Let us assume for the sake of an example that my wife is quite forgetful. One morning I ask her to do me a favor, but find that she forgot to do it when I get home from work later that evening. Quite naturally, I am disappointed and angered. I might think to myself that if she really loved me she would have complied with my wishes, and so deep inside, I am hurt by her memory failure. Hurt feelings are usually an underlying cause of angry feelings. However, it would take more courage from me to admit hurt, to share my doubt about her love, than to express my anger.
Let us consider two ways that I could express my feelings about this situation - using "you statements" and using "I statements".
In the first instance, I might tell my wife, "you've got a memory like an elephant".
"You're always forgetting to do what I ask."
"You never pay attention to what I say. You must not care about me." What is wrong with me using these "you statements"?
In the first place, I would be expressing my feelings but only indirectly. My wife would know that I was angry but she would be unaware of the depth of my hurt feelings.
Secondly, I would be attacking and criticizing my wife directly. She would then be hurt and would probably strike back in anger at me. We would then be at the start of a major fight.
Thirdly, by labeling her as a forgetful person who doesn't listen to me or care about me, I might create a situation in which my wife might think to herself, "if he thinks I am this way, I might as well be. Maybe I don't care about him." In other words, I might encourage the very behaviors that I want her to change.
Now consider the use of "I statements".
"I really don't like it when you forget to do what I ask."
"I really get angry when I ask you to do something and you forget to do it."
"I'm quite hurt that you have not done that favor I asked you to do. It would have been a sign to me that you love me if you had done it."
In these statements, I do not directly criticize, attack, or label my wife, and so I minimize the chances of her being hurt and angry and retaliating against me. But I do express my feelings and needs directly and clearly. Perhaps if my wife knew that I would have interpreted her having done what I asked as a sign of love for me, and that I was hurt that she did not, she would be more willing to respond to my requests in the future.
Love and successful marriages are built-upon mutual need fulfillment and clear, honest communication. We love those who meet our needs or help us to meet our needs, and dislike those who frustrate us. But if needs are to be fulfilled in a loving relationship, they must be clearly expressed. My wife can't fulfill my needs if she doesn't know what they are, and vice versa.
"I statements" clearly express emotions and needs, and so lead to a strengthening of the love relationship. But it takes courage to use them. "You statements" only confuse the issues and lead to further hurt and anger.
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