How to Be More Assertive with Your Partner By Using “I” Statements

How to Be More Assertive with Your Partner By Using “I” Statements November 9, 2019

Before you can begin to build successful relationships, you must have healthy self-esteem – which means believing in yourself. One of the first things to consider is: how do you treat yourself? No one is going to treat you with respect if you beat yourself up and are not able to ask for what you need.

Get rid of all those self-defeating thoughts in your head – such as calling yourself “stupid” that won’t help you express your needs clearly and effectively.

When one partner communicates effectively it encourages their partner to do the same. That said, communication affects how safe and secure we feel in our relationships and our level of intimacy. In other words, it’s a challenge to be vulnerable and honest with a person when you can’t trust that he or she will respond in a positive or appropriate way.

For instance, because Maura fears Tim will be critical and blame her for her their financial problems because she spends too much money on new clothes, she doesn’t speak up and isn’t transparent with him. Then when this happens, Tim feels angry and resentful and the vicious cycle of poor communication continues. Now that Maura and Tim are aware of this ineffective pattern, they are working on ways to listen and respond more positively to each other to improve the quality of their communication.

“I” Statements

One highly effective way of stopping this negative cycle of relating to your partner inappropriately is the use of “I” statements when communicating important information to your partner. An “I” statement is an assertive message about your thoughts or feelings without placing blame or judgment on your partner. It makes it more likely your partner will hear what you say and not get defensive in contrast to a “You” message which is negative and lacks integrity.

An “I” statement is a style of communication that focuses on the feelings or beliefs of the speaker rather than thoughts and characteristics that the speaker attributes to the listener. For instance, a person might say to his or her partner, “I feel rejected and worried when you come home late without calling,” instead of demanding and blaming, “You’re so selfish, you never call me when you’re running late.” Further, “I” statements are a good way to ensure that partners are accepting responsibility for their feelings and actions. There are three aspects of using “I” messages effectively according to experts.

  1. Emotion: “I feel…” (state your emotion): It is a self-disclosure, referring to “I” and expresses a feeling. It must be expressed by stating how you feel not “You make me feel” etc.
  2. Behavior: “When you…” (describe their behavior or describe the conditions that are related to your feelings). Refer to the other person’s observable behavior or the conditions that are relevant for you to feel the way you do. State the facts without opinions, threats, criticism, ultimatums, judging, and mind-reading or other words or behaviors that might create defensiveness.
  3. Why: “Because…” (explain why those conditions or your partner’s behavior cause you to feel this way). Explain why you experience this emotion when your partner does the behavior. Also, include how you interpret their behavior and any tangible or concrete effect their behavior has on you. Be especially careful about not being blameful when you describe the “because.”

For example, Maura might say to Tim: “I feel worried about telling you I spent too much money shopping because I don’t feel you’ll trust me anymore.” Whereas a “You” statement might be: “You never trust me so that’s why I didn’t tell you about spending so much money. It seems like you get mad when you can’t control our money.”

Think about the impact of each statement on this couple’s communication and level of trust and intimacy. The “You” statement will most likely cause Tim to feel defensive and to get angrier at Maura, whereas the “I” statement promotes good communication.

By using assertive communication, you are opening the door to intimacy. Love means risking occasionally getting your feelings hurt; it’s a price you have to pay for intimacy because you and your partner are being open and vulnerable with each other. Conflict will happen and differences don’t have to lead to breakup. Real love starts with you. The more you know and understand what makes you tick the better prepared you’ll be to invite a partner into your life to create a successful relationship.

For the most part, people who are assertive have higher self-esteem because they take ownership for their behavior and feel empowered to ask for what they need to be happy. Keep in mind that being more assertive and using “I” statements can improve the quality of all of your relationships including with friends, family members, and co-workers. In addition, if you’re a parent, you’re setting a good example for your children when you use assertive communication and it can have a positive impact on their relationships throughout their lives.

Twitter, Facebookand, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry


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