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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

How to Stay Calm When Your Spouse Pushes Your Buttons

How to Stay Calm When Your Spouse Pushes Your Buttons

“We were having a reasonable conversation and she said something that really got to me,” Jeffrey said, his eyes filled with fire and his voice tense. “She had to bring up something about my work again, and I can’t stand it when when she does that.” 

“Why not?” I asked, he looking quizzically at me. 

“Well, because Jessica is always so critical of my work,” he said. “She likes the money I make but doesn’t like how time I spend there. She doesn’t like who I work with and the way I talk about it. I wonder if she is jealous about it.” 

“I don’t know, Jeffrey,” I said. “But I think it is important for you to understand what tweaks you. There is a moment when you are listening to her, when you are having a conversation, and the next you’re having a fight. Every couple has got to understand when and why that ‘shift’ takes place.” 

“I have never really thought of it as a ‘shift,’” Jeffrey said. “I call it ‘getting my buttons pushed.’” 

“That’s okay to think of it that way,” I said. “Either way, it is that moment in time when you stop listening and become reactive. It is that moment when you stop being in the conversation and shift to ‘battle mode.’ Can you see that?” 

“Totally,” he said. 

I stood up and drew on a board the two different modes of listening: 

Sanctuary Mode: This is when I feel calm, compassionate, caring, clear, concise and willing to make concessions. I am willing to be influenced by my mate, really hearing their heart and what they want me to know. It is a soft place, a place of real connection. 

Courtroom Mode: This is when we become argumentative, defensive, accusatory, building a case for our position. We want to ‘make a point’ and win our mate over. Unfortunately, they feel this shift and likely feel threatened in response to it. 

“Did you know that you have a powerful impact on how your mate responds and how long she stays in ‘The Courtroom?’” I asked. “You are the one to decide if you are going to join her in ‘The Courtroom,’ or if you stay in the ‘Sanctuary.’”

“Tell me some more what I can do to stay in a good place when she begins to attack me. 

One, listen to what she is really saying. Even though she may not be saying it in the softest way possible, listen for the heart of her message. Scripture says “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The Apostle James knew that conversation ceased when we become angry. 

Two, ask her to slow down and speak a little softer. If you are being ‘tweaked’ by her tone or accusations, ask her to please be careful in how she is saying what she is saying. It’s healthy to be vulnerable to ask for what you need. 

Three, step back. Do not stay engaged with a man, or woman, on fire. Nothing good will come from it. Take a time out. Let him know you are willing to talk about issues ‘when I feel safe and cared for.’ It is your responsibility to master your emotions and to ensure you stay in your Core Self, where you are calm, clear and compassionate. When you shift, you must step back. 

Four, get professional help. Yes, I say this often. We usually cannot heal our own dysfunctions. We simply cannot see them. Many, if not most, of our dysfunctional behavior is subtle and we use defenses (denial) to tell ourselves that we are okay and that the problem lies with our mate. It takes a solid professional who is willing to call us on ‘our stuff.’ 

Finally, stick with the healing process. Perfect practice makes perfect. You need to find a professional whom you trust and who is willing to become actively involved with you, pointing out where you create disconnection and the things you are doing to create connection. Stick with it. Don’t stop until you have received the results you are looking for. 

added for clarityDo you know the moment things turn downward in your marriage? Do you know your role in it? Have you been able to stop it. If you would like to stop reacting and learn ways to respond more effectively, please go to our website, Please send responses to me at and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. 

Publication date: May 12, 2015