I need a gentle start up in the morning. Ideally, a cuppa in bed helps do the trick. Without the advantage of a cup of tea, I am a great procrastinator about getting out of bed. This has the ‘run on’ effect of being late for work, and as a consequence my whole day is one big long catch up. Fortunately I have found another gentle start-up strategy that works for me; by setting my alarm 30 minutes earlier than I need to get up, I am able to give myself permission to stay in bed that little bit longer. Knowing myself as I do, giving myself plenty of time to have my breakfast and shower before I leave the house is all part of the gentle start-up plan. The outcome of this gentle start-up is that I feel relaxed, positive and confident about my day.
Typical of many couples, I am a late riser while my partner is an early riser. Whilst I do not consider myself ‘old’, I often remind myself of an old car that must be approached with encouragement and care first thing in the morning to ensure that its temperamental engine fires up; a gentle start-up. My partner works on much the same principle with me, and I very much appreciate the benefit of a hot cup of tea in bed to ease me into the day. We have enjoyed many caravan holidays together where, somewhere on the Nullarbor in the cold dark of early morning, my husband has practiced the art of the gentle start up by ensuring that I have a cup of tea in bed whilst he is preparing the caravan for travel again. It is a win/win situation.
The principle of the gentle start up can be transferred to the way couple’s dialogue with each other, particularly around ‘tricky’ topics. The majority of couples are very aware of the issues that create conflict and ultimately distance us from each other. How do you approach these situations? Do you avoid raising the issue in the hope that it will miraculously resolve itself, or do you insist on talking about it even when your partner reacts in a negative manner?
The gentle start-up, introduced by John and Julie Gottman (PhD) in their ground-breaking research on couple relationships, describes an approach to these challenging conversations that is likely to be less threatening to your partner and can move a couple to a position of win/win. Typically when you are anxious about raising an issue, it fails to be communicated in a calm and kind way, instead sounding harsh and critical. It is this harsh start-up that reinforces the ‘stuck-ness’ in our conversations and therefore reinforces the problem. A gentle start up begins by you speaking in terms of “I” instead of “you”.
A gentle start up – “I feel really upset when the dishes are left on the sink overnight.”
A harsh start-up – “You are so lazy. You can’t even so a simple thing like wash the dishes before you go to bed.”
Speaking from the position of what you feel, state the fact/s of the situation and finally, what you need or desire for the situation to be corrected.
Remember that it is okay to feel what you feel about a situation- the problem is often in the way we express it. Speak to your partner calmly and with respect, and invite them to respond with their own feelings or alternative suggestions.
A gentle start up – “I feel really upset when the dishes are left on the sink overnight. Would you be able to clean up before we go to bed each night, or do we need to come up with a different approach to get the job done? What do you think?”
In a recent blog I introduced the principle of Accepting the Influence of Your Partner; being open and accepting of your partner’s thoughts and opinions rather than shutting down in the face of them. The gentle start-up works ‘hand in hand’ with accepting the influence of your partner. When you approach your partner using the gentle start up, their fight/flight system is likely to be disarmed, allowing them to listen to what you have to say without feeling criticised or humiliated.
Like all new skills, the gentle start-up must be practiced consistently for it to be effective. Talking to your partner about the technique before a situation presents itself may assist to raise your awareness as a couple so that you work together to use these techniques effectively.
Look out for the next blog in the series Keys to A Happy Relationship: Effective Repairs During Conflict
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