The ‘Soft Startup’ Fight Tactic Could Save Your Marriage

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Never have I pondered the health of my marriage more than when I dive deep into the relationship research conducted by the Gottman Institute, led by Dr. John and Julie Gottman—both world-renowned for their work on marital stability, but also the reasons marriages culminate in divorce.

That’s how I discovered what they call the Soft Startup, a technique for fighting fair that comes with a divorce predictor: The more likely couples are to employ it during the first few minutes of a disagreement, the less likely they are to split.

Here’s how it works: At the outset of a fight—meaning the entry point to bringing up a grievance—couples with healthier marriages complain, but never blame. In other words, your intro to a tense conversation isn’t a character assassination of your spouse. Instead, you’re raising a complaint that’s valid, but minus any direct criticism of their actions or an attacking tone. (Yes, body language, like an eye roll, counts.) This way, the priority is on staying constructive, which ultimately enables your partner to be receptive to your concerns vs. put on the defensive.

Some helpful examples of a soft startup: “I’m frustrated that the dirty dishes are always piled up in the sink at to the end of the night” vs. “You never do the dishes and leave all the work to me, and I’m tired of it.”

Another one: “I want to talk about summer camp logistics, and I don’t feel heard” vs. “You never listen to me when I talk about summer camp logistics.”

In a lot of ways, it’s about kicking off an argument with “I” statements vs. “you” statements, which at their core tend to inflict blame. The soft startup also requires you to stick to the facts and your feelings as they relate to your complaint first and foremost. (“I’m frustrated that I asked for your help with the laundry today and it didn’t get done” instead of “Why didn’t I marry someone who helps with the laundry?”)

Per the Gottmans’ research, the soft startup is critical given that fights tend to end on the same note that they began. If you go in on the attack, casting judgments and blame, the conversation will end with as much conflict and animosity as it had when you started, sometimes more. On the contrary, the soft startup can help do exactly that—soften your attitudes on the matter in a way that’s healthy, respectful and productive, too.

Worth prioritizing the next time you feel a fight bubbling up? We’d say so.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...