Research shows that a soft startup is a key indicator as to how well couples do in their relationship . Gottman was able to predict with over 90% accuracy whether a couple would stay together or divorce after watching them have a discussion together for only 3 minutes, so he has a pretty good idea of what elements help a relationship and what things can hurt it. One of the elements he suggests as being a key part to helping couples have a happy, lasting relationship is the soft startup.
The Soft Startup
It includes avoiding blame and including praise and will allow you approach difficult topics in a way that will help to facilitate conversation rather than drive your spouse away. It is the approach a spouse uses when he or she needs to talk about something that is potentially conflictual or difficult for the couple to discuss.
By talking in terms of “I feel” rather than “You did,” you can avoid blaming your partner and thus, keep him or her from feeling defensive. When you may be tempted to say, “You are such a slob! Why can’t you ever pick up your clothes?” you could try “I have a hard time when our bedroom is messy. I think we should work on trying to be cleaner and more organized.” By using an “I” statement, you can approach the problem by focusing on how something is impacting you, rather than throwing all of the responsibility for the problem on your partner.
You might also try starting the conversation by pointing out something you appreciate about your partner. Doing so will help him or her feel like the efforts that are made are noticed and appreciated, which leads to a sense of validation. This will help keep the problem in perspective for both of you, and allow you and your partner to avoid defensiveness and withdrawal.
Talk about your feelings
If you get stumped as to how to start a difficult conversation with a soft startup, you can begin by talking about your feelings. You could start the conversation by being open with your partner about your worries or fears regarding the conversation before it has even begun. For example, you could start by explaining that there is something you would like to talk about, but you are a bit nervous because you don’t want to start a fight. Or you might say that there is something that has been weighing on your mind, and you would like to address it, but you aren’t sure how to start. Doing this will help your partner realize how important this is for you and help soften him or her because they will see that this is hard for you. It gives him or her an opportunity to help you, inviting him or her to engage and be involved.
For more ideas on how to improve the communication in your relationship, take the RELATE Assessment and get a comprehensive assessment on your current relationship health with helpful ideas on how to improve your relationship in many areas.