Utilizing I Feel Statements

Written by Katie Mitchell, M.A.,

Ever had an argument or conversation with a significant other where you walked away thinking, “That conversation did not start or end like I anticipated!”  I think most people can relate to this experience.  One of the most helpful things that I have found for couple is to start the conversation in a better, less defensive way so that the conversation continues to be more open and non-judgmental.  Dr. John Gottman has perfected the method for couples to begin a conversation in a non-defensive manner called softened start-ups.

Utilize I feel statements. When you can utilize an “I feel” statement versus a “you did” statement, blame and criticism are greatly reduced.  An “I feel” statement looks like “I feel (insert ONE emotion word here) because of (experience).” An “I feel” statement IS NOT, “I feel like…”  In order to make sure that you are really using an “I feel” statement, try replacing the word feel with think.  If using the word think, no longer makes the statement valid, then odds are you are using “I feel” statements correctly!  If think does replace feel and the statement still makes sense, then likely you are not truly using an “I feel” statement – you are likely expressing a thought, which is different than a feeling – so work on rephrasing and try again!  An example of this would be:  Instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” try out, “I feel disappointed when I am attempting to engage/connect with you and it is not reciprocated.”

Avoid absolute terms.  When we are upset, it is easy to begin using definitive terms such as always or never.  These terms can quickly turn a conversation into an argument though because partners will often go on the defense and bring up times that always and never are not true.  This will often leave both of you feeling defensive and derail the original intentions of the conversation.

Describe what is happening in a non-judgmental wayTo have an open discussion that will lead to positive change, judgments, accusations and criticisms must be minimized.  I am not stating that your disappointment and hurt cannot be communicated to your partner.  But, typically pointing fingers in an accusatory way does not lead to positive change or even an open to-and-fro conversation.  For example, instead of stating, “you never pay attention to me” try saying, “It has been a few days since we have noticed one another… I would like to connect with you.”

Describe your needs in a positively reinforced way.  Think about what you want or need out of your relationship or from your partner, and then how you can state that in a positive form.  By positive terms, I mean to focus on the things that you would like to see more of or something that you would like to see start happening; instead of focusing on the things that you want your partner to stop doing.  For example, instead of stating, “I want you to stop spending so much time on your phone,” try saying, “I would appreciate if we could spend more time connecting without our phones present.”

Be considerate and polite.  Being polite with one another can go a long way!  Often couples will say, but I do not want to have have to “put on” for my partner – they can see the true me and still love me.  While this might be true, there are things that you would likely say to your partner, but not a stranger – and yet, which relationship means more to you?  Again, being considerate of each other’s feelings can make a huge difference when expressing feelings, thoughts, and needs.

Show appreciation.  I have yet to meet a person who does not like when their partner (or someone else) acknowledges the things they are doing well.  Acknowledging appreciation typically helps partners to be more willing to meet the needs you have expressed.

Be specificAs much as we love to think are partners are capable of ESP, they are not.  Your partner can not read your mind, so when asking for something or expressing your needs, be specific and voice it!  Again, avoid absolute terminology, and instead focus on things that would help your partner better understand your perspective.   

Take time for reflection, but do not let emotions fester into resentment.  I have heard several clients say that I need time to process and then usually I am over our argument.  If that is truly the case, then great – take your processing time!  However, if you process and then sweep your feelings “under a rug” – with time this often turns into resentment.  Take your time to process, but then try to sit down with your partner and each discuss your feelings and thoughts.  Try out your active listening skills with one another!

Some people might read these guidelines and think, “Wow, that seems like I would be walking on eggshells around my partner.”  Soft start-ups are not meant to be like walking on egg shells.  This process instead helps partners more clearly state what they are feeling, thinking, and seeking to one another in a clear and receptive manner.  If you and your partner are struggling with soft start-ups, reach out to our office today!