There are basically just two elements to communication in a relationship: listening and talking. We’ve already talked about listening. Talking is the other half. There are some elements of speaking that are important if you want the best chance of being heard, especially if you are talking about something you disagree about or if you are asking for something.
First, it may sound obvious, but it’s important to stay on the topic. If you are trying to tell your spouse that something they have done has upset you, don’t drag in a laundry list of past grievances. This waters down your effectiveness, confuses the issue, and makes the other person defensive. But what if your partner is defensive? Visualize heading down a straight road to a particular goal, and resist the temptation to follow them down a side road. Just politely ignore or bring the subject back to what you’re trying to share. This will be most effective when speaking from your own perspective (using “I” statements).
There are “I” statements and “You” statements. “You” statements are things like, “You make me angry!”, “You’re lazy”, or “You don’t listen.” These are basically attacks on your partner’s behavior and/or character. “You” statements invite defensiveness or counterattack. They also don’t tell the other person very much about you.
A basic “I” statement includes what you feel and/or what you want. When you tell your spouse that you’re feeling like you’re doing more than your share of the work and would like them to help with specific tasks, you share yourself. The nice thing about “I” statements is that people generally don’t argue with you about what you feel. You just feel what you feel. It really doesn’t even matter if it’s a reasonable feeling or not. We all want our partner to care about our feelings. The second part of “I” statements, asking for what you want or need, focuses on solutions instead of blame.
One of the exercises I give couples is to change “you” statements into “I” statements. Try some of these with your partner.
You make me angry!
You never let me get a word in!
Don’t be so touchy!
That wasn’t funny!
Remember, think about what you might be feeling if you said these and/or what you might be wanting. Possible answers are at the end of this article.
The last thing about speaking is to say what you want rather than what you don’t want. For example, instead of saying, “You’re always watching TV”, try “I would really like to do something together tonight.” If you think the difference is trivial, experiment with examples with your spouse.
Possible answers for above “you” statements: (“I’m feeling angry”, “I have something I really want to say” OR “I have something I really want you to hear”, “I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around you”, and “That comment you just made hurt my feelings.”