The second technique in our three part series on improving relationships focusses on negative anchoring or the way we push each other’s buttons.

While relationship problems can be complex, this is a technique that can help almost any relationship. It brings awareness to traits or behaviours which instantly trigger negative emotional states within you. These reactions are commonly rooted in unconscious habits that have formed based on past experiences and so are harder to identify. This is a bit like the phenomenon demonstrated by Pavlov when he conditioned his dogs to salivate every time they heard a bell ring.

An anchor is when someone does or says a certain thing and it triggers a past experience where you related negatively. And you find yourself in that past negative state which has little to do with the present situation.

Lets have an example. Imagine you were in a really bad relationship a few years ago and the person who had a very particular sharp tone of voice. The relationship ends, the years pass and you meet someone new. Everything is going great and at some point, your new partner uses the same particular sharp tone of voice with you.

Your unconscious mind associates the tone of voice with the negative emotions you felt in your last relationship and suddenly you’re in a really negative mood and you might not even know why. Your partner doesn’t quite understand what happened and wonders what’s wrong with you. It is possible that in such a triggered state, you can get into an argument, blaming her without realizing what really caused the negative emotion in the first place.

Welcome to what is called a negative anchor.

We all have our own set of negative anchors. So the next time you find yourself falling into a state of anger, jealousy, anxiety and so on, trace yourself back to the moment when these feelings first began. Try to identify what the trigger was, whether it was the way a person spoke to you, the words they used, their actions and gestures or something else.

The point is not to try to ascertain who’s fault it was and then place blame but to just to be aware. Once you know what your triggers are, you can tell your partner that when he or she does this specific thing, it really makes you feel awful. Ask them to acknowledge this and be mindful not to create that trigger if it is not necessary. Your own personal awareness of your triggers is the first crucial step to collapsing them.

When you realize your negative reaction comes from a place of past hurt and emotion, you can try to resolve that memory rather than lashing out at someone and only adding to the heaviness of the trigger.

Everything you have been conditioned into can be collapsed through consistent awareness. You will find that this awareness will improve your relationships and make you more patient with yourself and those around you.

Finally, if the above takes too long there is a coaching process called “Collapse negative anchors” that can really help. It takes about 15 minutes to do and any NLP coach can help you.