When Communication Fails: How To Use “I Statements” Instead of “You Statements”

What is your experience?

Communication can be one of the toughest things within a couple’s relationship, yet it is one of the most important things for a couple’s ability to connect emotionally and work through any issues that arise. Often times, when Partner A is angry at, frustrated with, and/or hurt by Partner B’s words and/or actions, Partner A will often tell Partner B what they don’t like or how they feel using “you statements”; in turn, Partner B becomes defensive and may “attack” Partner A by also using “you statements”. Let’s take a look at this further with a real-life example. 

In this scenario, Partner A is upset with Partner B, and says, “You never do anything around here! All you ever do is sit around on your phone or your computer! Why do I have to take care of everything?!” After hearing this, Partner B feels tension and defensiveness rising and says back to Partner A, “What do you mean I don’t do anything around here? Remember when I took out the trash and did the dishes last night? And, for the record, I’m not always on my phone or computer, and I don’t think it’s fair to accuse me of that when you are always watching TV at night and on your phone, too. That’s not any different than what I do.” 

From here the conversation would typically continue to go back and forth like this–attacking and defending–without actually solving the real issues at hand. Many of you have probably experienced some sort of communication/argument similar to this with your own partner. The question now is, “How do you communicate better and prevent these types of conflicts from happening?” The answer is through the use of “I statements”. 

Let’s take the above scenario and rephrase what each partner says using “I statements”. Partner A is upset at Partner B and says,”I feel frustrated when I see you on your phone and computer. I often feel that I am thought of as the one who takes care of our household and I would like us to have more shared responsibilities. This would help me to have more time to relax, too.” Partner B then responds with understanding and validation, saying “I understand your frustration and that you need more time to relax as well. I’m sorry you haven’t been able to get that time for yourself. How can I take part in more of the household responsibilities?” From here the conversation would continue with the Partners making a plan for shared responsibilities that meets each of their needs and that they both agree upon. 

The above is, of course, the ideal, and may not be easy to always carry-out. However, this is the type of communication that couple’s can work towards to help prevent conflicts from escalating and saying things that are mean or taken as an attack. Using “I statements” may not eliminate all defensiveness, but it will minimize the defensiveness.

It is important for both partner’s to actively work on using “I statements” versus “you statements” followed by validation of the other partner’s feelings. With each partner increasing their use of “I statements”, the conflicts that do arise will be handled in a much more compassionate, understanding, and productive manner. Using “I statements” fits with the old saying of “Practice makes perfect.” Practice using “I statements” in your head, with other people whom you converse with regularly, or by writing down your thoughts/feelings and rephrasing with “I statements”. Doing so, will help prepare you for the next conflict that arises between you and your partner. Know that it will not be easy the first few times, and you and your partner may not communicate perfectly. This is not failure, because even trying to communicate using “I statements” is success. The only “failure” is when you don’t even try. Talk to your partner about implementing “I statements” into your communication; try, try, and try again until it becomes a part of your regular vocabulary; do what you can, even if your partner doesn’t follow through, to change how you communicate and work towards having a healthier relationship with your partner. 

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