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The Effectiveness of “I” Statements

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“You over spent this month, and now we’re behind on our budget. Where are we going to get this money?”

“I noticed we’re behind on our budget, which puts a lot of financial pressure on us. Maybe we should talk about the way we spend money to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Financial problems are the root of stress which can lead to conflict in any type of relationship. Each of the above statements are a result of the same circumstances; one partner has caused the two to get behind on their finances, and the other must bring up the issue. How would your response to the first prompt differ from the second? If your response to the second is more positive, you are not alone. Studies show that the manner in which the statement is presented has everything to do with the response it elicits, which is of vital importance for maximizing the efficacy of a relationship.

By opening up the conversation with a “you” statement, where the listener is the subject, the prompt comes off as an accusation which immediately puts the individual on the other side of the conversation on the defensive, and a conversation becomes an argument. Alternatively, opening up the conversation with an “I” statement puts both sides together against the problem instead of against each other. Additionally, focusing on the emotional outcome of the situation (eg. “which puts a lot of financial pressure on us” or “which makes me feel stressed and worried”) means less blame is being put on the other, as opposed to focusing on the unintended negative consequences (eg. “and now we’re behind on our budget”), which shifts the blame entirely to the other individual. Lastly, a solution must be presented in order to pave the way for progress. In the “you” statement, “Where are we going to get this money?” is an aggressive and harsh way of suggesting the other partner must find a solution on their own, whereas in the “I” statement, “I am nervous about spending this much money. Maybe we should talk about the way we spend money and create a budget to make sure this doesn’t happen again. If I knew we had a budget, I would feel much more comfortable and confident about our spending,” presents a calm and rational invitation to work things out together.

The use of “I” statements over “you” statements leads to a myriad of conversational changes which inspire synergy, rationality, higher relationship-satisfaction, mature discussion, and a more efficient manner of reaching solutions to common problems. Effective communication is imperative for managing the de-escalation of stressful situations and high-conflict environments, which makes room for positive interactions and success in co-parenting a household together.

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The Effectiveness of ‘I’ Statements” was written for D’Arienzo Psychological Group by our 2019 summer intern and Stetson University Psychology Major, Thomas Henley.