Saturday, July 30, 2016

Soft Start Ups

"This isn't a criticism," were the first words out of my mouth.

Sara had left our daughter's fingernail clippers on the end-table in the living room, well within our daughter's reach, a perfect opportunity for her to "poke-her-eye-out".

My words and the short pause that followed were not meant to try to keep Sara happy, which would have been for my benefit instead of hers; rather they conveyed to her that my next words were not intended to be adversarial, which was to her benefit.

"The nail clippers were on the end table within our daughter's reach," were my next words.  Even these words were directed towards the situation, rather than what Sara had done, further helping to prevent escalating the situation.

Sara's response was something like, "Oh no, you're right! Thank you for getting them."  

Dr. John Gottman's research* time and time again reveals the presence of soft start-up's in good relationships that go the distance.  Soft start-up's aren't indirect, wishy-washy, or manipulative.  Quite the contrary, soft start-ups are very direct and to-the-point, yet they also tell the other party that our desire isn't to be adversarial.  Moreover, a soft start-up indicates that we want to connect with our partner instead of dividing.

When I initiate a soft start-up, I always have this mental picture in the back of my mind that I'm laying out an issue on the table, instead of hurling my words at her.  I even picture us side-by-side, looking the issue, instead of on opposite sides of the table.  This is a mental picture of partnership instead of confrontation.

By placing my words and the issue on the table, it gives Sara an opportunity (within reason) to enter conversation over the issue instead of having to deal with the extraordinarily complex act of juggling issues and insults at the same time.  

It also places me in a vulnerable position because it also allows her to talk about the issue in a way that I might not like.  She might not agree with my assessment of the situation.  Nevertheless, even if she disagrees with me, more often than not, she will also respond with me in a way that is equally non-adversarial.  

Soft start-up's, not always, but often beget soft-start up's in a cyclical pattern.  I think that soft start-up's fall under Gottman's category of the "Neutral Box" as well, which I discussed, two blog-entries ago.

*What Makes Love Last? and The Science of Trust by Gottman are good sources for more on soft start-ups and the "Neutral Box".  For a more practical and helpful tool for your marriage, read and work through the exercises in The Seven Principles of Marriage by Gottman.