The Gottman’s conducted a six-year longitudinal study that predicted the likelihood of divorce from the first three minutes of a conflict. The couples who divorced tended to begin their discussion with a lot of negativity and blame. This, in and of itself, is not surprising. Surprisingly, they found a discussion will tend to end in a similar way to how it began. So if you start with a lot of criticism and blame, you will end up with a similar amount of negativity.
They found that when a conflict discussion starts softly, it has a much higher likelihood of finishing in a softer, happier way. The Gottman’s call this a ‘soft start-up’.
Compare, “Why didn’t you tidy the house as we agreed? You are so lazy!” to “Hey, I notice you haven’t had a chance to tidy the house yet, do you think you could have it done by 4 pm when my friends are coming?”
If you have tried the soft start-up version and find you are still met with negativity, Dr Gottman suggests saying something like, “I’m not trying to criticise you; I really care about you and want to be close to you.” This is a powerful way to show your partner your intention and to calm the situation down.
Next time you have a valid complaint, and you might be about to explode at your partner, try this out and see what happens.
Much love, Jen
Reference: Gottman research: “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” (1999).
Gottman, J. M., Carrere, S. (1999). Predicting divorce among newlyweds from the first three minutes of a marital conflict discussion. Pam Process; 38(3), 293-301. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10526767/