We always hear that “communication is key” to having a good relationship. No doubt, communicating with your partner definitely is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship, but speaking with someone and expressing yourself is sometimes frustrating or difficult. For instance, have you ever had a conversation with your partner and they misinterpret what you meant? Just as it’s not uncommon that things get lost in communication, it’s also not uncommon that this happened because of how you say things.
The truth is, there are effective and not-so effective ways of communicating your problems with your partner that will influence how they receive your message. In fact, little things like saying “You,” “I,” and “We” can have differing results in how your partner responds and interprets your messages. But what’s the difference between them?
- You-statements focus on a thought, feeling, problem, or experience in someone else rather than the person making the statement. For example, “You don’t do anything around the house.”
- I-Statements declare what you as the individual think or feel. For example, “I’m upset that I am doing a lot of work around the house.”
- We-statements would focus on the tendencies, problems, thoughts, feelings, or other experiences in your relationship rather than point the finger at one particular person (like your partner). For example, “We need to change how much work each of us do around the house.”
You may have used all of these statements at some point in your relationship, but research has found that using “We” and “I” statements are more effective than You-statements. You-statements can make your partner defensive and emotionally upset because they may feel attacked or blamed and suggest that one person is more responsible than the other for starting or resolving the problem.
On the other hand, when you use we– or I– statements your partner will be less inclined to respond in that way. Although both are better than you-statements, there are important differences between them. Using we-statements suggest that you both share a problem and are equally responsible for solving the problem. It’s not always best to assume that you both have the same problem. Your partner may not agree with you saying, “We should pack the kids’ lunches for school more” if they have been packing the lunches themselves. So ask your partner if the problem you have is one they have as well.
Alternatively, I-statements should be specific and focus on a problem so you can let your partner know you have a problem. When they are listening they know you are not blaming them, but rather you are bringing up something you need to discuss. Ultimately, using I-statements promote honesty and openness between you both, which is a goal worth striving for in any healthy romantic relationship.
So the next time you want to resolve a problem within your relationship, take a moment to think about how you want to address it with your partner. Is it something that is just bothering you? Or is it something that is frustrating you both? It is also important to think about how you’d like your partner to receive your message; using we- and I-statements can be an effective way of communicating. Using these tips will help you resolve problems together in the future.
Burr, W. R. (1990). Beyond I-statements in family communication. Family Relations, 266-273.