Guest blogger: Elisabeth Stitt
Joyful Parenting Coaching
Tip 2–Expressing Emotions with I-Statements
Many 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 is on the couch reading. As she furiously scrubs, she might be 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. He thinks I don’t do anything 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.
What to Do
An I-Statement is a technique for introducing a difficult topic in a gentle way. Here is an I-Statement Barbara might have used to express her negative emotions. 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 she feels she can’t 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 a good time to use Active Listening. He might say something like “You’re really frustrated that you’re doing dishes alone. It doesn’t feel fair to you.” 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 Bob might ask, “What would you like me to do?” On the other hand, suppose Bob gets defensive and says, “You’re always criticizing me.” Now it’s Barbara’s turn to do some Active Listening
This may sound counter intuitive: Barbara has opened her feelings with the intent of starting a constructive conversation. Why is she the one opening her heart to Bob’s feelings and motivations? Because eventually it will work, that’s why. Do enough Active Listening and eventually Bob feels seen and heard and respected. Then when Barbara says, “It would make a big differance to me if you would help me with the dishes”, Bob is likely to jump up from the couch and grab a dish towel.