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Going From 'We don't communicate' to pro-communicators

By Lucas Kompare, LPC, NCC

If I had a nickel for every time I heard from a couple, “Lucas, we are here because we don’t

communicate” I could probably buy Disney. All too often in our relationships we forget how

to communicate effectively and respectfully. Some of us have never had good role models

when it comes to communication; maybe our parents had a hostile relationship, maybe we

dated people who were emotionally stunted, or maybe we have simply become so comfortable with each other that we don’t put in that effort to ask our partner how they are feeling anymore. Regardless of what the reason is, the good news is that everything can be learned or re-learned, even healthy communication. In this blog series, I will introduce skills that greatly improve interpersonal communication between yourself and your partner; starting with Gentle Start Ups.

When I am feeling prepared to converse with my partner, I want to set myself up for success and as little hostility as possible. I can do this by making sure that I utilize what John Gottman has coined a Gentle Start Up.

What this means is that I am approaching my partner with a non-aggressive stance and a gentle tone of voice, speaking from a place of respect, assertiveness, and calm (Gottman & Silver, 2018). Doing so can provide myself with a good chance at not saying something I can’t take back or give my partner ammunition to potentially get defensive. The opposite action would be what we call a Harsh Start Up. This is when we speak from a place of anger, blame, or criticism, which then creates confrontation and hostility (Gottman & Silver, 2018).

First, let me show you what a Harsh Start Up may look like. Let’s say I approached you after a long day at work and said, “What the hell?! You said you would be home an hour ago! Where have you been?! I made dinner for us and now it is cold! You never follow through on your promises!!” How do you think you would feel? Probably attacked, cornered, or defensive. It is certainly understandable that I really want you to be home on time so that I would know when to have dinner ready, but if I tell you that in this way, I can’t really expect you to feel good about me yelling at you, or expect that you would want to tell me when you’re coming home in the future.

Now, let's reimagine this scenario if I were to use a Gentle Start Up: “Hey honey if you know you’re going to be late coming home could you please let me know? It really helps me because I will know when to have dinner ready.” Much more relaxed, much more effectively direct. I am looking to not promote confrontation; I am trying to promote discussion for change. I may be very upset about my partner coming home late, but if I utilize a Harsh Start Up, all I am doing is putting my partner down; all that will do is shut them off and potentially start an argument.

I am not saying that utilizing Gentile Start Ups is easy; especially because we must also work

through our emotions in the moment. There also may be a long history of your partner letting you down or engaging in the same behaviors that you asked them to change a million times. I completely understand this frustration. What I am suggesting is just try it. Try to engage in Gentle Start Ups with your partner. You may be surprised at how a whole dynamic can change if we just start a conversation on the right foot.

If you and your partner could use more guidance on implementing this and other communication techniques, reach out to us today to schedule a therapy appointment.

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2018). The seven principles for making marriage work. Cassell


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