When you fly, do you pay close attention to the aircraft's take-off? Maybe not. But don't neglect your take-off — when approaching your partner with a grievance or complaint.
Marriage researcher John Gottman calls it your start-up.
Studies reveals that couples who get their tough conversations and arguments "off the ground" poorly face a surprisingly high likelihood of divorce. What gets them into trouble? The harsh start-up. It's when the opening lines of a complaint feature a hostile tone and raised voice, put-downs, disdain or contempt for a spouse's traits — all the ways we trigger hurt and fear, along with the defensiveness that follows.
What's better? The soft start-up. It's the kinder, gentler way to raise the curtain on a conversation that can, without care, go quickly sour.
Here are some ways to assure a soft start-up:
"The research shows," writes Gottman, "that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note ... A harsh startup simply dooms you to failure. So if you begin a discussion that way, you might as well pull the plug, take a breather, and start over."*
*The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," by John M. Gottman. Three Rivers Press: New York, 1999.