Start Softly and Assume Good Intentions

Let’s say your spouse is running late for dinner. You made the reservations and showed up on time. You’ve been sitting along for the better part of 20 minutes, and you notice yourself starting to feel irritated. In fact, you’re starting to stew. After sitting alone for 25 minutes, your spouse comes in looking flustered.

“You’re late! What’s wrong with you?” You blurt out angrily. “I made the reservations for almost half an hour ago!”


Yikes! In the words of Gottman, “If you go straight for the jugular, you’re likely to draw a lot of blood.” This example fails on two levels. For one, it’s a very harsh start to the conversation. Two, it assumes the worst; the person who was late was being deliberately rude.


One of our biggest problems in relationships is that we start to get comfortable with one another. Over time, we let our guard down and our actions slip. We take for granted that that person will be there for us no matter how we act.


In addition, rather than seeing the best in one another, we often become critical of one another. Statements such as, “What’s wrong with you?” are a strong warning sign that things have just taken a drastic turn for the worst.


So, let’s look at how the above example could be improved.


Rather than say something cruel, you bite your tongue and take a deep breath. You say, “Hey, babe. Glad you made it! Sit down, relax, and let’s order a drink.” After they get a chance to sit down and settle in, if an unsolicited explanation hasn’t already been offered, perhaps say something like this: “I know you didn’t intend to be late, and you’re usually not. I’m far from punctual all the time myself. I’m just curious though, what happened? Is everything okay”


See how much a soft start, being polite, and assuming good intentions can make all the difference? Gottman also offers the “umbrella” example. Let’s say it’s a rainy day outside and a client leaves their umbrella in my office. Even if this person were particularly forgetful, I would likely say something like, “Excuse me, but you forgot your umbrella. Here you go. You’re quite welcome.”


But what do we often say when it comes to our significant other? “Ahem, forgetting something? Ugh, you always do that! It drives me nuts! I swear, you can’t remember anything!”


Often, without even consciously realizing it, we treat the person we love worse than we’d treat a coworker, an acquaintance, or even a perfect stranger. We’re critical, sarcastic, and sometimes even cruel. If this is the case, be sure to correct it immediately as these are sure-fire signs that a relationship is headed for disaster.


To keep this “start softly” and “assume good intentions” approach fresh in my mind, I think back to the most often quoted bible verse at weddings, First Corinthians 13:7. “Love is ready to believe the best in every person.”

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