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The Power of Communicating With "I" and Not "You"

"But enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think of me?"

~ Beaches (1988)

The Power of Communicating with "I" rather than "You" is derived from couples' work evidence-based theories that have discovered when a partner starts -and maintains the use of I to express thoughts and feelings, their partner can listen at a more significant percentage (thus stick around for the entire conversation). I like to use the example of friendships to make my point.

Imagine you with your best friend engaged in an important or gossipy conversation. This particular friend is giving you the down-low about 'so and so and, this and that happened, and can you believe they did that, and I felt so angry, and then I wanted to….' What do you notice about these sentence structures? They do not involve the word 'You." Instead, the speaker leaves out the term 'You' and keeps the primary person as "I." I'd like for you to stick to this scenario and imagine what your body language probably looks like. You are likely leaning in, eyes fixed, ears perked, and possibly blocking out most of the distractions around you. You are fully in. That's the power of listening.

Now imagine yourself in the same position and attention. And opposite you is your romantic partner. Does it seem familiar or unfamiliar?

How often do you and your partner give one another that attention and importance to what is being communicated? Well, if you are like most couples, attentive listening takes work. Daily or regular interactions that are myriad with daily disruptions like work, family, stressors, etc, can cause dysregulation in our listening skills and our communication with our honey. After some time, your communication style may look more like, "When You," "Why do You," "You always have to," "You are so selfish," "I wish You would care more," "Why can't You just listen." And so forth.

Let's return to our besties. Imagine yourself back on the couch leaning in, eager to hear the rest of their story and ready to provide your beloved friend sympathy and validation for the injustice of the crime against them. Why is it so easy to do this for your best friend and so much more difficult for you, honey? Because you and your best friend likely have mastered the communication of "I" versus "You." I bet your besties rarely approach your conversations with "You." Why would they? You are their best friend! You have been there through thick and thin, laughs, heartache, tears, relations, good and bad. Imagine that each time your best friend called you, their first words were, "You did this and that." After some time, that person would fall out of your best friend's role and take the back seat to a friend who appreciates you.

And yet, we believe that it is okay to bombard our honey with "You, You, and more Yous." After a while, your honey begins to fight back or shut down. And you are left wondering why they don't care or understand.

The following five steps can encourage your honey to lend in, eyes fixed, ears perked, blocking out most distractions, and ending with soothing words and maybe even a hug.

  1. Preface what you will communicate by letting your honey know you want to share something about YOU, not them. Inform them you would like to chat when all is done for the day, and you can both relax without distractions. i.e., kids are asleep, the kitchen is clean, t.v. is off, and phones are put away.

  2. Use "I." For example, "I felt disappointed yesterday when I thought you would help me clean up when everyone left. (STAY WITH "I"). When I feel disappointed, I feel alone and even more tired. I'm not sure why I end up feeling like I do it all. It reminds me of growing up and having all the chores while my siblings did nothing. I feel trapped and alone."

  3. Tell your partner what you need from them: "I need your help at the end of the day. When you help, I feel strong again. And I don't feel like that 13-year-old, alone, tired, and unimportant. When you help, I feel special and loved."

  4. I will return it to you. If or when your honey shows a defensive response, like, "There You go, complaining again." Remember, it is more than likely how both of you have become accustomed to hearing one another and thus immediately becoming defensive. That's okay; simply bring it back to you. For example, "I am sharing only my experience. Not what you may or may have done wrong. It is about me. And what happens to me and how I begin to experience my inner world. I want to share that with you. I believe you can be my partner in improving my world."

  5. Thank your partner for listening and staying focused. "I want to thank you for listening to me. I feel so much better now, having shared that with you. I know that the more I or we can share, the more I will be able to feel strong in myself and my love for you."

Check in with how you are feeling. If it feels strange, that's okay, and it takes practice. Yet, remember that you already know how to communicate this way. It's with your best friend. Now, the trick and practice is to apply that same comfort and regular approach with your honey. After some time, when you and your honey practice this approach, each will feel eager, proud, and comfortable to provide comfort, insight (if asked for), and that warm embrace that says you are in this together.

For more tips, please check out our other tips here: You can always find us at 954-903-1676 for counseling services.

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