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Say "I" Not "YOU"

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

You've done some work to identify your feeling state and understand its origins. Now it is time to communicate those feelings.

Communication of emotions is an essential part of a good relationship. Whether at home or at work, others don't know what we are thinking or feeling unless we tell them. Often, men under share their thoughts, perceptions and emotions then wonder why they aren't better understood. Recently a client told me they would rather get into trouble for something they didn't say than get into trouble for something they did say. What an honest statement! My follow-up questions were, "Where did you learn to interact that way?" and "How well did it work for you?"

That's the problem, really. It didn't work for our parents and it doesn't work for us, yet we continue to do it...withhold feelings to prevent hurt feelings in the here and now. What results is a bigger emotional mess to clean up in the future. In terms we can all (maybe) understand, this is like planning drive a car for 100,000 miles on the same oil. There will be breakdowns along the way, and what is at risk is catastrophic failure of the vehicle. Complete seizure of the engine is assured. It's only a matter of time. In relational terms, we must engage in emotional maintenance. We recognize we are emotionally activated and understand our relationships could benefit from processing the feeling with our partner. We must turn toward our partners and communicate the feeling with ownership. Our relationship will be stronger and more connective as a result.

And if you think that not sharing your feelings communicates nothing to your partner about your feelings you are gravely mistaken. It says a lot...about you, about them and about your relationship. Most people will take what another is not saying and create a narrative based on what they fear the other person may be thinking. This narrative is formed with the help of an activated right hemisphere of the brain, which works to protect us from harm. When our right hemisphere is most active, The logic and sequence of our left hemisphere often takes a back seat to the emotional worst-case-scenario efforts of our right hemisphere. This feelings-base narrative will be difficult to rewrite for our partners. So, why not just tell them what's going on with us.

The concept and practice of communicating feelings "with ownership" is of paramount importance. It means owning the feeling (it is yours, after all!) by using the word "I" rather than the word "You" when communicating the feeling means you recognize it is yours. "You" points the finger at others, while "I" points it back at ourselves. When we use the word "you" as we communicate our feelings, we communicate that it is another person's fault that we feel like we do. It is the responsibility of others to "fix" our feelings and change them in some way which is more to our liking.

Here's what it sounds like..."I am feeling frustrated with our finances." "I feel rejected when you say no to sex." "I feel distant from you." "I feel grateful for being in a relationship with such a wonderful person." "I feel happy when I am close to you." "I feel so accepted by you." "I" statements are more likely to be received by your partner in a better way, than using the "You."

"You" statements deflect personal responsibility onto others and create higher levels of conflict in our relationships. "You put me in a bad mood." "You make me feel like I'm disgusting." "You make me feel powerless." "You make me feel angry." "You are always so negative, which makes me angry." All will likely result in a high level of conflict that is difficult to resolve.

Your energy is important when communicating your feelings. When you can collect your thoughts and self-soothe before communicating, you'll project calm and confidence. Confident energy will be felt by the receiver of your message and help them to respond in kind. Your confidence will facilitate a higher level of left brain activity in them. An insecure/nervous energy response, however, will result in a higher level of perceived risk in the receiver, and will likely result in prolonged conflict.

Don't leave blanks for your partner to fill in with worst case scenario. The story is yours. The emotions are yours. The reasons are yours. Own them and communicate them. The amount of time you spend in conflict will be reduced and the strength of your connect with your partner will increase.

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