Gentle Start Up
As Dr. Gottman says, 80% of the outcome of a conversation depends on how you start it.
I’ve been there, haven’t you? I am sitting at the kitchen table looking at my husband, and then, out of the blue I blurt out something like “you never ask me about my day, you just don’t”.
Now let’s slow down for a moment….
What was that? What was I trying to do here?
Chances are, if I start like this something else is going on.
Maybe it’s about him, but maybe not even a little bit.
Maybe it’s work, or kids, or I’ve been stressed or hangry(hungry and angry)… or a little bit of everything.
What am I feeling? - maybe sad or overwhelmed or stressed.
What I wanted - to talk, to share, to feel connected, supported. Maybe I simply wanted to feel better by sharing.
What did I get? What was that - it certainly wasn’t an ask, or a demand, or even an invitation to talk. It was an attack.
What do we do when we are attacked - we defend ourselves.
In milliseconds the nervous system gets the body ready to fight. What kind of response did I think I would get?
I’m lucky my husband is a very patient man, he’s also very wise and he knows me well. He sees the signs. He gets me. He lets me get away with it cause he looks for the real thing. He sees me.
He also knows how to disarm me.
He jokes “there’s got to be something wrong with me, I’m a sick sick man”.
And then I laugh, and I admit I was being a nonsense. We hug and I tell him all about what is really going on inside me, and he listens and hears. Did I tell you, I’m a lucky gal?
But It could’ve been so much worse.
It easily could have been the beginning of a fight or a difficult conversation where one person defends, and one attacks; No one gets heard and neither gets what they needed.
So, what do we do about this? Because you’ve been there, haven’t you? I couldn’t be the only one.
Maybe you can take a breath, listen, take a moment to check in - with yourself that is. What am I feeling right now, and what do I really need? What can I take responsibility for?
If I’m hangry, maybe I need to eat before starting the conversation.
Some use the acronym HALT (Hungry, angry, lonely, tired) - as a reminder to stop and check in.
If I need connection - maybe I could start like “I’m feeling off and edgy and I’d love to talk and share and maybe it’ll help me process, and I’d really love a hug right now.
Maybe it’s time to talk to a friend to find some clarity instead of “dumping” it all on your significant other, especially if they are also overwhelmed or simply oblivious (because as much as I would love this, I have to concede…he is not a mind-reader).
Maybe it’s time for self-care (I have so many ideas, but this needs to wait till the next post)
So give it a try, next time you look across the table and want to take a piece out of the one you love, take a deep breath, take a moment, and ask yourself “What’s really going on?”. And when you are ready to talk, soften your start up.
Examples of a soft start up
Harsh start up: You are never there.
Softened alternative. I missed you, I would love to spend time with you
Harsh start up: You never ask me about my day
Softened start up: I’ve been lonely and overwhelmed today and I’d love to talk about it
Harsh start up: All you do is watch hockey when you come home
Softened start up: I love it when you spend time with me. I miss that.