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Soft Startups: Communication Skill

When bringing up a problem to your partner, the first three minutes are crucial. Conversations that start with blame or negativity are likely to end poorly.

A soft startup sets a positive tone and helps resolve conflict. By starting a conversation calmly and respectfully, you and your partner are more likely to focus on the problem, rather than who’s to blame.

The soft startup technique was introduced by marriage therapist John Gottman, Ph.D. He recognized that gentle startups reduce defensiveness and contempt, which are detrimental to relationships.

The Soft Startups worksheet introduces this technique and describes how to use it to begin a productive conversation. The strategies covered in the handout include:

  • Saving the conversation for a calm moment
  • Using gentle body language and tone of voice
  • Using “I” statements
  • Describing the problem clearly
  • Being respectful

Soft startups help couples address problems without blame or negativity. With practice, this healthy communication technique can replace old, unhelpful habits.

To learn more about gentle startups, along with other valuable relationship skills, check out Gottman’s book:

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1. Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country's foremost relationship expert. Harmony.

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