I'm repeating old patterns in my new relationship

ama ask me anything effective communication marriage perspective self-improvement Jul 13, 2023

Dear Dr. Julie: I was in a bad marriage for 20 years and it seems to have taken it's toll on me. My ex-husband often made me responsible for anticipating his needs and making things easier for him. At the time I thought I was just a bad wife. But post-divorce (and a lot of therapy), I see that I wasn't responsible for his behavior. My problem is that I'm in a new relationship and sometimes I notice that I feel like I should be doing something to make my new partner feel better when he's upset. This happens especially when he's expressing his unhappiness or dissatisfaction about situations I'm not a part of. I know it's not my job to make him feel better but I get emotionally fixated on what I can do and I can't seem to calm down easily. What can I do?

--Wired this way now

Dear Wired this way now: That's an excellent description of being triggered. When we are repeatedly exposed to stressful situations like you described, the way we cope with it becomes embedded in our body. It is very difficult to shake this reaction.

Part of the reason people become "wired" that way is the brain likes to take shortcuts whenever possible. Once your brain (unconsciously) perceives that the stressful situation exists, it goes right to responding, skipping the part where it should check out what's going on first.

That leaves you to deal with your reaction. 

Now that you understand what's happening, you can do something about it. 

Consider how you'd like to respond. You might come up with something to tell yourself or a way to excuse yourself from the situation. Involve your partner so he knows what's happening and doesn't think something is wrong if you need to leave the room.

The next time you get the reaction, notice what's happening.

Then, take a deep breath and without judging yourself, say or do what you decided to do ahead of time. It will take effort, but you can do it.

As you work to calm your nerves, be compassionate towards yourself. This reaction was meant to keep you safe in a different time and situation. Your brain and body don't realize this situation is different and it's going to take some time and effort to make the switch.


I wrote more about how to recognize and manage triggers in my book, "Loved: Relationship Rules for Women Who Thought They Knew the Rules."

If you can relate to this question and want more detailed and focused answers for your marriage, consider joining The Loved Lifestyle membership. Check out the details here.

Also, you can submit a question here and if Dr. Julie answers it, it will be published in her newsletter.

Join the Creating Soulful Relationships Community

Join this group to discuss your most pressing relationship issues. Find support and advice and learn how to love better to have the Soulful Relationship you want and deserve.


Saying it Right: Your Guide to Confident Communication

Subscribe to my mailing list to get your FREE copy!

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.