'Soft Startup': The Fighting Tactic That Could Actually Help Your Relationship

We bet you never thought that actually arguing with your significant other would help your relationship improve. Yet, this is the exact science behind the soft startup technique which promises to help resolve your fights quicker, and in the long run, even help prevent breakups or divorce.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, founders of the Gottman Institute, propounded this theory based on a 1999 study titled "Predicting divorce among newlyweds from the first three minutes of a marital conflict discussion," published in the journal called Family Process. The study determined that the approach adopted by fighting couples in the first three minutes of an argument could indicate if that couple will have a lasting and healthy relationship or end their relationship in time.

That said, the Gottmans emphasized the adoption of a slightly different approach in the first three minutes of an argument, as it may help with overall anger management and reduce the chances of negative fallout. If a discussion begins with aggression, it is highly likely to end on a bad note. Hence, if you blame your partner at the outset of a conversation instead of starting soft, you are much more likely to rile them up and lose the chance of engaging in a healthy discussion that encourages resolution.

How to use the soft startup technique

The methodology behind the soft startup technique is a simple one. When you open a conversation with a neutrally worded complaint instead of criticizing or blaming the other person, the chances of the other person listening to you are greater. In this situation, they are less likely to feel attacked and become immediately defensive, which may defeat the entire purpose of the argument. A softer approach allows them to actually take account of what you are trying to say.

Practically speaking, this would amount to saying something like, "I feel frustrated that the snow hasn't been shoveled from our front yard in the past three days", instead of attacking the person with, "You had promised to shovel the snow off our front yard yesterday. Why haven't you done it yet?"

Though the messaging is the same between the soft approach and the harsher one, its delivery makes it a lot more palatable for the person on the other side. With a soft startup, both parties can participate in a conversation without feeling attacked or judged by someone else.

Why the soft startup technique can help

The principles on which the soft startup technique rests ensure that it is easy to implement and leads to positive results. One only has to be mindful of their interactions going forward. For this, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Do not play the blame game. Instead, think of couching your complaint generically. You shouldn't slip in snide and judgmental remarks during the conversation or express blame through body language by rolling your eyes or standing aggressively. While explaining your problem to your partner, be descriptive and assertive about your point of view but do not force your opinion or pre-fixed notion onto them, believing that to be the gospel truth.

Drs. Gottman also highlight the importance of making statements that focus on the "I" instead of the "you," as this leaves room for a fruitful conversation to take place. As both parties are equally involved in the situation, by focusing on the "I" you will not sound as critical of them and will leave the door open for engagement. Remember that your tone is as important as the content of your message. Be respectful and you will earn their respect in return. Further, being soft isn't easy when you are feeling upset, but it is infinitely worse to bottle your feelings up and then explode on your partner. So, calmly expressing yourself can help your relationship in the long run.