You can fight better! - A guide to "I" Statements
Being in relationship = inevitable conflict. You want the conflict! Because truth is, all healthy couples have it. Conflict is how we process important issues and grow in our relationships (So if you are not fighting then that’s a whole other blog post!). But, one thing we know about couples who last the distance is that they fight well. What does this mean? When raising a conflictual issue, they do it in a way that invites communication and understanding rather than anger and shut down.
Relationship research has proven that the way a conversation starts predicts how it will end. Unfortunately, most conversations that I witness when first working with couples tend to go something like this;
Issue – tidiness
“You always leave your stuff lying around”
Issue – Affection
“You never touch me”
Issue – Money
“How could you be so selfish? I never spend any money on myself”
Conversations that commence this way invite emotional reactivity and flooding. Both parties are left feeling frustrated and negative towards the other. There is no increased understanding and sometimes no movement towards resolution.
One easy way that you can transform your communication is through the use of “I” statements. Every “you” statement can be turned into an “I” statement with a little grammatical tweaking.
Issue – tidiness
I am starting to feel really frustrated after picking up after everyone in the house the last two days. I feel so much calmer when the house is clean. Would you be able to commit to putting away your shoes and socks in the laundry when you get home? Just knowing that's definitely done would mean so much to me.
Issue – partner late home from work
I feel as though I am not important to you when you get home late without calling me to let me know. I had made dinner and was looking forward to sitting down with you. I understand that there will be days when you are late in the future. I would love if you could flick me a text if you’re a bit late leaving the office in the future.
Issue – new parenthood
After spending the whole day with baby I feel completely burnt out. I always look forward to 10 minutes of alone time when you come home and can take him off me. Could we make it a ritual that after you are settled in at home that you have baby for 10 minutes each day? This would give me some space to take a breath and do a mediation or have a walk outside. I think I would be a lot calmer and happier to be around in the evenings.
Issue – social anxiety
I feel that I might be a bit anxious tonight at the party. I really admire how confident you are at these kinds of social events. It would help me a lot if you stayed with me throughout the night. I feel so much safer when I’m with you talking to others.
The general recipe is;
What I need is
“I” statements are actually more about a shift in what you are communicating than a change in grammatical structure. I think the effectiveness is really more about the responsibility you take by communicating your feelings and needs. It’s a change in mindset from blaming and criticising to taking accountability for your own feelings and what you want to be different. Stay as specific as possible. Generality has a tendency to invite defensiveness.
Just a little side note – be conscious of the “you” statement disguised as an “I”. This is what I commonly see in therapy when my clients are first trying out this new way of communicating. It also tends to creep in when conflict conversations are being attempted under unideal circumstances (time pressures, when either party is feeling frustrated/angry/emotionally fuelled, in the presence of others etc).
An example would be;
“I feel that you are always keeping things from me”
“I get angry when you are always late home from work”
“I feel sad when you are never around to play with the kids”
“I wish that you weren’t so over-involved with your work”
Although still technically talking about our feelings, these statements are full of judgement. They are also over-generalised.
Remember, the wording that you use is really only part of the communication process. A calm, regulated nervous system is just as important. An aggressive, intense tone in your voice will make even the most well worded “I”-statement ineffective. Effective communication involves maintaining awareness of our own arousal and presence in the conversation and taking breaks when necessary. The environment in which the conversation takes place also plays an influential role.
For families and those with young children, exercise caution with this. Because of the structural differences (think - authority) between parent and child, this way of communicating (although a great practice) may not provide you with the relationship shifts you are looking for. There is a fine line between you taking accountability for your feelings and needs and making your child feel responsible for those feelings and needs. Kids don’t tend to like that and will communicate it back to you (often very bluntly!).
If you are keen to work on your communication (either individually or with your loved one/s) get in touch with me here
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