Archive of ‘Couples’ category

“I” Statements: What They Are and How to Use Them

Have you ever found yourself frustrated with your partner because they just never seem to really understand what you’re saying? Maybe you’ve tried to gently confront them about something, but end up in an argument. Maybe you try to talk to them, but are always met with the same reactions over and over again, no matter what words you use. Maybe you’ve given up on a particular sticky topic, and have stopped trying to even talk to your partner about it.

If anything above or any similar communication issues are happening in your life, it might be a great time to try out “I” statements!

What is an I Statement?

The formula that I like to use is like an emotionally vulnerable game of mad libs: “I feel (insert emotion word here) when (situation).”

Some examples of this could be “I feel frustrated when the dishwasher isn’t loaded efficiently,” or “I feel happy when we cuddle”, or past-tense “I felt really worried and scared when I had no idea where my wife was all night,” or even a reverse of the formula “Sometimes when I hear loud noises, like the door slamming, I feel nervous and get distant.”

There are SO many ways to use “I” Statements! Even something as simple as “I get mad when I’m hungry” or “That frustrates me,” can be considered “I” Statements! 

Avoid Blaming the Other Person

You’ll notice in all of my examples, I avoid the word “you”. When we use the word “you” while confronting someone, they tend to get defensive and it becomes more difficult for them to connect with and hear what you are saying. One goal of an “I” Statement is to simply let the other person (or people) we are communicating with into our head, to understand what we are going through. Another goal is that we want to transform our communication from me vs. you into me + you vs. the problem

We can avoid using the word “you” by transforming the statement into a bit of a beating-around-the-bush phrase. If I wanted to tell my husband “you loaded the dishwasher wrong,” it would make him immediately defensive and feel blame and shame. To avoid this, I can 1) tell him my emotions and 2) make it about me, not him. An “I” Statement I could use would be “I feel really frustrated and annoyed when the dishwasher is loaded this way.” He is now more inclined to be on my team, to help me with the problem, rather than defending his way of doing things and arguing with me. 

Here’s another example of the beating-around-the-bush way of phrasing an “I” Statement: let’s pretend Noah’s girlfriend, Olivia, is angry that Noah keeps leaving the toilet seat up. She usually approaches him by saying “Ugh, you left the toilet seat up again! You have to stop doing that!” and he never changes his behavior. She would need to let Noah know her feelings behind the toilet seat: “Hey babe, when the toilet seat gets left up, it makes me feel anxious. Then anytime I try to talk about my need for it to be down, my need gets ignored and that makes me feel disrespected and unvalued.” She has successfully avoided the word “you”!

Why Use “I” Statements?

In addition to the previously stated goals of “I” Statements (letting our partner into our head, and turning the conflict into a me + you vs. the problem dynamic), another goal is to get to the bottom of the conversation. Usually, the argument isn’t actually about what we spend time fighting over. The argument is usually about our feelings.

Sticking with the Noah and Olivia toilet seat example, the goal of using that “I” Statement (or here, two “I” Statements in a row) is for Olivia to begin talking about what is really bothering her, because it isn’t about the toilet seat. It’s about an emotion, in this case, the emotions of feeling disrespected and unvalued. Once Noah realizes that his behavior of leaving the toilet seat up is activating Olivia’s feelings of disrespect and being unvalued, he is more likely to have the me + you vs. the problem mentality. By using “I” Statements, we’ve been able to help both partners see that the problem was never the toilet seat. The problem was Olivia’s anxiety, then her feelings of disrespect and being unvalued. 

TLDR (too long; didn’t read)

The formula for “I” Statements is “I feel (insert emotion word here) when (situation).”

Try to avoid the word YOU when using an “I” Statement.

Goals of using “I” Statements include:

  1. let the other person (or people) we are communicating with into our head, to understand what we are going through
  2. transform our communication from me vs. you into me + you vs. the problem
  3. get to the bottom of the conflict (i.e. the emotions)

If you’re interested in working on “I” Statements and other communication issues with me, click here to schedule a session!

Losing a Loved One from Afar and Ways to Heal 

I recently lost my Thatha (Telugu word meaning grandfather) at the beginning of this year. He lived a dynamic and rich 95 years of life, during which he watched many grandchildren, myself included, grow up, graduate school many times, and get married. 

For a 95 year old, Thatha was as healthy as he could be and had even been doing well weeks and even days before he passed away peacefully in his sleep. This made it even harder to process the news of his death because we all felt caught off guard. 

A part of me feels content knowing the people that we love never really die, because we carry their memory with us everywhere we go. The other part of me feels weighed down, because in the midst of all this grief, I am encountering this inner struggle for not being physically there with my parents, Amamma (Telugu word meaning grandmother), and other extended family in India as they mourned the loss of Thatha in the moment.

Experiencing the death of a family member or loved one is already wrought with sorrow and pain and it can be made even more so when this loss happens from far away. I hope this blog brings some solace and comfort if you or someone you know is struggling with how to mourn death from a distance. 

Embrace All Feelings 

“Grief creates its own weather. At times, it’s an avalanche that buries us, or a thunderstorm that buffets us around. It’s a cold rain that drips off trees and down our backs long after the storm is gone. It’s a fog that hides the world and makes every sound seem distant.”

-Mark Liebenow 

As Mark Liebenow, author and poet on grief and loss, beautifully articulates, grief is not a one-size-fits-all approach or linear 5-stage process. When we acknowledge that grief looks differently for all of us, we let go of any societal expectations or even self-inflicted pressures of how grief should look. Instead of critically questioning how your feelings are showing up at this time, (I.e. why am I not crying enough or I have been so unproductive today), welcome your current state of mind with self-compassion. Ask yourself these questions to foster even more tenderness towards yourself: 

  • What is my body telling me right now? 
  • How can I lean on others for support ? 
  • What do I need to take care of myself during this difficult time ? 
  • What would nourish me physically and emotionally ? 

Feelings of Shame or Guilt 

When we are in a position of mourning the loss of our loved ones from far away or far, far away, our mind can get bombarded with feeling of shame or guilt. We may feel guilty for not being there with our family and friends to grieve together, as is very common in India and other collectivist countries. Or we may feel ashamed for not being a “good enough” granddaughter/parent/sibling/spouse/etc., because we were unable to attend the burial or cremation. Maybe we have this idea that our loved ones are looking down on us in judgment or we feel ashamed of ourselves for letting them down. 

If you feel burdened by any of these thoughts or feelings about yourself or someone who has passed on, try this visualization: 

Reflect on a moment when you and your deceased loved one were both happy and smiling. Imagine they tell you all the ways that they appreciate you and what you did for them. You also reciprocate those sentiments back to them, sharing how much they meant to you and how you hold a special place in your heart for them. You hug each other bye, allowing all those positive and warm feelings to fill you up. Use this visualization every time you feel that ache of shame or guilt inside of you. 

Ways to Honor Our Loved Ones who have Passed Away:

  • Plant a flower or tree in their memory 
  • Eat their favorite foods
  • Share a meal with those who knew them 
  • Tell stories with those who knew them 
  • Write about them 
  • Participate in a weekly quiet reflection about them 
  • Look at pictures of them 
  • Advocate for an important cause that they believed in 
  • Get piece of jewelry engraved with their initials 
  • Try a hobby that they participated in
  • Listen to their favorite songs 
  • Paint rocks in your loved one’s honor and give them away or hide them in special places 
  • Show a random act of kindness to honor a loved one’s memory 

Not being physically present to mourn the loss of a loved one alongside family and friends can be heart-aching. Let this be a gentle reminder to not let self-criticism add to your pain, but rather focus on being kind to yourself as you learn how you can heal and move forward through grief. 

The Power of Curiosity

Curiosity can be a powerful perspective when addressing difficult experiences that invites both self compassion and compassion for others. 

Curiosity With Yourself

I have included fellow clinicians’ blog posts that address the power of increasing emotional awareness and decreasing judgment of emotions. Within this process, being curious with yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions can reduce the critical voice and self-judgment that can emerge in stressful experiences.

A few examples to try:

  • I wonder if I can slow this down to better understand.
  • What emotions am I experiencing in this moment?
  • How is my body feeling?
  • I wonder what it would be like to sit with this feeling just a bit longer.
  • What would it be like to name/share this feeling/experience?

Curiosity With Others

Though I will refer to connecting and communicating with children, preteens, and teens, this curiosity approach can apply to interacting with anyone at any age, a partner, adult family member, or close friends. Curiosity can provide a felt sense of safety and compassion for others. Including curiosity statements or questions throughout conversation conveys a striving to understand rather than assume, to connect rather than criticize or correct, and ultimately that you are listening so they feel heard. 

In Context of Development

Utilizing curiosity with children, preteens, and teens encourages mutual respect and a sense of empowerment for them to share their feelings and experience. A curious perspective from caregivers and adults can help children develop self-reflection and creative problem solving. Have you experienced a child or teen struggling with anger, fear, or sadness and wanted to provide the perfect advice or give them the solution? It is possible to relieve this pressure or urgency to solve the problem for them by reflecting and validating their feelings, meeting them with curiosity to create solutions together, and hear their ideas of what could be helpful. Have you experienced a child or teen struggling with challenging behavior and wanted to correct them, tell them what they did/are doing wrong, and what they should do instead? Again, curiosity for their experience and feelings allows them to feel seen and understood, regulates and integrates their experience, and reduces the power struggle that can emerge. 

In Practice

Below are a few examples of reflecting someone’s feelings and offering curiosity statements or questions, compiled from resources listed at the end of the article:

  • “I wonder if you feel (insert feeling here)…”
  • Tell me more about that.
  • What happened?
  • I wonder how that makes you feel. How do you feel about it?
  • I wonder what ideas you have?
  • I wonder what could be helpful. What can I do to support you?
  • Is there anything else that you want to say about that?
  • What suggestions or ideas do you have?
  • Is there any other information you can give me to help me understand?
  • What do you need to figure it out?
  • Is there anything else that is bothering you? 

References & Resources

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