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Individual and Couples Counselling in Calgary

  • Writer's pictureRovena Magidin

Gentle Start Up

"80% of the outcome of a conversation depends on how you start it" says Dr. Gottman, one of the most influential couples therapists in the US.

What does he mean by that? Let's consider an example.

I'll make it personal, because I've done it. I am sitting at the kitchen table looking at my husband, and then, out of the blue I blurt out something like “You never ask me about my day, you just don’t. It's like you don't even care anymore”.

Now let’s slow down for a moment….

What was that? What was I trying to do here?

Chances are, if I start like this something else is going on.

Maybe it’s about him, but maybe not even a little bit.

Maybe it’s work, or kids, or I’ve been stressed or hangry(hungry and angry)… or a little bit of everything.

What am I feeling? - maybe sad or overwhelmed or stressed.

What I wanted - to talk, to share, to feel connected, supported. Maybe I simply wanted to feel better by sharing.

Then why would I start like that? What was that - it certainly wasn’t an ask, or a demand, or even an invitation to talk. It was an attack.

What do we do when we are attacked - we defend ourselves.

In milliseconds the nervous system gets the body ready to fight. What kind of response did I think I would get?

It could be something like this:

Me: “You never ask me about my day, you just don’t. It's like you don't even care anymore”.

Him: (Defensively) "What got into you? It's not like I don't care, but you never seem interested in what I have to say either, you only talk about your work."

I’m lucky my husband is a very patient man, he’s also very wise and he knows me well. He sees the signs. He gets me. He looks for the real thing. He sees me.

He also knows how to disarm me.

Me: “You never ask me about my day, you just don’t. It's like you don't even care anymore”.

He jokes “There’s got to be something wrong with me, I’m a sick sick man”.

And then I laugh, and I admit I was being a nonsense. Now I can I tell him all about what is really going on inside me, and he listens and hears me. Did I tell you, I’m a lucky gal?

But It could’ve been so much worse.

It easily could have been the beginning of a fight or a difficult conversation where one person defends, and one attacks; No one gets heard and neither gets what they needed.

So, what do we do about this? Because you’ve been there, haven’t you? I couldn’t be the only one.

Maybe you can take a breath, listen, take a moment to check in - with yourself that is. What am I feeling right now, and what do I really need? What can I take responsibility for?

If I’m hangry, maybe I need to eat before starting the conversation.

Some use the acronym HALTS (Hungry, angry, lonely, tired, sick/stressed) - as a reminder to stop and check in.

If I need connection - maybe I could start like “I’m feeling off and edgy and I’d love to talk and share and maybe it’ll help me process, and I’d really love a hug right now.

Maybe it’s time to talk to a friend to find some clarity instead of “dumping” it all on your significant other, especially if they are also overwhelmed or HALTS.

Maybe it’s time for self-care.

So give it a try, next time you look across the table and want to take a piece out of the one you love, take a deep breath, take a moment, and ask yourself “What’s really going on?”. And when you are ready to talk, soften your start up.

Examples of a soft start up

Harsh start up: You are never there for me.

Softened alternative: I missed you, I would love to spend more time with you

Harsh start up: You never ask me about my day

Softened start up: I’ve been lonely and overwhelmed today and I’d love to talk about it

Harsh start up: All you do is watch TV when you come home

Softened start up: I love it when you spend time with me. I miss that.

With children:

Parent: (Yelling from another room) What is wrong with you? You never listen! Look at this mess you've made in the living room. How many times do I have to tell you to clean up after yourself? You're so lazy!

Soft Start-up, Parent: (Approaching the child calmly) Hey, can we talk about the living room for a moment? I noticed there's a mess, and I'm guessing you forgot to clean up. Let's do it soon.

In Couples Counseling we get to practice in real life, we get to slow down enough to notice - what's happening on your side of the street when you start a conversation like this, and what's happening for your partner. How else we can start a conversation, how the nervous system respond, what triggers are being pushed. And we practice - how to soften, how to be more open, how to start a conversation so you can be heard and your partner can be heard and not feel attacked or dismissed before the conversation ever started.

If you would like some additional support, book your free consultation here, to see if Individual or Couples Counselling in Calgary, Alberta or Online is a good match for you.


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