I’m reprinting a brief article I received from the Gottman Institute about how to approach your partner with a complaint without the complaint getting experienced as a criticism, or an attack on their character. This “softened startup” is an approach I’ve been advocating for years to couples, but I thought it was very succinctly captured in the Gottman’s article. Here it is:
In the last Marriage Minute, we talked about Criticism, the first of the Four Horsemen. To review, criticism is an attack on your partner’s character or personality, often starting with “you always” or “you never.” Or you can be more direct with criticism: “You are so lazy,” or, “That’s just like you, finding any excuse not to spend time with me.”
Fortunately, it’s reversible.
The antidote to Criticism is what we call The Softened Start-Up.
To soften your start-up means to approach a conversation with how you’re feeling about the situation, not your perception of your partner’s flaws or behavior. There’s a difference between complaints and criticism. A complaint addresses a specific instance or action and acknowledges how it made you feel.
A good formula to remember is:
“I feel [your feeling]”
- left out
“About [the specific behavior, not a pattern of behavior]”
- “when I’m not invited to virtual happy hours with your friends,”
- “when you don’t read the articles I send you,”
- “when we don’t have dinner together.”
“And I need [state the positive need].”
- “to know what your preferred evening schedule looks like and how I can be a part of it,”
- “to feel like you’re interested in the things I care about,”
- “to spend some quality time together this week.”
Practice softening your start-up.
You can even practice together with your partner, giving advice to an imaginary couple who struggles with criticism. For example, how would you soften “You always leave dirty dishes in the sink”?
You can also apply this formula to positive things—”I feel cared for when you check in to see how my day is going!”
In this 30 minute episode I explore the frequently experienced issue of standoffs or impasses in marriage – those times when couples get “locked in” to a negative sequence when nobody feels heard or acknowledged, and nothing gets resolved. These “lock-in’s” can be about critical issues of importance or minor things, but the feelings of frustration, anger, and helplessness generally feel quite awful for each spouse.
Tune in to get some handy tools this couples therapist can teach you to interrupt the impasses, manage yourself more calmly, and move forward with your spouse in a more conciliatory manner.
Join me and have to option to be live on the air with questions or comments by calling toll-free 877-497-9046.
If you can’t make the live podcast you can stream it anytime at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager.
In this 15 minute episode I’ll share my insights and experiences with the issue of cheap forgiveness – what it is, and how and when it may be adaptive as the best possible “solution” to emotional injury, vs. what the costs may be to the person bestowing it and to the relationship. I’ll give a mini “life lesson” on the larger issue of forgiveness and what the options may be when an offender isn’t repentant or available to a process of true repair around an emotional injury.
To join the episode live call 877-497-9046 to come on the air with your questions, comments or story. If you can’t make the live podcast you can listen to the recording afterward anytime at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager
However you tune in, don’t miss this important episode!
It’s been a long haul getting here – months and months of training, lots of cases, loads of reading, and plenty of constructive feedback from the experts at The Doherty Relationship Institute, but now I am officially certified as a Discernment Counselor! (And, as far as I know, I’m also the only clinician in New Hampshire trained to do this delicate, important work).
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this type of treatment Discernment Counseling is a form of brief treatment specially designed for couples on the brink of divorce. These couples come into the work with “mixed agendas” – one spouse more hopeful about staying married, ready to do the work of repair, and the other spouse “leaning out,” not very hopeful, often feeling a high degree of ambivalence about moving forward together, and frequently feeling out of energy for “trying” anymore.
Discernment Counseling is a brief intervention for these couples, (one to five sessions only), with the goal of helping these spouses make a clear, confident decision about a direction for the relationship – either stay in the marriage as it is, move toward a divorce, or do the work of reconciliation and repair for a period of up to six months to get a sense of possibilities for the marriage. Couples who participate in this process avoid the financial and time waste of engaging in a half-hearted couples therapy, which often happens when one spouse hasn’t yet decided if they “want to try.”
So, if you feel that this form of treatment may be suitable for you, go to the Discernment Counseling page of my website, http://susanlager.com/discernment-counseling/, check it out, and call me at 603-431-7131 if you’d like to schedule a session.