4 Steps To A Soft Startup For Complaints

soft start up to conflict

Transcript below from Marriage Steps Podcast Episode 5  on how to have a soft startup to avoid conflict.

Today I'm going to talk about harsh start-ups versus soft startups and this falls under marriage step number four, which is developing emotional attachment. Step four is all about developing emotional attachment and that includes working through conflict and building emotional intimacy. A harsh startup is when we are upset and we attack our spouse verbally. Maybe they've hurt our feelings, maybe they have offended us, maybe they haven't done something that we wanted them to do or maybe they haven't met our needs in a certain way, and so we are feeling upset and we verbally attack them. We bring up what we feel with anger, with hostility, and with accusations.That's called a harsh startup. Normally what's included in a harsh start-up is "you" statements, which are accusatory and a lot of "always" and "never" generalizations. Not surprisingly, our spouse on the receiving end of this gets defensive or they withdraw, one or the other. They either fight or they flight because no one likes feeling attacked. And then we get less of what we want because when we're upset, what we want is to feel validated. We want our partner to take ownership for their part and ultimately we want them to change the behavior they're doing that hurt or offended us. But when we have a harsh startup, we get the opposite of that. We get their defensiveness or we get their withdrawal. We definitely don't get long-term change. Harsh startups are very common but they're toxic. So the growth area for a lot of us is a soft startup and today's session is going to talk about how to do that? Before I get into a soft startup, it's important to buy into the importance of even dealing with conflict and dealing with hurt feelings when you have them. What happens when you get upset in your marriage? How do you behave? Most people either get critical and cranky or they shut down and withdraw. Most of us go in one way or the other, or it can be a bit of both. So this whole idea of not bring it up, don't let that be an option. Because when that's an option, it divides your relationship. That's why you can't have emotional closeness without constructively learning how to deal with conflicts. So the soft startup is a way to do that because it's going to give you skills and a tool in your toolbox for the next time you're upset in your marriage. You can pull out this tool and have some confidence that you can bring up the topic in a way that's gonna bring the results you desire. So here we go.

Step One

The first step in a soft startup is you have to think about how your spouse has improved in the area you're upset about? You may need to zoom out here and look at a broader scope of maybe over the last year, the last couple of years. How have they improved in the area you're frustrated with or you're hurt with? One example in my marriage is my wife and I had decided that we were going to have some sensual time on a Monday night. If you're not clear what that is, make sure to listen to episode three, which is all about the wedding cake model of sexual intimacy. So we had decided we were going to have some sensual time on a Monday night and it got too late and we weren't able to. And so she told me, "you know what, I have my dance class tomorrow night, but I'll come home early to make sure we have that physical connection time tomorrow night." So the next day I was looking forward to it. I couldn't wait for it but instead of her getting home early, she got home late and never mentioned it, which upset me. Initially I didn't bring it up. I didn't want to cause a conflict but because I wasn't bringing it up, I started withdrawing emotionally and I started getting critical and snippy with my comments. And so I knew I had to bring it up. When I finally did bring it up, I followed these steps that I developed called the soft startup. So, number one again is how have they improved? So I had to start with this with my wife. She's done much better over the past couple of years tracking our physical connection. It's not a natural need for her and often in our past she hasn't been very mindful of that connection. She also has sexual trauma in her past, which has made her avoid that connection in our marriage. But she has done a tremendous amount of improvement in that area and I needed to remember that. So what about for you? When your spouse upset you or hurt you, how have they improved in that area? You have to zoom out and capture the improvement.

Step Two

Step two is how may they be innocent? When we're upset with our partner, we immediately think it's all their fault and they had malicious intent and they did it on purpose. But most of the time that's not true. So step two is looking for the benefit of the doubt. Where could they possibly be innocent with how they upset you? Where was it not all their fault? It may still be partially their fault, but where were they possibly innocent? So for me with my wife the part that was not her fault or may have been contributing to her behavior was she's been extremely busy managing life and starting new projects recently. She had a lot on her mind so she was preoccupied. So it's important for me to recognize that this was not her intentionally trying to be malicious or insensitive. So what about for you when your spouse upset you, where were they possibly innocent? You have to capture that.

Step Three

Third is how did you possibly contribute to their hurtful behavior? What did you do that may have influenced their hurtful behavior to you? So when I thought about the example with my wife the way I possibly contributed is I had not been nurturing our emotional connection as well as I could have leading up to that night. Like most women, emotional connection is a prerequisite for her to feel open to the physical connection. I could have been doing a better job on that, which may have contributed to the physical connection not being on her mind Tuesday when she got home. So that's a possible contribution for me. What about you? How were you potentially contributing to your partner's hurtful behavior?

Step Four

After you get through the above three, then you're ready to express your complaint, which is step four. But there's some rules on how to do it. The basic rule is you have to first identify your tender underbelly. Anger is almost always a secondary emotion so underneath the anger usually is something tender, such as hurt, sad, fear, lonely, insecure, etc. When we express anger it makes our spouse get defensive. If we can look underneath the anger and identify our tender underbelly it's going to naturally pull at their heartstrings. For me, the tender underbelly I felt was sad that she forgot and lonely because we didn't have a physical connection. So on the surface was anger, but underneath my anger was sadness and loneliness. The other guideline here when you express your complaint is you're not allowed to say the word "you" because it's an accusation and you can't say the words "always" and "never" because they're generalizations. And they almost always go together. People say "you always" or  "you never" all the time and when your partner hears the word always or never they'll immediately go to the exception. "Oh yeah, well back in 1985 at 5:00 PM that didn't happen, did it?" They're going to go right back to that exact moment where whatever you're saying always or never about did not occur. So you have to avoid those words. So a sample complaint that I would have made in this situation would be, "it was said that we would have a physical connection Tuesday night but that didn't happen and it wasn't brought up and that really hurt my feelings and made me feel sad and lonely." I just said the entire complaint without saying the word you. And I didn't say always or never. So how would you express your complaint if you had to take the word you and always/never out and express your tender underbelly? What would that sound like for you?

So as you can see, this soft startup is going to take some time to gather your thoughts before you speak. And that's a good thing because when we're upset, we get impulsive and then we say things that are harsh. When you get upset take some time away to relax and gather your thoughts to come back with a soft startup. It may take five minutes or it may take several hours to gather your thoughts. How have they improved? How might they be innocent? How did you possibly contribute? What's your complaint? So when I put this together for my wife this is what it sounded like, "First of all, I just want you to know that I really appreciate how much you've improved with tracking our physical connection and being open to our physical connection. There's been huge strides and I really appreciate that. And I know this isn't all your fault because you've been super busy with a lot on your mind so I know what I'm about to share wasn't intended to be as hurtful as it felt. I also know that I may have contributed because I haven't been prioritizing our emotional connection as much as you desire recently and I know that's a huge need before the physical. So I know I may have contributed as well. But the other night when it was said we were going to have a physical connection the next night and when that didn't happen, it made me feel really sad and lonely." And there you have it! That's a soft startup and much different than if I were to have just attacked her verbally with a harsh startup. And when I used the soft startup she responded really well. She immediately took ownership for her part and was not defensive because she did not feel attacked and we were able to discuss it. Most likely that's how your spouse is going to respond as well. So you have a choice. This upcoming week when you get upset think about these concepts. I encourage you to try the soft startup and see what a difference it can make, not only for how you feel, but how your partner responds. Also, keep in mind if you don't start with how they have improved, how they may be innocent, and how you may have contributed you can guarantee if will be the first thing out of their mouth.

Dr. Wyatt Fisher

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How could having a soft start-up change things in your marriage?


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