How To Know If Your Partner Is Triggering You On Purpose

You get triggered, respond emotionally, and your mate says, "See, you're irrational!" Is this gaslighting? Dr. Cortney Warren weights in.

young strawberry blonde woman with round wire-rimmed glasses, looking away thoughtfully Ekateryna Zubal / shutterstock

Do you find yourself emotionally reactive to new dating partners because they do things that remind you of an ex or a bad breakup? Maybe you’re dating someone you really like but your find yourself being easily triggered by things they say—crying easily, feeling put down, or being accused of being crazy or overly-emotional?

Are they gaslighting you? If so, how do you know if they mean to trigger you as part of their gaslighting — or if they don’t mean to activate highly emotional responses? 


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As humans, we’re often emotionally triggered by reminders of past pain (Asensio, Hernández-Rabaza, Orón Semper 2020). In romantic relationships, triggers are situations or events that make you reactive or sensitive to your current lover because of your past experiences (Warren, 2023). 

Think of triggers as reminders of old hurts and baggage that we unintentionally carry from relationship to relationship. Triggers are often stimuli in the outside world such as people, places, or things, but can also be the thoughts, feelings, and sensations in your mind and body. For example, if your current dating partner is going out with friends for the night, it may trigger you back into an emotional memory from the past in which your ex went out to a club and cheated on you with another person. 


One of the hard things about emotional triggers is that you can bring baggage from past relationships into your present dating experiences, even when you don’t want to.

After going through a bad breakup or an emotionally traumatic experience you may find yourself:

  • Being emotionally reactive to anything that reminds you of your past
  • Struggling to trust new dating partners
  • Wanting guarantees or reassurances from your new mates that they’re not going to hurt you like your ex did
  • Wanting to be close and attach to new partners but feeling unable to let them in
  • Feeling panicked or anxious when your new mate isn’t with you
  • Feeling suffocated by intimacy and other people’s needs

When comments from your new partner feel like gaslighting

One reason this is critical to understand is that when we’re triggered, emotionally strong reactions can be very confusing to new partners. They may be dumbfounded by your emotions, unsure about why you’re upset, and not knowing how to respond. Over time, your new mate may respond to you by saying things like:

  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “It seems like you’re overreacting.”
  • “I don’t understand what’s wrong or why you’re so upset.”
  • “You’re acting crazy.”

All of these sentiments and comments from new mates can look or feel like gaslighting whether they intend to hurt you or not. In psychological terms, gaslighting is a manipulative tactic used to make someone question their sanity or ability perceive reality (American Psychological Association).

If your new partner isn’t intending to manipulate, hurt, or abuse you in ways that make you wonder if you are insane, they aren’t technically gaslighting you. That said, it may feel like they are when they make comments that gaslighters often use to undermine someone’s confidence and faith in how they perceive things. TikToker, '@cesimixco' explains how past experiences can be triggers:



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How to respond to intentional triggering 

After going through a bad breakup or painful experience with a former partner, it’s common to bring some of your insecurities, frustrations, and sadness into your next relationship. When you do, it’s very important to be open and honest with new dating partners about who you are, why you’re struggling, and how you feel. Doing so can create open communication between the two of you.

If you start dating someone who is gaslighting you by intentionally putting you down or making you doubt yourself, it’s important to set healthy boundaries so it doesn’t hurt you.

You might even want to consider leaving the relationship. Although not a clinical diagnosis, gaslighting can be damaging to your self-esteem and confidence.

If, however, if the comments from your new mate look like gaslighting but aren’t intended to be, working together to build trust, love, and connection is key. Communicating with them honestly while focusing on understanding your experience helps. A few tips to try along the way:

  • Openly share with new mates your feelings and past experiences in romantic relationships that are contributing to your reactions.
  • Ask your new mate to help you stay connected to them in a healthy way by giving you a hug, sending an extra text while they’re away, or whatever helps you stay present.
  • Find a good therapist to process your past relationship pain away from your new dating partners.
  • Call a trusted friend to separate your triggered experiences from the past from your present experiences with your new mate.
  • Get social support.
  • Focus on re-building your self-esteem. 

Romantic relationships are a breeding ground for learning. We all bring experiences from our past with us into our new relationships, so the goal is to explore ourselves while healing pain from the past so that it doesn’t negatively harm future connections. Striving to be kind, compassionate, and understanding with yourself and new dating partners after a bad breakup is key. 

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Dr. Cortney Warren is a Board-Certified Clinical Psychologist and expert on addictions, eating disorders, self-deception, and the practice of psychotherapy from a cross-cultural perspective.