Trauma and Triggers in Remarriage


Photo Caption: A cozy mental health break with an open journal, pen and coffee cup.

A godly, healthy marriage takes work, but you will see fruit in not only your relationship, but also in future generations as you create a godly legacy for your children and grandchildren yet to come.

If you’ve experienced the pain and tragedy of divorce or have watched a loved one endure that process, you understand how it hurts the people you love most. Divorce can come with emotional, mental, spiritual, and sometimes physical trauma. Depending on how we process that trauma, we can develop healthy or unhealthy coping mechanisms. The trauma and coping mechanisms can lead to remarriage triggers in you and/or your spouse and affect your new marriage and blended family in an unhealthy and negative way.


What Are Triggers in Marriage?

A trigger is anything that causes a person to remember or relive a traumatic experience. It can be a sensation, such a smell, a sound, physical touch, or something you see. It can be a phrase or an event, like a particular holiday. A trigger can also stem from an emotion, such as fear or rejection.


Many things from the pain, hurt, and dysfunction of my first marriage became triggers for me when I remarried. One of those triggers was finances. In my first marriage, I accrued  a lot of debt along with a loss of trust. After my divorce, I was living as a single parent, and I had sacrificed time away from my son and worked hard to pay off debt and rebuild my credit. I was so proud of the financial progress I had made, and I was not willing to let anything take away from that accomplishment.


Unfortunately, Scott and I did not do the necessary premarital work before blending our family, and we did not discuss details about our finances. I knew what his salary was and that he appeared to manage his money well. However, after we married and I saw the bills arrive every month, I felt defeated and worried that he might be lying to me and that we were getting into heavy debt. This led to blow-ups, denied trust, and cyclical arguments, most of which stemmed from my unprocessed emotions and trauma from my first marriage. Eventually, we knew that we needed help and sought out professional counseling.


How Can I Recognize Triggers?


One easy way to recognize when past trauma is interfering with your current marriage is by listening to your body. When we experience trauma, our body goes into the “flight, fight, or freeze” mode. As a result, our pupils dilate; our skin can become pale or flushed; and our heart rate and breathing increase. We may begin trembling. Other ways to recognize triggers include:


  • Being bothered by small things
  • Unexplained changes in mood
  • Cognitive fog
  • Feeling jumpy or easily startled
  • Unusual forgetfulness
  • Feeling worthless
  • Daydreaming
  • Intrusive and persistent worries, memories (flashbacks), and thoughts
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Reactions disproportionate to a situation


Triggers occur without warning and we respond without realizing that we are reacting to it. Our spouse may wonder why we are “overreacting” to a comment, gesture, movement, or other stimuli.


Healthy Ways to Manage Triggers


As I was working through the trauma from my first marriage, I was also learning healthier ways to respond to triggers. For example, when I got triggered, I would go on a walk around a pond in our neighborhood. It gave me time to think about why I was feeling the way I was. It also gave me time to talk with the Lord and listen for His guidance, including what I needed to do or say to my spouse when I got home. Here are some other healthy outlets for managing triggers from a past marriage:

  1. Taking a few deep breaths and exhaling slowly gives your body time to reset itself from flight, fight, or freeze mode. Breathing helps you relax and be less hypervigilant.
  2. Ground yourself. Identify things you can see, taste, touch, hear, and feel around you. “I hear my children playing outside. I can feel my feet on the floor…” Doing this helps you come back to the present moment instead of being caught in a painful memory.
  3. Nothing can help us manage our triggers quite like praying. God can give us the peace that passes understanding. He can guard our hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit can intercede for us when we don’t know what to pray (Romans 8:26).
  4. Tell yourself the truth. When you pray, ask the Holy Spirit to show you the truth about the situation or trigger. You will likely hear something like, “You are safe. You are okay. Your spouse is safe.”
  5. Be curious. When you are calm and feel safe, ask yourself, What caused me to react this way? Think back to just before the incident. You might be able to recognize what triggered you. Once you know that, you can talk with your spouse about why you reacted so strongly.
  6. Get help. Therapy can be an amazing and beneficial resource for processing through past trauma and navigating difficult seasons or issues in marriage. A therapist can help you process the toxic elements of your previous marriage and give you tools to develop healthy coping mechanisms and strategies in your current marriage. Scott and I have gone to counseling and have experienced the benefits firsthand!


How to Help a Spouse Who Is Triggered

If your spouse is triggered by trauma from a previous marriage, you might feel unequipped to deal with their reactions. You may wonder what in the world went wrong! While you can’t make the triggers or trauma go away, there are some ways to help your spouse:


  1. Learn about trauma and triggers. You can find an abundance of articles, books, and videos that explain trauma and its effect on people. This will give you greater insight into how to better support your spouse.
  2. Learn their triggers. This will help you know what to do—and what not to do. An example would be, If your spouse was physically abused, try to avoid sudden movements or coming up behind them unannounced, and watch your tone, pitch and inflection when speaking to them.
  3. Don’t dismiss your spouse’s experiences. Telling them not to freak out or worry does not help them. Neither does blaming or criticizing them. Those responses often reinforce triggers. Your spouse’s experiences and reactions are very real to them. For goodness’ sake, don’t tell your spouse to calm down.
  4. Don’t push them. If you have never been through a difficult or traumatic marriage, you may not understand why your spouse can’t just “move on” from the trauma of their previous marriage. Pressure only heightens their reactions and triggers. Yes, you want your spouse to be healthy and you want a strong marriage, but it will take work. They need your support.
  5. Like shame and secrets, trauma begins to lose its power when shared in safe places. Every day, my spouse and I have a check-in where we can talk about our day and discuss any conflict we see in our marriage. Sometimes, that can stem from unprocessed trauma. Listening de-escalates a potentially tense interaction.


Remember, the enemy hates healthy marriages. He will use everything possible to create disunity and division in your remarriage and in your blended family. Pray together often and ask God to establish and strengthen your marriage. And take the necessary steps to work through any trauma that either of you experienced in a prior marriage. A godly, healthy marriage takes work, but you will see fruit in not only your relationship, but also in future generations as you create a godly legacy for your children and grandchildren yet to come.


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