Starting Soft

When you’re upset with your partner and feel a heated discussion coming on the
last thing on your mind is approaching them with kid gloves. However, that’s exactly what John and Julie Gottman tells us we should be doing. The Gottmans are world-renowned researchers who are famous for their work studying couples.
When you’re irritated or angry with your partner and know that you will be
addressing a sensitive topic, try taking a step back and approaching the
conversation with a “soft startup.” This simply means starting the sensitive
conversation in a kind and gentle way. The idea is that the tone at the onset of the
conversation will make a big difference in how the conversation plays out. The
Gottmans discovered that when you start off a conversation with accusations or
critical language, your partner is less likely to be receptive to what you’re saying.
The conversation will likely end as tense as it started. Makes sense, right? So, if
you’re feeling angry with your partner, try taking a long walk, take some deep
breaths and allow yourself to consider the soft startup before going into attack
mode.

Some other tips for acing those tense conversations:

  1. Start with the good – Voice appreciation. Take a moment to notice what your
    partner is doing right.
  2. “I” is better than “you” – When you start sentences with “I” you are less
    likely to seem critical, which will immediately put your partner on the
    defensive. Take ownership of how you’re feeling, instead of being critical and
    nasty to your partner. For example, you might say “I don’t feel like you are
    listening right now,” instead of “You never listen to me!” Put the focus on how
    you are feeling.
  3. Complain, don’t blame – Even if you are feeling that this is all your partner’s
    fault, being critical of your partner’s character will get you nowhere fast.
  4. Be polite – Try using phrases like “I would appreciate if…” or “It would mean
    a lot to me if…”
  5. Describe what is happening; try not to place judgment. – Describe your
    perspective on what is happening without placing blame or judgment. For
    example – “I have noticed that I’ve done the dishes every night this week“
    instead of “You’re lazy, you never clean up or do the dishes.”

Next time, try using the soft startup and see how it makes a difference in
communicating with your partner.

This blog post was written by Katie Golem, LSW, one of the couples counselors on staff at Artemis Counseling.