The Language of "You" vs. the Language of "I."

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The most common problem that troubles struggling couples is, ultimately, their communication. The basis of their communication problems is that they tend to blame their partners, without always even knowing that they are doing it. There is an easy way to make sure that, when you communicate, you are not blaming or accusing, and that, instead, you are taking responsibility for yourself. This is by using “I” statements, and by avoiding “you” statements.The concept itself is easy to understand, and it seems like it would be a ‘piece of cake,’ but more difficult to remember to use when our emotions are involved. This is where couples often struggle. Under threat of feeling accused or blamed, the reflex reaction is going to be to go on the defensive at first and then turn around and attack back in retaliation (a type of unhealthy mirroring). This begins a cycle of hostile energy exchange that leaves, at best nothing being accomplished, and at worst, a long term pattern of avoidance of certain topics and resentments being held against one another.

When confronting a situation, I remind people to approach the situation from an “I” perspective, and avoid using the word “you.” When the word “you” is used in an emotional discussion, it is bound to sound like blaming almost as if the person is pointing a finger without actually doing it physically. To create a more comfortable, open discussion, it is better to begin by owning how you feel. The problem that people run into is that they forget to check in with their own emotions before starting these discussions, so that they can keep themselves calm enough to communicate more effectively.

In emotional situations, it is difficult to take responsibility, especially if you don’t think you are fully responsible. Somehow you want to recognize that emotional discussions go beyond “right” and “wrong.” Remember that most relationship issues are multi-layered, which means that both of you play a role in them. This is why it is good to remind yourself of this fact before you approach a problem yourself. In those situations that you plan to approach, you are able to best plan on how to approach it, what to say, and how to say it, because you are the one initiating the discussion. Before entering the conversation:

  • Check in with your own emotions to identify what it is that is bringing up your discomfort (usually something you fear).

  • Look at your own pride, and set it aside so that you can approach the issue as planned.  

  • Think about how you can respond to “hot-topic” comments in a way that does not fuel the fire.

    Then take a deep breath  (this can help slow yourself down), and begin by using “I” statements and continue using them throughout to reflect on your partner’s comments. For example use statements such as “I am trying to understand,” or “What I heard is….”

Try to pay attention to yourself (your thoughts and bodily sensations) so that you can recognize when you are taking things personally,

It can be more difficult when your partner approaches you with a problem that he/she has, because you may not be expecting the conversation to take place. If you are approached with a problem, follow the same strategy as when you initiated the discussion. The only difference when you are approached is to be extremely cautious and aware of your own defensiveness. Since you have not had the opportunity to mentally prepare for the discussion, it is much easier to take things personally. If you find that you are taking things personally, you can ask for a few minutes to process the information. It is fine to say that you are struggling with feeling defensive and that you need some time. This will also help to de-escalate an argument so that you can have a more open discussion  later.

When you have to confront a situation with your partner, or when you are confronted with a problem, show that you are taking responsibility by starting statements with “I”. This helps to show that you are not blaming or resenting the other person, but rather that you are owning what you think and how you feel about it all. This will help to open up a dialogue, rather than an argument. It depletes the need to defend, which then promotes making changes and growing together. After all, this is what being in a relationship is all about, right?.

Because the process of changing long held patterns of communication, I highly recommend you seek out a counselor or therapist to help you and your partner improve on these skills.

For couples, marriage, and relationship counseling in Lancaster, PA, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to improve your relationship!!