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How to Deal With a Spouse That Pushes Your Buttons

by Maura Banar, studioD

Having a spouse who pushes your buttons can make you feel less like trusting him and more like ending the relationship. When you are in an intimate relationship with someone, you come to know the sensitive topics or issues that will set that person off. It’s not uncommon, particularly during a disagreement, for couples to bring up those sensitive topics to irritate and annoy each other, thus pushing each other’s buttons. However, this isn’t a productive argument tactic. According to the Kansas State University counseling services' website, healthy couples fight fairly, meaning they disagree without being critical of each other or attempting to "win" the disagreement. They attack the problem, not the other person, as pushing a spouse’s buttons is likely to only escalate the anger.

Communicate clearly to your spouse when he is engaging in a specific behavior that angers you. While it's true that your spouse is pushing your buttons, you can't assume that he is aware that he's doing this. You can effectively communicate this to your spouse without adding further fuel to his button-pushing by being specific about the behavior that is affecting your mood. This approach, explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in their online publication "Communication Skills for Healthy Relationships," can help you convey your message without turning to the same behavior.

Walk away when your spouse engages in button pushing and does not respond appropriately when you clearly communicate that his button-pushing behavior is upsetting. This approach is referred to as negative reinforcement, a technique used in counseling to extinguish behavior that you feel is aversive. While it may sound like an easy solution, expect walking away from your button-pushing spouse to meet with some resistance. If your spouse continues his button pushing or is more aggressive verbally or physically, leave the area and spend some time away from him. By walking away, you fail to provide your spouse with reinforcement or fuel to continue to push your buttons.

Encourage your spouse to join you in seeking professional help in the form of counseling. Counseling -- either individually or as a couple -- can help your spouse work through the cause of his button-pushing behaviors. Sometimes an individual is unable to identify the origins of certain behaviors on his own, but a professional can help him do that. Also, you might not be able to confront your spouse in a way that is both objective and non-defensive. Utilizing a professional to mediate can provide this objectivity to help your spouse feel more comfortable working through his self-defined problems.

Utilize a social support system. A solid support network, which includes friends and family members, can help reduce feelings of distress. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information in their online publication, "The Role of Social Support in Reducing Psychological Distress," social support can provide more than just listening ears. Friends and family members can also offer valuable advice as well as being objective confidants. Sharing your frustration and related feelings about your spouse's button-pushing can provide you with different perspectives that might also lead to possible solutions. At the very least, consulting your support system can reduce your stress levels, which can lead to less conflict in interacting with your spouse.

About the Author

Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.

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