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There are many different couples therapy techniques that we use here at Flourish Psychology. One approach, called the “Gottman Method,” is a popular and well researched couples counseling system that is designed around improving communication, building trust, and identifying ways to change together.

There are many components to the Gottman Method, but today, let’s talk about something called the “Harsh Start Up.” It is a conversational technique that some couples implement that the Gottman Method identifies as essentially “guaranteed to end in negativity.”

Harsh Start Ups and Negative Conversation Outcomes

Harsh startups occur when, within only a few moments of conversation, a partner uses harsh criticism, sarcasm, contempt, or other negative conversational tactics. Some examples of this include:

  • Always/Never Complaints – “You never ask me how my day is.”
  • Sarcasm – “Oh yeah, I’m **sure** you were going to get to it.”
  • Passive Aggressive Complaining – “This house is always a mess when I’m not here.”
  • Blame – “You are the reason his homework is never completed.”
  • One Sided – “You are why I am like this.”

Timing also plays a role in a harsh start up. For example, if a person comes home from work happy to see their partner, and the partner responds with saying “as usual, you forgot to take the trash out” in a way that sounds like they have contempt, the conversation immediately goes somewhere negative.

Gottman found that harsh start ups create almost immediate problems:

  • They lead to defensiveness, shutting down, and frustration.
  • They escalate, often leading to further fighting and arguments.
  • They are very unlikely to lead to change or a solution.

Harsh start ups are not always due to some partner’s flaws, or a sign of some ill purpose. Sometimes, harsh start ups are a response to frustration, or because someone feels unheard. Nevertheless, research shows that starting a conversation in this way is essentially doomed to failure, and new ways of conversing are necessary in order to have more productive conversations.

What Are Gentle Start Ups?

Gentle startups are an approach that is far more likely to lead to a successful conversation. Gentle startups tend to utilize “I” statements, avoid contempt, sarcasm, or blame, and are brought on at times that make sense for a conversation. Examples of gentle startups include:

  • “I’ve been feeling really lonely recently and I would like us to have a date night.”
  • “I like cooking for the family, but I would really like it if you were able to take on a few nights of cooking, as I’ve been a bit overwhelmed.”
  • “I saw we were late on the rent this month. Is everything okay?”
  • “Do you think we could schedule time next weekend to clean the house? I’m feeling like the clutter is starting to get to me.”

Gentle startups are less aggressive and reduce defensiveness. They allow for a more natural conversational flow. That is not to say that every gentle startup will be a successful conversation, but learning to speak to each other in this way can reduce arguments and help promote better and more productive talks in order to work out the problems the couples face.

See a Gottman Therapist Today – Flourish Psychology

Flourish Psychology offers several couples counseling techniques, including Gottman therapy. If you feel like your relationship could improve, give us a call and let’s start a conversation about the best way to help you both thrive as a couple.

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