The Soft Start-Up

The Soft Start-Up Communication Skill

The soft start up is an essential communication skill for couples. The idea behind this technique is to introduce a conflict without attacking, blaming, or interrogating your partner. And it's one of the best ways to diffuse defensiveness.

More couples & relationships blogs

What is Soft Start-Up?

The soft start up is a guide for how to talk to your romantic partner (or anyone really) that can reduce the likelihood of an argument. Arguments often start from blaming, judging, criticism, and having an aggressive, accusatory, or passive aggressive tone.

One of the main effects that I've noticed between a harsh start-up and soft start-up is that the harsh start-up migth send your message quicker, but it's often full of offensive language. A phrase like “why is the sink full of dirty dishes when you’ve had the day off from work, are you a slob?” certainly gets a message across, butit’s jampacked with accusation, passive aggression, criticism and contempt.

On the other hand, the same statement said with a soft start-up might go something like, “when I come home to a sink full of dishes at the end of my workday I feel frustrated because it’s helpful to have the space clear when I am doing meal preparation. Could you please make sure the sink is clear of dishes on your day off before I come home from work?” This gets the point across and it’s even more personal as the speaker shares their vulnerable feelings. And honestly, it might take some getting used to.

Book a Couples Therapy Session

Rules for Soft Start-Up

Here are the rules for a soft start-up:

Complain, don’t blame - This is the antidote for criticism. Complaining is a way to state your emotion and frustration without putting responsibility on the other person.

Blaming: "You are so lazy!"

Complaining: "I'm really bothered that the sink is full of dirty dishes before dinner."

Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements - "I" statements share your feelings and make a specific request without blaming your partner or using the word “you.”

"You" statement: "You don't seem to care about how I'm doing!"

"I" statement: "Let's put a date night on the calendar. I'm feeling emotionally disconnected."

Describe instead of judge - Speak objectively rather than targeting your partner (criticism or contempt).

Judging: "You never help me clean the home!"

Describing: "It seems like I've been doing most of the cleaning this week."

Be specific instead of general - Make a specific request instead of a general comment.

General: "The bathroom is a mess!"

Specific: "Would you be able to clean the countertop and bathtub this week?"

Be polite instead of aggressive - Speak with a polite tone rather than an antagonistic tone to diffuse defensiveness.

Aggressive: "What's your problem?"

Polite: "You seem down today. I'd love to hear what's on your mind."

Use an appreciative instead of entitled tone - Use appreciation to encourage behaviour that you want to have repeated. An entitled tone signals passive aggressive and contempt, which is damaging to the relationship.

Entitled: "How come you never..."

Appreciative: "I loved when you used to prepare lunch on the weekends. Could we have a picnic with tea sandwiches on Saturday?"

By following these guidelines, you can learn to have affective conversations that get you what you want and avoid relationship wreckage. Even if your partner is not receptive, keep trying to use the soft start-up. Introducing this new habit has the power to change the way communication happens in your relationship. It's a win-win!

Suggested reading:

The Four Horsemen of Relationships
Online Couples Therapy

The Gottman Institute

Ready to learn this skill?

Book your appointment today.