Almost every communication curriculum I’ve read encourages us to to use statements that begin with “I feel…” It’s so often repeated that we might dismiss it as just something that therapists say to their clients — not something we actually do in real life.
But like Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, I want to bring “I feel” statements back. Such statements are especially important if you are giving feedback to your partner (for example, “I feel that you’ve been spending too much time at work”).
“I feel” statements give you freedom to say what you really feel and in a manner more likely to be received by your partner.
This freedom comes from acknowledging the subjective nature of your relational truth. When you lead with “I feel,” you’ve prefaced that your statement is not objective truth.
If, for example, I tell my partner, “You’ve blown this out of proportion.” I’ve imposed my subjective truth as objective truth on her and that doesn’t feel good. People don’t like such impositions and it leads to defensiveness. She might ask, blown out of proportion according to whom? Was my assertion made by an impartial third-person observer? Of course not.
A simple fix is to calmly say, “I feel you’ve blown this out of proportion.” My partner may still respond defensively, but I’ve done my part. I’ve communicated how I feel by conveying it’s only my truth.
Another reason “I feel” statements are so important is because the practice regulates you as the speaker. If you’re leading with an “I feel” statement, you’re taking the time to slow down and look at your side of the relational equation. You’re forced to use awareness (relational mindfulness) to observe your thoughts and emotions, and only then do you share them.
The best way we connect with your partner is to share what is real for you in a calm and friendly manner.
Then you can have a productive conversation on the issues at hand, i.e. why you felt your partner blew it out of proportion. More times than not, when you both feel that your perspectives are seen and respected, you can find a resolution.
Because there are two different perspectives in relationships, it’s important to honor that. Be mindful not to pass your truth as the truth and impose it on your partner. That leads to defensiveness, which leads to continued conflict. In any case, our relational perceptions are often based on transitory emotions, and so in reality there may be no objective truth to share. Honor your partner as an individual by leading with “I feel…”
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