It’s Not You, It’s Me

What happens inside of you when someone says “You!” to describe you, your feelings or your behavior? For instance, what if someone asks you, “Why are you always angry?” Or, “What is wrong with you?” Do you feel your internal defenses rising?

Dr. Thomas Gordon, clinical psychologist, developed the Gordon Model. Gordon’s method is a system for building relationships. Dr. Gordon advised using I-statements in our relationships.

You-statements are usually received as criticism. Notice the difference in these two comments:

“You’re selfish! I’ve been waiting for you for 30 minutes!” This is an accusation. On the other hand, if the speaker reflects his own experience, the conversation starts on a different trajectory: “I’m glad you are here. I felt awkward waiting here alone.” I-statements focus on the speaker’s perceptions and experience. I-statements are a gentler, often more effective, and respectful communication approach with our partner and with others.

Another benefit of I-statements is they help us assume responsibility for our own emotional world and our own feelings, rather than blaming our partner or others for how we feel. One place that couples can become stuck is blaming their partner. Turning inward matters.

I-statements also serve as preemptive and active approaches to prevent conflicts from escalating. I-statements help us manage and contain our disagreements, decreasing our tendency to shame and insult our partner. All forms of insults ultimately harm relationships.

Dr. Gordon coined the term I-statements in his work with children to help children express their emotions. Dr. Gordon later taught his I-statement concepts to parents in his book, Parent Effectiveness Training. Using I-statements, and avoiding you-statements, can help us in intimate relationships, parenting, with coworkers, neighbors, and other relationships.

Relationships evolve. Relationships are laboratories for “trying on” new behaviors. One starting place for relationship change is practicing I-statements. Emotional connection deepens when we feel understood. Describing my own feelings and thoughts, rather than my partner’s, is a good place to start. The pronoun we use isn’t necessarily the key, yet talking with our partner, without criticizing, is more likely to enhance our relationship.

If you want additional help practicing communication skills, and learning helpful ways to incorporate I-statements in your intimate relationship, contact a relationship expert here.

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