My wife, Vicki, and I have been married for 16 years and in that time we have had our share of “passionate discussions.”
When we have a “passionate discussion” (fight) I tend to become a Vulcan (logical without emotion) and she just wants to be heard and understood. This pattern hurt us more than helped us.
Along the way we discovered “I statements.” Let me give you an example of an “I statement.” One of our ongoing issues is my wife’s misguided belief that I don’t help around the house very much (she is correct). In the past she might say, “You never help around the house.” How would I respond to this? I might say, “Honey, I took the garbage out, did a load of laundry once, picked up three days ago and…” (Insert a list of activities and facts here.) I found myself defensive and not agreeing and she routinely did not feel understood or heard as we had “passionate discussions.”
Michael Smalley encourages couples to not argue about facts. He challenges couples to get off the facts and get to feelings. You can argue about facts, but not feelings.
This is where “I statements” come in. They provide a template to communicate feelings and get to the core issues. For example, what if Vicki and had said to me, “Steve, I feel alone and unappreciated when you don’t help around the house.” When she uses an “I statement” (I feel _______ when you _________) I can’t argue with that! I can’t say, “You do not feel that way!” When Vicki honestly exposes her feelings, I feel drawn to make things right.
I have learned to follow up an “I statement” with a restatement back to her so she knows I heard and understood: “You’re feeling alone and unappreciated when I’m not helping around the house. I am sorry.”
Here are some questions to ask to get started using “I statements” to bring understanding and resolution to relational conflict:
1) Why am I upset about this? Why does this bother me?
2) What am I feeling? What is causing those feelings?
One of the best benefits of discovering how you feel is that you begin to understand what the real issue is before lashing out.
Got the feelings? Then form the “I statement.” Remember, you are owning and sharing your feelings. It is important to start with the “I” instead of the defensive-producing “YOU.”
“I feel __________ when you ___________.”