Guest blogger Elisabeth Stitt
Joyful Parenting Coaching
Expressing Emotions with I-Statements–Tip 2
Often times we make negative assumptions about what our partner is thinking or feeling without doing a reality check. Here’s an example: Barbara is washing the dishes while Bob sits on the couch reading. As she furiously scrubs, she mght be seething thinking, “It’s not fair that I’m working and he’s just sitting there relaxing.” She might go on to tell herself, “he’s okay letting me wash the dishes because I’m home all day and he thinks I don’t do anthing all day.” In reality, Bob might not be aware of her at all. He might just be enjoying his good book. Or he might have his own internal dialogue going. He might be thinking, “I am so stressed from work. I just need 30 minutes to veg out. I wish she’d stop doing the dishes and relax for a bit!” Fear of an argument can make it hard to reasonably ask our partner’s motivations.
An I-Statement is a technique for introducing a difficult topic in a gentle way. Here is an I-Statement Barbara migt have used to express her negative emotions. Addressing Bob, she would say, “When you sit on the couch reading while I am doing dishes, I feel resentful because I am working and you have leisure time.”
Let’s look at each part. The I-Statement starts by identifying one concrete situation. It goes on to express a feeling (in this case resentment) and the underlying cause of the emotion (Barbara would like to be resting, too. but feels she cannot until the dishes are done). Notice what the I-Statement does not say. It is not used for broad general character defamations (like You’re so inconsiderate!) and it does not go over past history (as in “You always let me do dishes and never help).
What should Bob’s response be? this would be an excellent time for Active Listening.He might say something like “You are frustrated that you are doing dishes alone. It doesn’t feel fair.” By not defending himself Bob gives Barbara a chance to off load her emotions and tell her whole story. At the end of the Active Listening he might ask Barbara, “What would you like me to do?” On the other hand, let’s say Bob gets defensive in response to Barbara’s I-Statement and says something like, “You’re always criticizung me.”
Now it’s Barbara’s turn to do some Active Listening. Yes, this might seem counterintuitive: She has introduced her feelings gently with the intent of introducing a constructive conversation. Why is she the one then to open her heart to Bob’s feelings and motivations? Because eventually it works. That is why. Do enough Active Listening and eventually Bob will be ready to hear Babara’s concerns and even honor her requests.When enough good will has been built up –and Bob feels seen and heard and respected–then when Barbara says, “It would make a difference to me if you would help with the dishes,” Bob is likely to jump up and grab a dishtowel.