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July 26, 2012

Do You Know the Hot Buttons in Your Relationship?



People often say their spouse knows how to "push their buttons". I would have said that was true for me too. However, I never took the time to think about what my buttons might be and try to identify the specific actions or behaviors from my husband which cause me to react negatively. That is until recently, when I found myself angrily sitting across from my husband, Gary, at one of our favorite restaurants, eating my dinner in silence.  

It was a Sunday night, and we were enjoying ourselves until one of my buttons was pushed and I reacted. This resulted in my husband becoming upset, angry words being exchanged, and ultimately a meal eaten in silence.  I wish I could say the silence was short lived but it wasn't. It continued after we were home and sadly into the next day as well.

What was the behavior that I have now identified as one of my hot buttons? It was my husband using his cell phone. I do not like it when my husband checks his email, writes emails, or texts when we are out to dinner. Sometimes when it is a timely work issue I am more forgiving and do not complain or react negatively. This particular evening it was an email to a friend and I was not happy about it being written during our dinner. My exact comment was "I should bring a book with me."  

Later, as I was reflecting on the events of the night, I realized how often similar scenarios play out in our relationship. Gary using his cell phone during our date-nights  is most certainly an issue for me. As I continued to think on this issue, I identified one of Gary's hot buttons. If I seem to be distracted when Gary is talking to me (for example. when I am doing the dishes or cleaning) he gets upset and accuses me of not listening.  This scenario too has played out in our home far too often resulting in various levels of discord between us.

Upon further reflection I realized both of these reactions come from a place of feeling not honored, not respected, and maybe for me, not feeling loved. Ephesians 5:33 speaks to this; "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." In 1 Peter 3: husbands are again directed similarly; "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."  These verses make it very clear, both spouses are called by God to respect and honor one another. No excuses.

How do my husband and I solve this dilemma? Does this mean Gary can never use his cell phone when we are out together? Does it mean whenever we are talking at home I need to sit still and give him my undivided attention? I'm sure Gary would agree those changes do not provide a workable solution to our problem.

Just as in AA the admittance of a problem is the first step to recovery the same may be true here. If we can identify what behavior from our spouses causes us to react in a negative way we may be better able to prevent discord. We may not be able to realistically expect our partner to stop the behavior but we can share with them how the behavior makes us feel and why it makes us feel that way. Armed with this information from each other we can explore options for preventing these behaviors from doing their normal damage.


We can all gain help in this area by following the advice of Paul found  in Philippians 2:3-4; "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." When we know what behaviors set our partner off we may self limit the behavior as an act of honor. On the flip side once we have had a chance to explain how the behavior makes us feel it may lose some of it's power over us. At least when it does happen both partners will recognize they are entering dangerous territory and will be on the alert to avoid conflict. 

Now, dear reader, it is time to answer the question. Do you know the hot buttons in your relationship. Let me know your thoughts and ideas.