In the fall I wrote an article about the importance of allowing our partner to change our mind, or influence our perspective. In this article I shared briefly about the work of Dr. John Gottman, a well-known specialist in the science of relationships. He lists a series of “principles” that are necessary for relationships to be successful – accepting influence being one of them.
One of the stunning parts of Dr. Gottman’s research is the ability to identify several factors in how a couple fights that allow him to predict how successful a couple will be. He contends, as do many marriage therapists, that HOW you fight is more important that HOW OFTEN you fight.
Dr. Gottman identifies six “signs” that a couple is at risk for future challenges in their relationship. The first of these signs is what he calls the “Harsh Start-Up.”
A “Harsh Start-Up” is when a conversation or disagreement starts with a rough edge. Some examples are criticism, sarcasm or teasing, body language that is full of contempt, eye rolling, yelling, blaming, blows to your partner’s character, etc.
Dr. Gottman writes that 96% of the time you can determine the success of a conversation within the first three minutes. If a conversation has a harsh start-up, it is nearly certain to fail.
If we’re feeling hurt, or angry, or triggered, softening our entry into a conversation might be last on our list but it truly makes an enormous difference in whether or not we’re going to feel heard or get our needs met.
If we want our partner to hear what we say and take it to heart, it is our responsibility to set them up for success, which means not immediately putting them on the defensive by coming in too hard.
This concept applies in our parenting as well. If we want our child to hear our guidance, we have to put our wagging finger and mad voice away and approach more gently. Otherwise they won’t hear our teaching, only that they’re in trouble.
Yes, we’re all going to vent and express frustration, and sometimes we’re going to go in too hard. I’d bet there isn’t a soul reading (or writing) this that hasn’t brought a “harsh start-up” to their relationship or their parenting at some point.
The trick is to realize that once it’s headed down that road, it’s not a constructive conversation any longer and it’s time to pull the plug. Re-group, take a breath, and start again….this time more softly.