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:
- let the other person (or people) we are communicating with into our head, to understand what we are going through
- transform our communication from me vs. you into me + you vs. the problem
- 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!