Wednesday, May 26, 2010

WHAT IS AN "I STATEMENT?"

A couple who has been married for many years and has been to several marriage counselors were in my office the other day. Because of the previous counseling I assumed that they knew the term "I statement" as we were discussing their communication skills. However, I was surprised when the husband looked at me quizzically---"What the heck is an 'I statement'?"

This exchange helped me to remember that maybe this is not as common knowledge as I previously assumed. So...just what is an "I statement?"

An I statement is a way to express your feelings and your thoughts by starting with the pronoun: "I..."
it is a way to lessen defensiveness and to more clearly express what you want, what you need and allows you to take ownership for your feelings and thoughts. Often times when we want to communicate (especially about difficult feelings) we start with "You...".
Think back to a time when someone started a converstation with you with "You..."
Unless it was "You are great! You are a fantastic person!", it probably raised your blood pressure a bit right?
When we hear a converstation especially one that requires us to do something or become aware of something that begins with YOU as in:

You didn't take out the garbage last night...
You are always late...
You had better get up...
You need to listen to me...
You hurt my feelings...
Your parents are rude...

the tendency is to immediately become defensive. When we become defensive, then we become almost unable to listen openmindedly and respond appropriately. However, when we hear:

I am worried that the garbage won't be picked up...
I don't want to be late...
I want to let you know that the alarm went off,
I felt bad when you left me at the party last night...
I felt sad when your mom said...

It allows the listener to better understand what YOU are feeling and what YOU are thinking--in other words it takes the focus off of your partner and her behavior and allows her to understand you better. It then allows him the opportunity to change his behavior because he wants you to feel better and wants to help meet your needs. It also promotes closeness, understanding and acutal problem solving.

Try this template next time you want to discuss your thoughts and feelings:


I feel...............when.............because............what I would like is........if you would be willing to do that, then I will..........


Of course, it always helps if you add a "soft start up" to an I statement such as Dear, Honey, Puppy or whatever term of endearment you use in your relationship!

Try it and see what happens....let me know...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NEVER GO TO BED ANGRY AND OTHER MARITAL MYTHS

An article on MSN's homepage recently caught my eye:  "Rules you can Break".  I recognized the old standbys that have become mythologized in marital lore and given as advice at countless bridal showers--(who knows how they come into be?)
How many times have we heard:  "Don't go to bed angry?"  Fearing the worst, do we half heartedly make up and pretend that everything is OK, because we're tired and have a full  day tomorrow and don't have the energy to resolve a conflict at bedtime or do we go on and on arguing into the night trying to make up so that we never go to bed angry?  The  more tired we are the angrier we're likely to become.

 I recently had a couple--believers in this myth-who stayed up the entire night trying to resolve a conflict--which resulted in their teenage son missing school because he was kept up by their arguing and both of them feeling even more resentful as, exhausted, they went to their jobs in the morning!  Needless to say they didn't talk about it that night either--they were both too tired and went to bed early!  They still have not resolved the original conflict and are leary to bring it up again--who wants a repeat of sleeplessness,  exhaustion and resentment?

It's OK to take a time out and go to bed with an agreed upon time and place to continue the discussion the next day. 

It is surprising how a good night's sleep and  a good breakfast can lighten the mood.  Often, what was bothering us when we were tired. isn't bothering us at all or at least not to the extent it was when we are rested and have had time to calm ourselves and perhaps put the conflict into perspective.

Readers, what do you think? What are some of the "rules" you've been taught that you've been questioning?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marriage - The Pride Factor

The hour is late and  the air is tense, the couple is sitting in my office taking turns describing the values that are most important to them.  "Acceptance, appreciation...." he states.  She is looking off into the distance.  "I just want to be accepted for who I am,"  he continues looking at her intently, imploringly, body tense.  As their counselor, I am hoping that she will turn to him, make eye contact, smile and say something..even just "OK" would be nice.  He has been shut down for months--even years and has not shared his feelings.  He is vulnerable and this is a big step.  She says nothing.  "Do you have a response to Edward's statement?"  I ask after minutes have ticked by.  "No", she replies. Edward deflates. Soon time is up.  They head toward the door.  As they leave, I sigh and think about the lost moment---an opportunity to grow closer--to understand and to truly know each other but pride got in the way.

Many times in marriage a negative cycle is started. One of the partners will do something not particularly positve and the other will respond in kind and back and forth and on and on--the cycle has begun and who or what is going to break it?  We know that we are in a negative cycle but we wait for the other to interrupt it--we wait for their apology, for them to wake up and change--after all they started it--or did they?  We often can't remember.  Instead of waiting for the other to make everything all better--what can we do to interrupt this cycle of hurt and pain that leaves us feeling alone and sad?  Think about your reasons for holding on to anger and the hurt. When our partner reaches out, can we recognize it and respond positively?  What stops us from doing so?  It is amazing how sometimes very little has to happen for the cycle to be broken: a smile, a touch, a compliment.  Feeling that you are right and justified and wronged prevents you from being the first to reach out, but do you really like it this way? 

Reach out, don't be afraid to be the first to break the cycle of negativity and crack the protective shell of pridefulness.  The available closeness and happiness are worth the risk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

RECIPROCATING IN RELATIONSHIPS

I received an interesting question from the last post:
 "What if you do thoughtful things for your partner and they show no love or graditude in return?"
Let's explore this somewhat complicated question with more questions:
  • At what point is reciprocity expected in a love relationship?  
  • For how long do we continue to give when we are getting nothing in return?  
To help find the answer to the above questions ask yourself:  (another question!)
Why am I doing this?
Sometimes the answer can be surprising.  If the answer is "so that I will get something in return" or "so that she/he will..." then it is time to do a little soul searching.  Yes, it is human nature to do nice things for others so that in turn they will do nice things for us--this is how a big part of society functions peacefully and politely.  But what about giving just for the sake of giving and for no other reason than you know that it will make the other person happy?  This is love at a higher level.  This is the kind of love that each of us craves in our relationships.

A young couple I saw recently was experiencing conflict in this area.  The wife was angry because she had done several very nice, thoughtful things in a short period of time for the husband.  He had thanked her at the time and seemed to enjoy it, but as the week went on and he did not reciprocate in kind, she grew more and more irritated and resentful. "I did (this), (this) and (that) for him and he hasn't done one thing for me."  The husband was surprised and saddened.  He had sincerely appreciated her actions and was planning something special for her but now his feelings of happiness and love for her turned into feelings of obligation--"like I owe her..." and wariness of her motives in the future-- "what am I supposed to do whenever she is being nice to me?" As the wife examined her heart and understood that her actions were not completely altruistic toward her husband but mostly about her and her expectations, she was able to make changes in her attitude the next time she decided to do something "nice".

On the other hand, if you feel that you are doing quite a bit to maintain and grow the relationship and getting very little in return, it is OK to step back (not with meanness or resentment) and allow your partner the opportunity to "miss" your loving actions.  Most of the time this is all that is needed for the other "to wake up" and realize all the sweet, kind, loving things you have done and to step in to do more of his or her part.  This is a good check and balance system in any relationship to avoid any one partner from feeling taken for granted or that they have made too many "withdrawals" and not received enough "deposits".

Thanks for your thought provoking question EBP!  Readers, do you have anything to add?