Expert advice

Better than an iPhone: The power of I-statements | Ritual

Orlee Karpel | Team Ritual

Couples I work with are often skeptical about the possibility of change in their relationships. When people reach an impasse, they tend to believe they have to give up a significant part of themselves or give up on what’s meaningful to them, in order to avoid fighting. Like the only way for you to keep the peace is by not insisting on your needs and boundaries. Sounds familiar?

That’s why I love showing people I-statements. They are such a simple, powerful tool, that has the potential to truly shift the dynamics — when we use them correctly. Because, as it turns out, you can say almost anything in the world in ways that feel safer, or less safe. So what are I-statements, and how do we apply them?

Let’s start with what they are:

I-statements are a way to communicate and express our feelings to our partners in a way that can be heard, without triggering defensiveness. When this happens, empathy is possible and closeness is established. For example: instead of saying, “You think I have to be a professional chef to be good enough for you!”, say: “I feel worthless when I hear that the food I made is not liked”. That’s it! Simple, right? But just because something is simple, it doesn’t make it easy.

To use I-statements effectively, we have to let go of a favorite defense mechanism: Blame. Instead of pointing out my partner’s mistakes and attacking them — I have to expose a sensitive piece of myself. And when our feelings are hurt, that can feel unsafe. The thing is, not a lot of things can have such a positive impact on our relationships, and bring them back into safety as I-statements can. It’s totally worth it.

Strong bonds are forged with smart communication

So how do we use I-statements? here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Timing: Opening up to someone requires emotional resources from both sides, so do it when you’re both calm, regulated, and ready for a conversation. Don’t do it when one of you is tired, hungry, drained, busy, or distracted
  2. Before the conversation, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” You might be surprised at how little you know about your own feelings. If you’re unsure, here’s a list of feelings to help you get started.
  3. Avoid mind reading: Assuming our partners’ intentions is a way to get a semblance of control and feel safer in the face of pain. We pay for that illusion of predictability with distance and hurt.
  4. Remember the point: This is about communicating your own feelings to someone you love. Starting your statement with “I feel” isn’t enough if you use it to blame, point fingers, and attack. “I feel that you never listen to me” does not count as an I-statement. This is about you, your feelings. Try “I feel insignificant”, or any other feeling that resonates with you.

Want to know more? Practice I-statements and other helpful tools with Ritual and have a dedicated expert walk you hand-in-hand through the process. Take our relationship assessment to get started.