Change Your Words Change Your Relationship Using I Statements
“You don’t even care about me.” Did she just say I am selfish?
This looks familiar. Using I-statements in your relationship will save you from this miscommunication. They are the number one tool you want in your toolbox to de-escalate conflicts. They encourage connection rather than continuing to push your spouse away during marriage conflicts.
Watch me transform this moment from above. “I feel lonely when you play video games till midnight.”
The speaker is opening up and allowing room for a little vulnerability. They are taking responsibility for their feelings.
Now we are less likely to get defensive and talk about ourselves as a response. We can talk about how the other person feels instead.
Choosing the right words in these heated moments can be what decides if this problem will be resolved or if it will become the topic of future fights for the next week.
When people feel attacked, they can become defensive. It is human nature to protect oneself. If you can bring up a problem by talking about yourself, it is much harder for the other person to get defensive. They are more likely to respond by talking about your feelings. This opens up communication in marriage and allows for both partners to be more vulnerable talking about their feelings.
If you can’t muster up an I-statement then really focus on making your tone of voice more inviting and understanding. The way that you talk to your partner communicates respect and love to them. You don’t want to communicate something you don’t mean by using a harsh tone of voice.
The Change to I-statements
Let’s break down the five parts to this formula:
I-statements will transform your non-romantic relationships too. Even at work, if you take responsibility for things that happen rather than blame other people, the conversations will become more productive. You won’t get into spinning conversations where you try and figure out whose fault it is. You will be resolution focused and a much more likable person.
Transforming The Heated Moments
“I felt confused when you didn’t do the dishes as we discussed because I concluded that you do not respect me. What I need is for you to do the dishes or communicate with me when you are not able to.”
“I feel hurt when you don’t want to have sex with me because I feel like you don’t care about my need for connection. What I need is for you to communicate with me about sex and problem-solve on how we initiate sex.”
“You are selfish. You always go out and leave me home with the kids.”
“I feel resentful when you go out to eat without me because I see you not wanting to spend time with me and I do not have the same freedom when I need to be with the kids. I need you to schedule outings with me, and discuss appropriate times to go out by ourselves.”
The I-statements bring clarity to the situation. The you-statements leave a lot of room for false interpretations. The you-statements are more likely to overgeneralize the situation. You may be tempted to use words like “always” or “never” which are big generalizations that are not actually true. This discredits what you have to say and leaves the conversation going down the hole of why “never” and “always” are not true. You miss out on talking about what really matters.
Try to talk about the specific situation that has made you feel the way you do. The goal is to help your partner understand you better. The goal is not to have your partner feel bad or change. You also don’t want to feel like you have to justify being angry by making sure that they know how bad what they did was.
I-statements give you full responsibility and control over how you feel and open up a conversation about what miscommunications happened in the relationship.
I-statements Connect with Your Partner Rather than Push them Away
Forming New Habits in Your Marriage
Talk to your partner about what you are trying to do. Explain that you won’t get it perfect on the first try but invite them to try this with you. Creating this new type of dialogue between you and your partner will transform your conflicts.
When you are having a hard time getting it right, you will throw up you-statements in the heat of the moment. You can always go back and tell your partner you want a redo. Explain that you said those things to cover up your own emotions and try out a well thought out I-statement. Better late than never and you will really be showing your partner how much you are trying.
Conflict can be either an opportunity to pull away or come together. I-statements help you to come together. When your marriage conflicts are transformed into an opportunity to understand each other, you can build trust. It is hard to trust someone when you never know when they are going to bomb you with accusations. Trust is built when you believe the other person is looking for understanding, rather than a fight.