I Language: Sidestepping The Fight By Communicating Better

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Couples fight. Any couple who tells you they get along and agree with each other 100% of the time is lying. While it’s impossible to agree with your partner all the time, how you tell them that you don’t see things their way is often what causes a fight. Most of the ways couples communicate are nonverbal, and when reading your partner, it’s easy to assume too much and make a mistake. There are lots of mistakes we make when communicating and it can be tough to express what we feel accurately.


I Language

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Many psychologists use this concept when it comes to reactions and de-escalation. No one likes feeling attacked, and when we get defensive, we can often be unpredictable or say things we don’t actually mean. Imagine you’re fighting with your other half, trying to explain how you feel:


“You’re so lazy, you never do anything! You don’t help and you don’t appreciate me.”


If someone said that to you, it would automatically make you feel defensive, especially if they said it loud and angrily. Now imagine if the person said this instead:


“I’m feeling unappreciated because I have to do all the work. I would really appreciate some help.”


Do you feel more inclined to listen? To help?


The biggest change between these two statements (both showing that someone feels unappreciated and overwhelmed) is that rather than accusing the other person and labeling them, the speaker is simply expressing an ownership of their own thoughts.


“You-language” are statements which start with “you” and imply responsibility. They tend to feel accusatory and often foist blame on someone else. They put the accused person on the defensive and make them shut down.


Non-directive Therapy


This concept came about from a famous non-directive therapist, Carl Rogers, and his student, Thomas Gordon. Their concept was that leaders could influence others better by changing the language they used. Their therapy takes any statement and breaks it into three parts:


The behavior you find unacceptable – I hate it when you XXXXXX.

The feelings evoked – It makes me so XXXX and I feel XXXX.

The effect on you – I just want to XXXXX when you do it.


It creates a paradox where you’re not actually assigning blame to the other person, while still saying that their behavior has an unacceptable effect on you. By taking the focus away from them, you’re removing the feeling of blame while still expressing it. You’re taking responsibility for your own feelings, even when they’re caused by another’s actions.


In a relationship?

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So how does that work with a couple? You’ve probably gotten frustrated or angry at your partner’s behavior any number of times, it’s their fault, and they did it. Technically they didn’t. They simply acted or behaved a certain way; you are the one responsible for your own feelings about that action. When it’s time to let them know, owning those feelings can make the difference between an argument and an adult discussion.


While you might be frustrated, angry, annoyed, or worse than that, speaking calmly and evenly can help dissipate that feeling of blame and stop your partner from feeling like they’re under attack. If your partner suddenly yelled at you (escalated the situation), you’d respond negatively; instead, when tensions happen, de-escalate it by being calm and using the right language.


Not Working?


Not everyone can get the hang of this. Seeing a professional counselor or therapist, like one you could find at BetterHelp is often the only way to explore communication that will work. Better communication can save headaches and a lot of misunderstandings, which is why it’s essential in any relationship. 

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