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Words matter: “You” vs. “I”
“You are such a slob. You just expect me to clean up after you.”
“You are always working. Work is more important to you than your family.”
“You are so frivolous. You just think money grows on trees.”
Arguments about housework, priorities and money are nothing new. In fact, for many couples, they are weekly challenges. But that is exactly why choosing the right words during an argument is so important. When you change your words, you change your life, and nowhere is this more true than in relationships.
Even when you have the best of intentions, what you say can escalate an argument into a full-blown fight and really hurt the one you love. And one of the most common mistakes those in a relationship make with their language is the use of “you-statements” instead of using “I-statements.”
WHAT IS A “YOU-STATEMENT?”
“You-statements,” such as those listed above, are phrases that begin with the pronoun “you” and imply that the listener is responsible for something. They show no ownership of emotions, but rather blame, accuse and assume the receiver. This type of statement is more likely to make your partner feel defensive and resentful, and he or she will be less likely to want to make peace.
WHAT IS AN “I-STATEMENT?”
An “I-statement,” on the other hand, forces us to take responsibility for what we are thinking and feeling and prevents us from blaming our partners. When using “I-statements,” we can still be assertive, but find a less hostile, more compassionate way to communicate.
The difference between “you-statements” and “I-statements”
“You-statements” are often used to punish your partner. By pointing out what they’ve done wrong or how they’ve made you feel upset, sad or angry, you’re either trying to make them feel as bad as you feel or you’re trying to make them change. Neither is a part of creating a healthy relationship.
An “I-statement,” on the other hand, shows personal accountability. It states that even though your partner is not acting or speaking in the way you’d prefer, you are not blaming him or her for how you feel. When using “I-statements,” you take responsibility for the part you played in the disagreement and display the openness for deep listening and resolution.
So how do you turn a “you-statement” into an “I-statement?”
First, remember that the point of an “I-statement” is to express how you feel inside. Because of this, you can think of an “I-statement” as an “I-feel statement.” A true “I-statement” uses specific emotions such as “I feel…” joyful, anxious, lonely, resentful, angry, calm, embarrassed, fearful, etc.
Avoid words that may seem like emotions, but really imply the action of your partner: “I feel…ignored, annoyed, pissed off, mistreated, manipulated, controlled, cheated, abandoned, etc.”
It is also a common misperception that you can tack on the words “I feel” in front of a you-statement. For example, “I feel like you are taking me for granted.” That is just a “you-statement” in disguise. It implies blame and there is no actual emotion being expressed.
It can be difficult to use “I-statements” if you’re not used to this type of language. These “I-statement examples” will help.
- “I felt lonely when you did not come home to have dinner with me all week.”
- “I get anxious when you don’t tell me you’re running late.”
- “I felt embarrassed when you were talking to that man at the party for half an hour.”
- “I get confused and hurt when you leave your clothes on the floor because I thought I had communicated how important it was that you put them in the laundry basket.”
- “I feel resentful when you take our dog to the dog park on the weekends without me when we have not had time together for weeks.”
Using “I-feel statements” works best when your emotions seem overwhelming and you want to lash out at your partner. When you first start using them, you should explain to your partner what you’re trying to accomplish and admit you might not do it perfectly the first time. Try to be as gentle as possible and realize that the tone of your voice matters as much – if not more – than the words you use. Remember the “I-statement” examples listed above and try to identify the emotion you are feeling and where it stems from. Admit if you have a trigger from the past that is playing a part in how you feel and if this is making you over-react.
To help you better understand how you to turn a “you-statement” into an “I-statement,” consider how to change your language during these common conflicts: