kids liked her. What did she have to do to prove herself?

I hear from women in Becky’s situation a lot. Half of all women can expect to live with or marry a man with children.

Single dads have a lot going for them. Ideally, he made his mistakes in his first marriage, and now has a strong desire to get things right the next time around. He’s less self-centered than the average bachelor. You know up front whether he’ll make a good father by watching him with his kids.

But what you don’t know is how well his family unit will function with you in it.

In relationships where children aren’t involved, a man and a woman come together to create their own life. Both of them have an equal say in determining what that life will look like. They stand united against any forces that could tear them apart.

In relationships where children are involved, an outsider enters an already-established family unit. She’s expected to merge into established traditions seamlessly—or get blamed for wrecking things.

“I feel like a third wheel,” Becky told me. “When his daughter is with us for the weekend, she monopolizes him. If Jared and I happen to get a moment of peace together, she’ll find us and need her dad immediately for something. It’s like she wants him to choose between the two of us.”

She sighed. “Jared won’t talk to me about it, but I can tell it stresses him out. She’s asked him a couple of times not to invite me over when she’s there, but we’re talking about moving in together. She’ll have to get used to me.”

There’s nothing I would have loved more than to tell Becky about a simple and easy trick for getting her boyfriend’s daughter to like her. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Stepfamilies are tough to get right.

Relationships are hard enough, but when you bring children from a previous relationship into the mix, they get exponentially more difficult.

There is no easy answer. But there are 2 strategies that will help ease the transition to becoming a family.

Continue reading

Tap Into Authenticity for Romantic Bliss

How To Have Romantic BlissHave you ever been happy and miserable at the same time?

I was talking to a client the other day. From outward appearances, she’s got it made. She has an amazing job, she’s in good shape, and the guy she’s dating is a real catch. She looks happy practically all the time.

But sometimes it’s an act.

As we dug into things, we realized that a lot of her occasional dissatisfaction has to do with her relationship.

Her man takes her on amazing dates. They have all kinds of fun. She really likes him. But she doesn’t feel like it’s okay to show him the not-happy side of herself.

“Just the other day we had dinner,” she told me. “We were at this romantic little café. The food was great. But work was hard that day and I wanted to vent. I just . . . didn’t feel like it would be okay. I don’t want to be all negative around him. So I stuffed it down and smiled.

“Then I went home and cried.”

I don’t think she’s alone in that experience.

Students of my relationship courses know that men like women with positive energy. But that doesn’t mean you have to be upbeat every waking minute. That wouldn’t be very authentic at all, and men like authenticity a lot, too.

Not only are men NOT looking for someone who’s giddy all the time, but acting like you’re constantly bursting with joy can leave you drained and miserable.

That’s because happiness is linked to authenticity. We’re happiest when we’re true to ourselves—even if that means sometimes being upset, angry or sad.

Here’s what that means for your relationship. You’ll feel the highest levels of intimacy and romantic satisfaction when you feel free to share how you really feel.

Being lovey-dovey all the time won’t make you feel good. Being REAL is the key.

If you’re interested in authenticity in your relationship, keep reading. I’ve got three powerful tips for incorporating genuine, transparent communication into dating.

Follow these suggestions and you’ll definitely feel more happiness when you’re around your guy. Continue reading

The Negativity Bias That Brings Down Relationships

Why Relationships Go BadHe says you look beautiful tonight…

But all you can remember is the last time you wore this outfit and the rude comment he made.

He says he’s never loved you more than he does right now…

But all you can remember is that time you argued and he said he regretted ever meeting you.

It’s hard to forget hurtful words.

You start to wonder what’s really true. Was he telling the truth when he said you looked beautiful … or when he made that awful comment? Was he telling the truth when he said he loved you … or when he said he regretted ever meeting you?

Does he ever tell you the truth, you wonder, or does he just say what you want to hear?

That line of thinking can drive you crazy.

But it’s not just you. We ALL do it.

Human brains latch onto negative experiences. Our brains assign much greater importance to one cruel comment than a dozen compliments. This “negativity bias” is part of our programming.

And it can sabotage relationships unless you’re onto it.

In a minute, I’m going to show you a technique that will help you break free, but first try this exercise to see whether the negativity bias is at work in your love life.

Take a moment to select a relationship from your past. Now, try to think of as many special, beautiful moments from that relationship as you can.

Next, try to recall a few awful, terrible moments from that relationship.

Which did you find easier:

Coming up with good memories or bad memories?

If you’re like most people, the bad memories were easier to remember by far.

There’s a reason for that, and it dates back to the dawn of human history.

Our ancestors needed to remember which tribes were hostile, which regions were dangerous, and which plants made them sick. It was more important not to get killed than to have a good time. Those who kept their attention firmly focused on avoiding bad things were rewarded with survival.

That strategy works. You use it all the time without realizing it.

Maybe you keep your purse close to your body because you once had it stolen. Maybe you obsessively check the fluid levels in your car because you once wrecked your engine. And of course you refuse to date anyone who reminds you of THAT ex-boyfriend.

Your negativity bias helps keep you safe.

But it isn’t really your friend. It’s more like a buggy software program.

Sometimes it works to protect you from harm, which is great.

But other times it malfunctions. It tells you to remember every rude comment or small disappointment. It tells you that even one rejection is too many; you should just give up dating and spare yourself the pain.

Soon, your life becomes a series of one hurtful experience after another. There’s always something to be upset about. Someone is always cutting you down. You don’t notice the good stuff, because you’re paying so much attention to the bad stuff.

Who wants to live that way?

You can’t turn off the negativity bias, but you can outsmart it.  Continue reading