What does using ‘I’ language refer to? We hear a lot about it in articles that tell us how to argue and how to disagree. The majority of these relationship books talk about using complaints instead of criticisms. They advise you to use ‘I’ language instead of ‘you’ language. It’s incredibly difficult to do this; I don’t care what the books say. Even when you think you have a handle on it, it’s hard.
Some examples of ‘I’ language versus ‘you’ language include:
- “You are always blowing off your chores.”
- “Can’t you ever just do what you say you’re going to do?”
- “You’re just like my Dad – I never have understood why my mother put up with him.”
When you use YOU language, you’re just seeking to injure or attack your partner. Whether you actually WANT to do that or not, is irrelevant. It’s like pointing a gun at someone and saying ‘I was just illustrating the point.’ The point you illustrate with you language is that you find them at fault, period. They are going to be immediately defensive and the argument is on.
Using I language may not be easy, but there’s a completely different perception to it. For example:
- “I feel like I have to nag about the chores.”
- “I don’t want to be a nag. I don’t understand what I can do to help when it comes to asking you to do things.”
- “I don’t like the feeling that I am comparing you to my father. Can we talk about why I feel that way?”
Incredibly different feelings to each statement and what makes the second set a hard pill to swallow is that using I language accepts some culpability. I am saying I don’t understand. I want to help. I want to make things easier. I want to discuss it. I want to know if there is something I am doing wrong.
It’s hard for me to use this language because I feel like I am saying I am wrong from the get go. Yet, truthfully, I’m not saying I am wrong. I am trying to open a dialogue that won’t put my husband on the defensive and may have more success than all the yelling matches in the world.
By focusing on myself, I am empowering the one person I can control: ME. I can’t control my husband. I know what reactions I would like him to have, but that does not mean he will have them. By using I language, I can avoid criticisms and focus on my complaints. By using I language I am offering my perceptions and not making grand sweeping statements about fault.
Essentially, I am being neither defensive nor offensive – I am simply stating how I feel. For this to work, however – both of us need to do it. We both also need to acknowledge that there are different perceptions on both sides. That while we may feel there is only ‘one’ truth – there is often two truths — his and mine.
I’m still working on perfecting my -I- language and I am not always successful. It seems very stilted in the beginning and very much like I am not saying what I want to say. What I do like about I language is that I am not attacking my husband. That alone is extremely important because I do not want to attack him – I want to talk to him.