7 Ways To Cope When You Decide To Stay Together — But Still Have Emotional Wounds

Concrete steps for healing triggers left over from when your relationship was in trouble.

Heart vs head, relationship triggers AegeanBlue, peshkov | Canva 

Acts that erode trust between partners, like adultery, deception or putting work and friends first, can leave a scar that throbs long after your partner has reformed. However, maybe you and your partner have decided to stay together, get past it, reset the relationship, and start over — and you still feel the ache of those emotional wounds.

Wisdom and good judgement prevailed, and you are doing what many wouldn't, but now you have emotional triggers that get pulled at in unlikely times and places. Your chest tightens, voice elevates, or you withdraw into yourself. And these are just a few of the present possible reactions to your partner's past mistakes.


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How to get over triggers from your relationship's past

Sandwiched between clearing the dinner table and them doing the dishes, you suddenly remember the years you had to do it all. Your mood cools.


Perhaps your therapist says, “So, tell me, how have you been”? and you are flooded with the memory of your partner leaving early and coming home late, of them having animated phone calls with the person they cheated with, or of the eye rolling you had to deal with everyday. Triggers are unexpected and bring the bitter taste of hurt and rejection you felt in the past.

Triggers don't care if your significant other attends weekly AA meetings, has worked through the steps, deleted the old contacts, and slammed the social media door. The chaos of those former events has left an imprint on your brain.

If you walked on eggshells when your significant other overreacted with the kids, your ears still perk and your heart will sink in the face of disagreements. Even worse, you will mind-read and fortune tell what they are about to say and do. Your mental landscape becomes clouded with fear. You are not happy, and neither are they.

Seven concrete steps that can help you heal the pain caused by your partner in the past 

1. Seek an apology with accountability.

I assume your partner has made a full and unqualified apology and named how they were wrong while looking you in the eye and acknowledged your feelings. Yet, even with that sincerity, you might still feel like a devalued bank note, find it harder to trust, and feel it is impossible to forgive and work through the arising issues.


Hurt and resentment keep you in the past and derail your future with each trigger. So you need to soften or change that experience in order for you both to return to your best life, which brings us to the next point.

2. Have an agreement that helps you heal.

In this journey to heal from triggers, don’t neglect having conversations that can lead to a sacred agreement. These conversations are your request for specific support from your partner.Maybe it is asking for a hug, more information, flowers, weekly date nights or repeated verbal assurance as an example of healing support.

When you have been wronged and the unwanted memory of the wrong returns, it helps if you know what you need in the moment and ask your partner for it.

“When I am sad and ask you for a hug, I need you to stop working or playing with the kids and put your arm around me and say, I love you so much.”


“When you are scrolling through your phone and I look over your shoulder, I want you to share the page with me.”

“When you are correcting the kids, I want you to stop when my body language says so.”

An agreement may include password sharing, discontinuing certain hurtful habits or sensitivity to your needs as they relate to the event.

The next few solutions all depend on your self-determination, the choice to chart your life as a happy one, regardless of external factors.

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3. Be aware of your triggers.

Being aware of the statements, situations or people that set you off, will reduce the knee-jerk reactions and out-of-the-blue emotions. This level of self-mastery requires you to ask your partner to tell you when you overreact, and when your mood and conversation change track suddenly.


Follow these incidents of being triggered with self-reflection and journaling. The person who shifts from, “We are doing great” to a litany of the other person's mistakes with electric speed is a person who is being triggered by a memory. Catching your words midstream and pausing to reframe them will further your journey to getting past your triggers.

4. Practice compassionate and radical acceptance.

Understanding your significant other’s mistakes doesn’t exonerate or excuse them, but it can further your journey to forgiveness. Humans make mistakes and although you may not have made their mistake, we all make our own.

To radically accept is a conscious decision to embrace your immediate reality as it is. This means each time an image of how it should/could arise, you gently delete it in favor of your present reality. In your case, recovering from hurt and growing closer to your lover.

The enemy of radical acceptance is utopian or idealistic thinking, and to the extent that you want your marriage/relationship to be a certain way you are unhappy. Embrace the disruption and your recovery. Adult relationships take time, so be happy as you watch each other grow and change.


You can also helps by accepting your share in the breakdown. This understanding may take some time, and I know first hand it is easier to blame than to ask, “How have I contributed to this breakdown/disconnection/result?”. This attitude releases you from victimhood and decreases the emotional charge of your triggers and bring a level of peace.

Side note: Acceptance is not an agreement or an invittion to trauma and pain. It is simply saying, “This hard thing happened, and I can cope”.

5. Master your thoughts about the Incident.

Like the fruit of an unwatered tree, your love sours when you entertain negative thoughts about your significant other. Since thoughts breed feelings and actions, it is a given that those thoughts will have a ripple effect.

You may have a mountain of positive experiences with your partner, but when you remember their transgressions, good things are forgotten and the main pain is happening all over, right now.


Because the event was such an emotionally intense experience, more areas of your brain light up with activity then and now. One particular area of the brain called the amygdala acts like a fire alarm. If you don't remind yourself the incident is over, you feel as devastated as when it first occurred.

To manage this unhealthy state of emergency you can say something as simple as “All is well, they love me and nothing bad is happening now”. Pair that with a few slow deep breaths and, over time, your physical tension and over-reactions will ease and you can return to a happier life.

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6. Substitute another more pleasant memory.

Let’s say your distress is triggered by your partner on a business trip, or their annoyance at the mess in the kitchen.


First you can speak up as per your agreement (see section 2). Then, using visualization can bring some long-term relief. Here's how it works.

You create a mental image of a happy memory to view as often as possible and substitute it with each repeated trigger memory. Smile, relax your body language, and journal about your positive and happy thoughts. Your goal is to create a new imprint to replace the old trigger.

7. Nurture and commit.

You have heard the saying "Time heals all wounds", but I will say time doesn't brings a cure, but what you do in the space of time that makes the difference.


Let me invite you to create a new relationship, one more honest and open, where disagreements and frustrations are resolved promptly and you both look forward to seeing each other. A relationship where laughter, hugging and holding is plentiful and healing is active and compounding.

To create that relationship make sure you: have regular round table chats where you check in and share your progress, solve the problems that may have fuelled disconnection in the past and cement your vision for the future.

Your blossoming relationship is every day proof things are working for the better. Seal it with a commitment to grow together in the same direction.

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Reta Faye Walker is a therapist who specializes in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.