At the Gottman Institute they have studied thousands of couples and have sorted them into the Masters and the Disasters. The Masters have learned and practiced healthy relationship skills. They still argue, but they have learned ways to deal with the real issues, explain their needs and desires, and hear their mates so they can come to good, workable compromises. Their first step in an argument is a gentle start-up.
The first 3 minutes of when a problem is raised usually determines how well the conflict will be resolved. Gottman says, ”Conversations invariably end on the same note that they begin.” So, the gentle start-up has the best chance of finding a good resolution.
In order to have a gentle start-up you must think before exploding. This is much more possible if you deal with disagreements one at a time and have not stockpiled them.
Plan a good time to discuss what is bothering you, a time that works well for both of you. Don’t start an argument on an empty stomach or when you’re too tired to think.
The initial statement may be a complaint, but it should not include any blame. It should focus on a specific problem you want to discuss. It may address the other person’s behavior, but not his or her perceived character flaws.
Use statements that start with “I” or “we” instead of “you.” Using “you” statements puts our mate on the defensive. When we use “I” statements we are more likely to voice our need or desire in a way they can hear and respond to. Using “we” statements are even better as they show how we can work together to solve the problem.
Be sure to include appreciation and gratitude. This keeps the discussion on a positive track. Remembering ways our spouse has helped or behaved well in the past, is a great way to ask for more.
Be prepared to tell your spouse clearly what you want or don’t want. No one is good at reading minds. If you cannot state what you desire clearly, you are not ready to talk about the issue.
Bathe the whole start-up with kindness. Keep to one issue and use polite words and tone for the best results.
For example: “I miss the little gifts you used to bring me. They made me feel special, even when they didn’t cost much money. Lately, I feel like you don’t remember me when you are away from home.”
Gentle Start-up Exercise
Make this a team exercise, not an excuse to criticize or complain.
Below are a list of common argument starters. First think of a wrong way to start a discussion of the problem. Then think of a soft start-up to discuss the problem.
- Changing plans without consulting your spouse.
- Waiting until just before bedtime to bring up a complaint.
- Saying something that you know is hurtful.
- Comparing your spouse to others.
- Rehearsing past mistakes.
- Attacking your spouse when angry.
Need some help in softening these harsh start-ups?
- Remember some success in the past in this trouble area. Affirm and appreciate any past success or progress in this area.
- Replace “never” and “always” with a statement about the current problem not the past.
- Think about what the “real” issue is instead of poking at several issues.
- Eliminate character assassination or name calling.
- Find ways to use “I” statements instead of “You” statements.
Questions or Comments:
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