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Own Your Feelings with “I” Statements

Young black woman drinking tea and chatting with boyfriend on couch

By Carole Van Holbeck, MSAN Mental Health & Wellness Contributor

He looks at her from across the room. From the look on her face, he knows what is coming.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m playing some Battlefield. You know, to unwind from my day.”

“I could really use some help with the kids. You know they act out in the evenings when you ignore them and play video games.”

“Yeah – Let me finish this sequence and I’ll go see them.”

“You always say that, and then you get caught up in the game and before you know it the kids are going to bed. And what about me?”

“What about you?”

(Raises voice.) “I have to suck up all the responsibility around here because you’re not pulling your weight. I’m sick of it and I’m sick of you!”

(Expletives.) “I’m sick of you nagging me all the time. You don’t understand what I have to deal with everyday. I just want to come home and unwind.”

(Starts to cry.) “And I don’t get to unwind? I’m here being the responsible parent while you just play the night away. You’re being a gigantic ass and you don’t care about me or the kids!”

If you’ve ever been involved in an argument like this with your spouse, you know the scenario may continue to degrade to a point where real damage is done between partners. Let’s get real…we all fight. But what if there was a way to level the playing field during arguments and own your emotions rather than placing blame on your spouse? There is and it’s called an “I” statement.

“I” statements are a way of communicating that focus on your feelings and not the characteristics your may attribute to your partner. They are meant to take the place of blaming language that can cause your spouse to go on the defensive. “I” statements force you to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings.

“I” statements are structured like this:

I feel (the emotion)…when (something happens or not)…because

“I” statements take practice. Let’s try a few here.

You are always late coming home.

  • “I” statement: I feel worried when you don’t come home on time because I start thinking you might be hurt.

Nag, nag, nag. That’s all you ever do!

  • I” statement: I feel sad when you nag me because it brings back unpleasant memories of my childhood and makes me want to withdraw.

Why can’t you ever remember to put the toilet seat down?

  • “I” statement: I get frustrated when you forget to put the toilet seat down because I grew up in a house of brothers who never extended me that courtesy. I felt like I didn’t matter.

You’ve got the idea! Let’s replay the opening scenario using “I” statements.

“I see that you’re playing a video game.”

“I’m playing some Battlefield. You know, to unwind from my day.”

“I could really use your help with the kids. I know they would like to spend some time with you this evening.”

“Yeah – Let me finish this sequence and I’ll go see them.”

“I feel frustrated when you say that to me because I worry that you will lose sense of time. When the kids end up going to bed, I feel angry when you chose a video game over the children and me because it seems we’re not important to you.”

“I’m sorry. You and the kids are important to me. I’m just feeling really anxious these days and this seems to help me unwind.”

“I guess I can understand that, but could you try to see it from my perspective, too? I feel anxious when I have all the responsibility to parent because the kids need both of us to be involved with them.”

(Sigh) “Yeah, I know that too. But I really do just need some time each evening to unwind. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid you or the kids. I just lose track of time.”

“What about a compromise? You could set a limit on the time you play and still spend time with us. Would a kitchen time help keep you on track?”

“I suppose we could try that.”

“Thank you. I feel happy when you are willing to compromise because it shows me we matter to you.”

While I can’t guarantee every disagreement will work out this way, I say can that with practice, “I” statements foster positive communication and promote positive conflict resolution. Sharing your thoughts and feelings honestly can help you and your spouse grow closer. Start practicing and let me know the result!

 

For more information about constructing “I” statements and other mental health and wellness resources, please visit the Military Spouse Advocacy Network’s (MSAN’s) website at https://www.milspouseadvocacynetwork.org.

 

 

 

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