“You” Messages Versus “I” Messages

Whenever speaking to your partner, and especially in times of conflict, always speak in “I” messages as opposed to “You” messages. “I” messages are statements about how “I feel,” while “You” messages are statements about your partner, often accusative and judgmental in nature. If you want to tell your spouse something about his behavior that's bothering you without making him defensive, learn the difference between an “I” message and a “You” message.

Sharon is a stay-at-home mom. Her husband Tom works outside the home. At the end of the day, Sharon often feels Tom is unfairly critical of her, and then she responds defensively. For example, when Tom walks in the front door and sees toys and clothes in disarray on the floor, he'll say something like “Jeez, what a mess.” In response, Sharon lashes out, saying: “I work hard all day with the kids, too.” These tensions, and the stress and exhaustion behind them, are very common when one partner stays home to care for young children and the other works outside the home.

While she may not be able to make the tensions disappear, there's another, more effective way Sharon can express her complaint to Tom. She can say: “When you speak to me like that, I become hurt and angry, and then I can't listen to you.”

With this delivery, Sharon owns her feeling and asks for what she needs.

A “You” message blames and inflames. An “I” message speaks to the issue at hand, and de-escalates an argument.

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