Effective Communication Using “I-statements” In Relationships

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Whenever adult relationships went through misunderstandings, conflicts, issues that lead to distrust and hurting each other’s feelings, it will become difficult to communicate with each other effectively and more meaningful if it’s not resolved the right way. Most relationships experts have formulated different tools to help couples communicate and cooperate with each other or improve their communication. One of the tools for couples to have a meaningful and positive communication is the “I-Statement.” We often use “you-statements” because we let our anger and negative emotions to win over us. Using “I-statements” in relationships is sometimes associated with “we-statements” for couples. On the other hand, “you statements” or “you always” statements are often associated with “but statements” in communication among couples.

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How to use “I-statements” in relationships effectively? Using “I-statements” in relationships may sound easy but it is actually difficult to master and practice especially when you are in the middle of an argument with your partner. “I-statements” do not only help us to communicate effectively and meaningfully but they also help us to feel more secure with ourselves in our everyday interactions and conversations. Moreover, “I-statements” in the workplace can also help us be more productive, more confident with voicing out our opinions and more secured with our others. 

What is the difference between “I-statements” and “You-Statements?”

“I-statements” can give couples information about each other and using “I-statements” in relationships makes conversations or arguments between couples less threatening. On the other hand, a “you messages” or “you statements” can trigger more negative emotions because it is more like the one using these are blaming his/her partner. Why are “I-messages” important? They form more connections among relationships, build trust, and create healthier and more honest relationships. 

Let’s take a look at some “you statements” examples first and imagine your partner telling these messages to you. How would you possibly feel?

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  • You’reunbelievable…
  • You must be ashamed of your actions…
  • You’rejusttoomuch…
  • You’rebeingcrazy
  • You don’t know…
  • You don’tunderstand…
  • You’rejustangry…
  • You can do more than that…
  • You are better last time…

Hearing these statements can make you feel uneasy, ashamed of yourself, or guilty that can be hindrances to building your trust, respect, and cooperation for each other. Using these, your partner may feel so emotional that it can cause him/her to breakdown.  On the other hand, take a look at these “I-messages” examples and imagine your partner telling these to you. 

  • I’m happy…
  • I am frustrated but I don’t know the reason…
  • I am actually not comfortable…
  • Actually I am too insecure…
  • I’m feeling confident about that…
  • I am afraid…
  • I’m getting angry…
  • I want you…
  • Missing you…
  • Love you…

Hearing these “I-messages” from your partner can make you feel more connected and more empathy for them, right? Even if it’s quite negative, it’s less threatening than using “you-messages”. For example, we get less defensive when we hear “I am angry” than “You’re crazy.” Thus, using “I-statements” in relationships makes people more connected with each other. 

 Using “I-statements” in relationships

Using “I-statements” in relationships helps us to express what we feel within ourselves more than what we assume about others. Most people don’t actually like someone telling us who we are or what they are feeling about us or “we always” are especially when they actually don’t know us that much. Even those relationships that last for a long time are often committing mistakes with their assumptions.

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I-statements make us stop assuming about others and identify our own environment and ourselves. Using “I-statements” is far more than changing our messages. When we are in the middle of an argument or conflict, we often focus on others’ fault and how they are failing us rather than identifying our deepest feelings and emotions. I-statements require a healthy self-disclosure which also requires vulnerability. Furthermore, when working on rebuilding trust in the relationship or strengthening your bond with each other, it is a must to know and share our true selves at the moment is more effective to reduce conflict among you and your partner. 

Ironically, it is very difficult to blame others using the “I-statements.” These messages can also force us to blame ourselves and take responsibility for what we are feeling. Thus, to stop arguing and begin a more meaningful discussion, both sides should be using “I-statements”. However, complimentary “you-statements” like “You’re doing great!” or “You’re wonderful!” can trigger a little defensive reaction because we have nothing to do but accept the person’s judgment about us and since we may have a little confidence within ourselves, we may doubt ourselves and our admirer’s compliment; we might think “He’s just trying to be nice.” Lastly, when a person uses “I-statements”, they are often talking about themselves instead of coming up with a judgment about us.

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Since the person is talking about himself or herself, their credibility doesn’t make us doubt. To give you more knowledge about effective communication, here are some tips on using “I-statements” in relationships.

Tips in using I-statements in relationships and conversations

  • Be more specific. “When women become silent suddenly, I feel anxious.” triggers more resistance than “When you don’t speak to me suddenly, I feel anxious.” Thus, the first message is just asking for an emotional reaction because we are merging a category of women rather than emphasizing what kind of woman she is.
  • Avoid using “shoulds”. Criticisms like “You are always late” can usually hide our own emotions and feelings about the situation under the sense of self-righteousness. You can use statements like “I feel disappointed when you’re always late.” This can allow us to live and judge our own feelings at the moment.
  • Avoid putting labels with your statements. Labels like “crazy”, “shallow”, “freak”, or “greedy” can blame and categorize people. Try expressing your feelings directly rather than categorizing yourself or others. 
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  • Avoid phrases like “I feel like…” or “I feel that…”. The sentences like “I feel you’re over-reacting or “I feel that you don’t know how I feel.” is a disguised “you statement” and not an I-statements. When we hide our true feelings, we are still enclosing and not letting people know who we are truly are.
  • Include how you feel and not only your thoughts. If you want to be emotionally connected with someone, express how you actually feel and understand our emotions. We must not only express what we think or what comes into our minds. 

When to use I-statements

Using “I-statements” in relationships can be done all the time. If we really want to connect with our partner or our friends, rekindle our relationship, build intimacy, build trust and cooperation, or let others know more about us, we can use I-statements for they can build solid relationships. 

I-statements are more helpful in learning to communicate more effectively with other people who are considered “difficult” or “toxic”; someone who is manipulative, domineering, or someone who is taking advantage of the situation. These messages can help us understand the nature of the relationship and change how we response and act towards each other. 

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However, you must also understand that your You-statements are not actually bad or wrong. They do not always cause conflicts within the relationship or make a person unconnected with their own feelings. You-statements can also be helpful and useful when our partner wants our feedback about something since we’ve built a solid trust with each other. If we are trying to build or rebuild the closure between our relationships or intimate relationships, we can be more successful with the I-statements. Even if it’s difficult to change our habit of using you-statements, if we put more effort into learning how to use I-statements effectively, we will be more at ease. 

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