I can’t stop recommending the “softened start-up” technique for communication to my clients! Based on the work of John Gottman, this incredible tool has helped so many clients to finally start communicating effectively with their partners. I find it to be effective, disarming, and perfect for addressing hard topics without feelings of emotional heaviness and dread.
“Fighting” Smarter in Your Relationship
The softened start-up can help to turn what would normally evolve into a heated argument into a productive conversation. Start with an actual complaint that is upsetting or concerning you. Let’s use an example where you wish your partner would be more affectionate with you.
Under ordinary circumstances, you might wait until a day when you’re feeling especially overlooked or neglected to blow up at your partner with an accusation that they “never show you affection.” Your partner automatically goes into defensive mode. Depending on their attachment style and family history, they may not even be capable of hearing the words you are saying. They are only feeling the brunt of an attack.
Ready to try it a different way? Using the softened start-up, you can express your desire without laying the blame on your partner. Here’s a look:
- Today was brutal. I might really need some hugs tonight if you have time.
- I think we both had busy days. It would be great if we could find some time later to just relax on the couch together.
- I was thinking lately how much I miss those times when we used to cuddle.
This gentler tone can be used for all sorts of topics. Is housework a big source of conflict in your home? Try some of these lines instead of accusing your partner of never helping out around the house:
- If we both work on the dishes tonight, we can probably fit in a movie before bed. Is there anything on Netflix you’ve been dying to watch?
- I noticed that housework has really gotten away from us lately. Do you think it would be helpful if we started assigning specific tasks to both of us?
- Do you want to look at some recipes that I saved on my phone? I was thinking we might be able to eat healthier and save money if we take turns for meal nights.
Can you see how that turned an issue from a “you” problem into an “us” opportunity? This approach isn’t about shying away from the hard talks. It’s about making them productive.
The Golden Rules of Asking Without Fighting
It’s important to choose the right time to activate a softened start-up. Approach your partner when they are relaxed, available, and not distracted. Here are some other golden rules for doing the softened start-up right:
- State a complaint without blaming.
- Try to say “I” instead of you when bringing up the problem. Give them the sense this is something you can solve together because it’s nobody’s “fault.”
- State your observations without adding judgment.
- Put a positive spin on things. Mention what there is to gain!
- Be polite and receptive.
- Give praise where it’s due. When you’re done, thank them for listening to you.
The softened start-up doesn’t just help to prevent fights. It can also help you to finally get what you want from your partner! The truth is that most people aren’t capable of listening if they feel they are being attacked.