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Relationships and communication

Your use of language can convey many different thoughts and feelings.

“You make me feel so angry!”

“When you say ‘X’, I feel angry.”

Now, which sentence is likely to gain a more positive response? It doesn’t take a relationship counsellor to determine which one is less defensive and more likely to reduce conflict, and thus lead to a more constructive outcome. Did you notice any difference in the way you read each sentence?

The above example is a common representation of the importance (and difference) of “You-language” and “I-language”, and a demonstration of the norm of reciprocity – when someone is friendly with us, we’re more like to be friendly in return, same with being aggressive/defensive.

“You-statements can be perceived as accusatory which makes them a risky choice of language during conflict.”

Try another example, “you have done X and so you have made me feel bad” compared with “when X happens I don’t feel so good”. The added benefit of I-statements is that it communicates that you are owning your own emotions. That is, you are communicating a recognition that your own emotions stem from your own perspective and there is a chance your perspective might be wrong, and perhaps most importantly, that you are open to discussing each other’s perspectives rather than simply telling the other person how it is.

“I-language is framing things as coming from your own point of view whereas you-language is framing things such that you are directly pointing out what the other person thinks/feels/does without necessarily acknowledging that it is just your point of view on things.”

My postgraduate psychology supervisor published a paper on this very topic, and in short found that using I-language and communicating perspective were both found to reduce perceptions of hostility. Statements that communicated both self and other-perspective using I-language (e.g. “I understand why you might feel that way, but I feel this way, so I think the situation is unfair”) were rated as the best strategy to open a conflict discussion.

I’m not saying this is foolproof and will deescalate every conflict with 100% certainty, quite possibly there are deeper problems at hand, but it will do a better job at resolving issues, articulating empathy and understanding what belongs to us.

“No relationship survives when one person is always right. You must move towards the collective good. Learn to become indifferent to what makes no difference by asking yourself is this really worth arguing over?”

There has to be a willingness, a desire, to better understand your partner, to communicate honestly and effectively for the betterment of the relationship. If you aren’t feeling heard try expressing it as “I am feeling unheard or I feel my needs are going unmet and I’d like to talk to you about this”, as opposed to “you aren’t listening to me or why do you never listen to me.”

“Things are more complex than people like to think – especially when it comes to humans and their social relations.”

At this point I’d also like to stress the importance/necessity of good face-to-face communication as a crucial component of relationship success. I know it seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many relationships descend into chaos as a result of this deteriorating. The increasingly tech savvy nature of the world we inhabit plus working situations (e.g. both full-time, FIFO or working away) puts pressure on being in the presence of one another for verbal (and physical, for that matter) intimacy.

“FaceTime is better than no time, but there is no time like quality time.”

Sometimes we can also feel the need to say "I agree" or "I understand" when we really don’t mean that. We would like to please our partners and have them reciprocate, but sometimes this can result in “people pleasing”, incessant helping or doing things primarily to obtain a positive response we crave. It’s understandable, I mean, who doesn’t like to thanked or loved or appreciated, but the aforementioned behaviour can result in less than desirable outcomes.

Rather than acknowledging our partner may not require our help, we become enraged or disappointed, as our opportunity to feel good about doing something for them has been taken away from us, instead of allowing for the personal agency of our partner – because the aim here is for us to feel good and we react poorly because our partner has robbed this of us. So, what usually happens is that we double-down and insist we help or we find something else we could possibly do, desperate to feel good – what usually results is our partner resisting our help even stronger (not the outcome we want). Now, this can escalate to a full-blown argument when it could have been easily avoided.

“Sometimes the greatest love we can show someone is to allow them to struggle, waiting patiently only if they require our help. Giving someone the space to ask us for help requires us to sit with our anxiety of watching them suffer. We must resist the urge to immediately remove their suffering for the greater good.”

Relationships should never come down to a competition of whose needs are greater, but sadly sometimes they do, and usually in relationships that are not going to last. Similar to ones where someone says, “you’re always like that, you’ve always been like that and you’ll never change”, I mean, what do you say to something like that? What is the point of trying to change? It’s like “why are you with me, then?”

I would very much like YOU to succeed in your relationships, but I don’t feel YOU will if YOU use too much YOU-Language.

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"YOU" are quite right there Martyn :-) I do clearly see where you get your writing material from😙


Martyn Foster
Martyn Foster
Nov 24, 2023
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haha touché 😂

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