Two young boys huddled together on the front steps of their foster home. Joe Buchanan tried not to cry as he soothed his sobbing brother. Their mom had once again failed to show up for their scheduled visitation time. The boys were heartbroken, and Joe couldn’t help but think, “My mom doesn’t love me.”
In episode 39 of the Behind Our Smiles podcast, married couple Joe and Tara Buchanan dive into a difficult topic: triggers. Everyone has some experience with this topic, but triggers are especially prevalent in those who live with the wounds of childhood trauma.
Triggers are an incredibly hard part of life, and they are vital to consider in relationships. Whether or not you are living with trauma, your mind has a way of perceiving patterns and reacting instinctively to them. This is a beautiful design that God gave us, but sometimes it can be harmful—particularly if you’re reacting to a perceived danger that doesn’t exist.
Once you are triggered, logic is thrown out the window. People can react in a variety of ways, and they might not even know they’re being triggered at all.
In this episode, Joe gave an example of a trigger he has noticed throughout his life: the Cable Guy. Both Joe and Tara have seen how this popular commercial character can send Joe into an angry spiral. Typically, the Cable Guy gives a general timeframe of when he plans to show up at the house. Unfortunately, he might be late. Who knows if he’ll show up at all?
This experience of waiting for someone makes Joe feel more and more like the little boy in foster care, and his body picks up on that old, familiar pattern. Joe might not immediately realize why, but his instincts kick in, causing him to get angry. Just like the boy waiting on the steps with his brother.
Joe has seen the pattern enough times to know that the Cable Guy is a trigger. He understands now that the waiting is triggering, but the fact that something is broken also upsets him. When things are in a state of brokenness, Joe’s inner turmoil runs rampant.
“Life was broken,” Joe said in the episode, and his experience taught him that “the longer that [anything] goes broken, the less likely that it’s going to get fixed.”
Thankfully, Jesus heals the broken. As time goes on, it gets easier to work through triggers. Tara said that Joe has gotten a lot better with his reaction to the Cable Guy. Over the years, they have healed together.
Tara said it can be hard to walk through moments when Joe is triggered. She tries to be understanding, and they have found that apologies are extremely valuable to keeping their relationship strong in challenging times.
Listen to “I’m Feeling Triggered” to hear more about how the couple has processed and dealt with triggers in their marriage. For more conversations that can help you enrich your marriage, listen to the Behind Our Smiles podcast.