Using I Language

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.

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About Heather Long

Heather Long is 35 years old and currently lives in Wylie, Texas. She has been a freelance writer for six years. Her husband and she met while working together at America Online over ten years ago. They have a beautiful daughter who just turned five years old. She is learning to read and preparing for kindergarten in the fall. An author of more than 300 articles and 500+ web copy pieces, Heather has also written three books as a ghostwriter. Empty Canoe Publishing accepted a novel of her own. A former horse breeder, Heather used to get most of her exercise outside. In late 2004, early 2005 Heather started studying fitness full time in order to get herself back into shape. Heather worked with a personal trainer for six months and works out regularly. She enjoys shaking up her routine and checking out new exercises. Her current favorites are the treadmill (she walks up to 90 minutes daily) and doing yoga for stretching. She also performs strength training two to three times a week. Her goals include performing in a marathon such as the Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness or Team in Training for Lymphoma research. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience through the fitness and marriage blogs.