Being heard in a relationship sometimes eludes all of us.  I’ve personally been down that road many times in the past. Let me give you an example.

It was supposed to be a simple conversation about not leaving the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes. I was going to explain why this was unacceptable and my husband was going to smile, nod his head, and agree to change his behavior. We’d both walk away feeling great and the situation would be resolved forever.

Was this a fantasy I was having? A daydream? A tall tale from the mythical land of Perfect Marriage-vania? It might as well have been. No, it was simply my naïve assumption that a conversation about a domestic concern I had would go smoothly, even though I was relying on some old, bad communication habits. Needless to say, my fantasy conversation didn’t turn out exactly as I’d planned.

My critical mistake was starting out with something like, “You are always leaving your dirty dishes in the sink.” If you’re trying to talk about a difficult issue or a problem that needs to be solved, the word “You” can be your worst enemy. “You” messages typically make people mad and defensive because they sound accusatory, blaming, or hostile.

“I” messages, on the other hand, allow us to express our feelings and needs without alienating or angering the other person. “I” messages usually begin with phrases like “I feel…”, “I need…”, “I have a problem with…”, “I believe…”, or “I’m concerned about…” With “I” messages, we don’t blame others for how we feel or for what happened. The conversation can be calm, positive, respectful, and create a sense of teamwork and cooperation.

If I were able to climb into my time machine and rewind my conversation with my husband, I’d try to say something like, “I get frustrated when the sink is full of dirty dishes.” No blame, no accusations, just a statement of how I feel about the situation. And hopefully, this would lead us to working together to find a solution to the problem that we both felt good about.

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Have you tried using “I” messages with your family and friends? How did it go? Leave a comment and share your story.