Sonya Thomas lcsw

Fighting Fair 101: “I Statements” – Part 5 of 6

On to Rule # 7: Use “I statements” versus “You statements”

“I Statements” can be tricky, warranting their very own blog post.  Harriet Lerner, one of my favorite authors, wrote an amazing little book called Marriage Rules.  In it, she  does an excellent job of breaking down what a true “I statement” contains.  A true “I statement” encompasses the following:

  • has a light touch
  • is nonjudgemental and non-blaming
  • does not imply that the other person is responsible for your feelings or reactions
  • is ONLY about you – not your partner

“I statements” often start out by stating a feeling or wish.  Be careful with “I think”.  This is often a projection or an attack rather than a disclosure of your emotions or desires.  “I want to make more of my own decisions”  is very different than “I think you are controlling”.  Can you see how the first one is a true “I statement” rather than a “you” statement?  Also, be mindful of your tone.  If you come across with a sharp edge, the content of your message may be appropriate, but it will not land well with your partner.  If your goal is to be heard and understood, then you have a responsibility in how you communicate your “world” to your partner.  In closing, if you can stick to stating your feelings and/or wishes in a nonjudgmental, non-blaming, non accusatory way and in a tone that is soft or neutral, then you have gone a long way in improving the likelihood of a successful dialogue versus a nonproductive and/or hurtful argument.

Here are a few more examples of distinctions between “I statements”  compared to “you statements”:

  • “I feel overwhelmed when I am left to do all the housework” vs. “You are so lazy and patriarchal because you expect the wife to do all of the housework.”
  • “I shut down and pull away I feel ignored” vs. “You never give me any attention.”
  • “I get scared when I think about what it might be like if we have to take care of your mother” vs. “You care more about your mother than you do me or your own family.”
  • “I get really nervous when we are in rush hour traffic; can we please slow down” vs. “Stop driving so fast, you are going to get us killed.”