By Amelia Tuttle
John Gottman, Ph.D. is the author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, a book which details research obtained using his “love lab” to observe and categorize couples’ interactions with each other. The results from this study provide a framework for communicating effectively with your partner or spouse. However, the concepts that Gottman talks about are not only relevant to romantic relationships, but friends, family, co-workers, and even the impatient person behind you in line at the post office. Gottman describes multiple “tools” for effective communication, including mind-reading, soft start-ups, and repair attempts.
Mind-Reading. We want to believe that the ones we love will just know what we need so we don’t have to ask for it. And sometimes this is true. But for the majority of our wants and needs, we cannot expect others to read our minds. We have to be able to verbalize what we need from others, because sometimes they just don’t know.
Soft Start-Ups. Conflict in any relationship needs to be addressed. How you address the conflict can make a big difference. Gottman describes two ways to approach a problem: harsh start-ups and soft start-ups. A harsh start-up is when you begin the discussion by blaming and accusing. “You didn’t take the trash out again. You always do this. You’re so disrespectful.” This may make the other person feel attacked and either shut down or become defensive and blame and accuse right back. A soft start-up is when the discussion begins with a statement about the behavior instead of the person using a calm and low tone. “I work really hard to make our home nice, and it makes me feel appreciated when you participate by taking out the trash.” Approaching the problem this way helps the other person to be empathetic and open to what you have to say.
Repair Attempts. Apologizing can be difficult, as it puts us in a vulnerable position. However, just because its hard to say sorry does not means that we do not feel regret and want to show it. Gottman calls this “making repair attempts.” After a fight, you may see your child draw you a picture or do chores without being asked. You may see your spouse giving an extra hug and kiss or letting you have control of the TV remote for the night. Whatever the action, its meant to send the message of “I’m sorry.” Noticing these repair attempts may be difficult at first, but the more we recognize them and honor them, the more positive interactions we are likely to have.
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