When marriage counselors tell you to say the “I feel” statements and it doesn’t work, it feels very vulnerable.
After seeing thousands of couples for the last 27 years, I have developed my own program to help couples feel understood by each other. When a partner says “I feel hurt by you because you said you were going to take out the garbage and you didn’t”, they think they are being vulnerable. Why do they think they’re being vulnerable? Well, in the past they have just gotten mad and said “I can’t believe you didn’t take out the garbage. I can’t count on you. You never keep your promises”.
So when a therapist tells them to say the “I feel” statements, immediately the spouse gets defensive because they feel attacked and put down. The partner that changes to say the “I feel” statements instead of accusing, feels like they are communicating in a healthy way and that their partner will hear them and not be disappointed. However, what happens when you use “I feel” statements, is that automatically implies that the other person is doing something wrong. When a spouse thinks they are being told they are doing something wrong all the time the only thing they know how to do is to defend themselves. After all, when you feel put down our natural reaction is to protect ourselves.
So instead, I tell couples to say “Something I am doing wrong in the relationship lately is __________”. An example of this is, “I know that I’ve been on my phone a lot lately and that’s not really fair to you because I’m not present. Can I bring up something that is upsetting to me and makes me feel like I’m not important.”
When we admit our wrongdoings and we don’t only point out what our partners doing wrong, our partner tends to hear what we say differently. The problem is that couples are so used to only thinking of what the other person is doing wrong instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong. People often tell me that they tried this approach, but how many people actually go up to their spouse and reflect on how they could be a better partner and actually verbalize it. If you’re a person that does it without therapy then I am amazed because unfortunately as humans we do tend to blame rather than take responsibility.
If you’re reading this article chances are you’ve looked for an article on how to improve your relationship, therefore I highly doubt that you have admitted your wrongdoings before saying how you felt. In a relationship, it is very important to consider your partner’s needs without them even stating them. Every morning try to think about how can I show my partner that I care about them. This is not shown by doing things, such as taking out the garbage. we’re doing all the things that your partner has been asking you to do. Rather it is emotionally being a different person and also communicating that you’re thinking of how to be a better partner.
Another suggestion is when you’re fighting with your partner, do something different to stop the pattern. For example, if you are fighting badly and have said mean things to each other, just look at your partner and say “I really do love you and I am sorry that I am being so mean. I really don’t mean this and can I give you a hug?” I have seen three-day fights be solved within five minutes just by this approach.
I often have one partner say “Well if I do that, then my partner will never take responsibility for their wrongdoings”. The opposite is true. When we start to act the way we want our partners to act, we actually see a change in our partners. We actually don’t feel taken advantage of or don’t feel like our partners don’t care about us. It starts to change things in our partner.
It’s very hard in life to look at our shortcomings and to not live our life through the lens of victims. I am not saying that one partner might not be responsible for more of the pain in the relationship. Perhaps one partner has caused more pain by cheating or drinking, those are different situations. I’m just talking about every day getting along.