Last week I wrote about what I can learn from my own Hot Buttons – those sensitive places that are easily triggered and where I react, often in a way that is out of proportion to the situation. And how my loved ones seem to have an uncanny way of pushing those buttons with ease.

What I’m also interested in, is why would someone close to me choose to push my buttons.

Why, for example, does my daughter continually leave her dirty dishes laying about our home when she KNOWS how much it irritates me. I mean, I have told her often enough. Or why my wife still gives me little driving tips now and then when she KNOWS my likely reaction. Or when she sometimes stays silent when I ask her a question despite KNOWING this is something I feel a lot of insecurity about. 

Do these situations mean they are deliberately trying to provoke me or hurt me? Do they not care about the small things that are important to me? Was I not clear in making requests about these things? The answer, of course, is ‘yes’ to all of these. 

Intentionally Trying to Provoke or Hurt me

Generally, I know my loved ones have positive intentions towards me. This means they usually do not go out of their way to make my life miserable. Usually. 

So why would they ever do it?

I have firm belief that happy, grounded people do not intentionally hurt others. I get that sometimes they do something without knowing that this might be a pain point for me. After all, we’re all continuously learning about ourselves and eachother. So we’re going to stumble blindly into some of these hot spots. 

But what about when we know it’s a hot spot and we still jump on it. We know it hurts. 

I believe that when I deliberately hurt another human being it is because I am in pain myself and it is the only way I know (in that moment) to get some relief. It is not the best way – but it is a way.  This is not to excuse or tolerate the behaviour – but rather a step towards solving the situation through understanding it.

When someone screams at me and reminds me of all the parts of myself that are shameful or sensitive in some way, then I assume they are suffering. It is a cry for help. A cry for empathy. A cry from fear, hopelessness or pain. It is not about me but about them. My loved one is trying to say ‘LOVE ME’ .. just in a way that makes it unlikely I will hear that.

I would like to learn to hear the pain and respond to that. Not my own butt-hurtedness. When things are calm again, then I can tell how difficult this is for me and try to work out a different way of handling things. But in the heat of the moment, most other responses are fuel on the fire.

Caring About the Small Things

Why should others care about the same small things that I do? Isn’t it a sign of love when they care about what I care about?

When my wife and I were first dating she claimed to be interested in soccer, because she knew I was. She even learned the names of some of the players in my favourite team. Of course, it was really sweet and kind and I really enjoyed having conversations with her about how well or badly they were doing. Until I realised it was fake. And we now both see it as sweet and funny – but not something we want to repeat. We are a couple, yes. But we are also two individuals and neither of us expect the other to be interested or care about the same things. 

I don’t want anyone to pretend interest. I want something deeper and more meaningful in my relationships. I want authenticity and truth. And these means to let go of the small things that are superficially important to me. Like a football team. Or dirty dishes. Or where is the best place to park the car.

Not Clear What I Want

Usually with this persistent button pushing I have an idea that I have been very clear what I want and don’t want. Usually I am wrong.

When my buttons are being pressed is probably the worst possible moment for me to express my vulnerability and make a clear request. I am tense, constricted and often incoherent when I do speak up. I highly doubt my requests in these moments are as clear as I believe them to be.

So when I’m not wound up then I try to go back to the situation and make a clear request. What do I want and what would I like to avoid?

To wrap up.

When someone is pressing my buttons I want to (in this order):

  • Listen to my tormentor and work doubly hard (more than usua) to understand what is really going on for them. 
  • Check if the subject is really important to me and, if not, let it go.
  • Check with the other if I made requests in the past that were clear
  • Make clear requests about what I want.

And the last two items I will want to wait until either or both of us are calm and we like each-other again.


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The Connection Kit is a practical and fun way to bring you closer as a couple. Currently available in English, German and Romanian.