Ask anyone that is in an intimate relationship and they‘ll tell you that on more than one occasion, they’ve had a regrettable incident with their partner. Snarky comments, guilt trips that would’ve even made our grandmothers cringe, come backs with a punch and more…we’ve all been there and almost always we feel worse than we did prior to the argument starting. We often ask ourselves questions like “How did I get here in this moment?” “Did I accomplish anything that I had hoped in that conversation?” “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?!”
A better question that we might pose to ourselves is this: “If I had been having that conversation with a friend or colleague, what would have been different?”
It doesn’t take a trained observer to realize the difference. In most cases we speak to friends and colleagues in a much different way. We purposely phrase questions and statements in a soft manner, making sure to take the other person’s feelings into account. We are socially conditioned to treat those living OUTSIDE of our home with a great deal of respect and kindness. In a recent training with Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute and co-creator of the Gottman Couples Method, I heard the best example of how this plays out in our everyday lives. If you invite a friend over for dinner and they leave their soggy umbrella in your living room, what do you do? I imagine that you’d call or text your friend and say something along the lines of “Hey, I think you accidentally left your umbrella at my house…would you like me to bring it to you tomorrow or would you like to come back to get it?” End of story. Now, if you walk into the living room and see that your significant other left a wet umbrella laying in the floor, your response might be a bit different….”Is there any particular reason you left that umbrella in the floor???” “Are you waiting for me to clean that mess up or are you going to handle it?” “You never pick up after yourself…who do you think I am? Your parent?” You get the picture. It’s the perfect recipe for a regrettable incident.
Why do conversations that start in a gentler manner tend to end more positively? It’s all in the research. Studies indicate that we can predict the outcome of a conversation purely based on how the conversation starts. If you have a gentle beginning, you’re likely to experience a gentle middle and end. In fact, Dr. Gottman completed studies that led to him being able to predict the outcome of a conversation with 96 percent accuracy by just observing the first 3 minutes of a couple’s interaction. Conversations that start off with a punch are likely to result in emotional bruising. So, take a deep breath and remember to approach your partner with the same softness you’d use to approach a friend…it’s worth it.