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.

You-statements

You-statements push the blame onto your partner. This can make the other person feel like you are punishing them. You-statements are said to either make someone feel bad or to make someone change. Neither of these is productive or healthy.

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.

You-statements also come out with a harsher tone of voice. I-statements reduce that hostility. The tone of voice may even be more important than the words that you say.

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.

You-statements not only invite the other person to throw up a shield, but they are also a way that you protect yourself from the fear of being vulnerable. If you blame the other person for your feelings by telling them what they did wrong, then you don’t have to take responsibility for your feelings. You don’t even have to talk about your feelings because you will then go into a spin about whether or not your partner is selfish or not.
 

The Change to I-statements

The purpose of an I-statement is to tell someone how you feel rather than picking a fault out in them. Here is a formula to practice with. I feel ______ (emotion word) when you ______(describe behavior) because _____ (explanation). I would prefer(or I need) _______ , could you _________ (provide alternative).

Let’s break down the five parts to this formula:

1. I feel an emotion. Be careful not to choose an emotion that seems to tell something about your partner such as, ignored, mistreated, controlled, abandoned, etc.
2. When you do this. Be very specific here and state exactly what they did.
 
3. Because the story I tell myself is. This is where you take responsibility for how you are feeling. You are acknowledging that you may be misreading the situation and you may be making assumptions or judgments. This does not invalidate your feelings. It gives your partner an open view of your thoughts to understand and hopefully smooth out any misunderstandings.
 
4. What I need is this. It is even more important that you are specific here. It is your responsibility to identify your needs. Do not mistake somebody not reading your mind as them not caring about you.
 
5. Could you do this instead? Tell your partner a specific action that they can do to meet your needs. This is where your partner may need to problem-solve with you. You can compromise and be flexible and still have your needs met.
 
Sometimes we are sneaky and throw an “I feel” in front of our you-statement. “I feel like you are treating me poorly.” This is a you-statement with a fun hat on but still a you-statement.
 

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

Watch me transform these you-statements right before your eyes.
“You are inconsiderate, you didn’t even think of me.”

“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.”

“You don’t care about me.”

“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.

Once they see that you are being vulnerable and opening up, they will also cool down. They will see that they do not need to defend themselves and their shield will go down. You have to put the shields down to come together and find a resolution.
 

I-statements Connect with Your Partner Rather than Push them Away

The goal with an I-statement is to show your partner that you are not fighting but connecting.
Here comes the spouse again ready to spitfire because you stayed up all night playing video games. You can already hear how immature, irresponsible, uncaring, and lazy you are. You are fully armed with every reason that what you did was perfectly fine and not a sign that you are any of those things.
 
But wait.
 
They came to tell you that they feel sad and that they miss you.
 
This is new. You don’t even know how to respond. The usual fight instantly took a new path with just one sentence. Every time they told you that you were immature or lazy for playing video games, it was to cover up their own hurt emotions. Now that they are opening up about their emotions, you can open up about yours instead of throwing up the shields.
 

Forming New Habits in Your Marriage

Using I-statements will feel very strange at first. You will have to slow down and really think about your words. It will feel vulnerable to put yourself in a place to talk about your emotions when you are feeling hurt. This communication in marriage will soon become your normal conversation.
 

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.

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