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Beware of the Harsh Start-up

Relationship Communication

Research has shown that the first three minutes of conversation with your partner will pretty much guarantee how it will end. Start off with all guns blazing and you are likely to have a pretty heated argument that is destined to end badly. Psychologists call this a “Harsh Startup”. In the harsh start-up we go from nought to sixty in five seconds flat and it generally involves some sort of criticism or sarcasm. 

Now some people would say that this is hooey. My wife thinks the occasional harsh start-up can act therapeutically as a kind of wake up call. (I obviously need one!). But, the research is particularly concerned with frequent and repetitive harsh start-ups. One of the reason they are so damaging is that they trigger the person on the other end to either shut down, or attack back. And so the negative spiral begins.

We still need to have the conversation, but how do we have a softer start-up?

Firstly, remind yourself that you have a choice. Before you start, focus on the question, “How do I want this to end?” Holding this in your mind is a good way of keeping yourself on track.

Secondly, choose to use words that have less ‘heat’. For example, “hate” is a high-emotion word. Change it to “dislike”. Also, keep it specific and try not to over-generalise. 

It’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment but sentences starting with “I” will generally be more effective and less confrontational than when they start with “You”. So, for example saying, “I feel like you haven’t heard me” is softer than “You aren’t listening”.

Finally, keep it polite. Our need to feel understood and respected is central to any relationship’s health and long term survival. 

For NHS funded therapy for anger, anxiety or depression, phone (01208) 871905 or self-refer [HERE


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