“You are doing it again.”
“You are not listening to me.”
“I need you to look at me.”
In your relationships, there may be times you need to be direct and clearly assign blame. You may want to be assertive and directive. Sometimes, you may be really upset and clearly use your voice and emotion as a weapon against your partner.
Other times, though, you are attempting to express and connect with your partner and stumble into a conflict innocently by the use of ‘you’. The following blog speaks to that and gives you some strategies for YOU to use instead of saying “YOU” all the time!
We See the World From Our Own Viewpoint
Our eyes are looking outside at the world. When we are with a partner and feel an emotion, it’s natural to look outside of ourselves for the cause. So, for example, if I am looking at you and see something happening, it’s natural to say “You are hurting my feelings by not listening.” because I am feeling hurt and I am seeing you as the cause of it. From my perspective, it’s valid and is my truth.
Following this reasoning, what is your partner seeing as she receives this message? She is also looking at the world from her own perspective. She is hearing a statement that sounds like a criticism about her listening and a blame about your pain. These words do not sound like a neutral or helpful conversation phrase, they appear to be an ‘attack’ coming right at her.
Using ‘You’ Brings up Defenses and Disconnection
Many times, in our relationships, we are simply trying to express ourselves and not ‘attack’ the other person, yet when we voice things with a “you”, it’s as if we are pointing a finger right at our partner. It feels like an attack.
Biologically, if we feel attacked by anyone, our brain interprets this as a form of danger and will go into fight/flight/freeze mode. Our defenses come up, adrenaline starts moving, and our cognitive ability to listen is impaired. We are in reaction mode.
For couples, the impact is even worse. If your partner perceives your statement as an ‘attack’, she won’t feel so ‘safe’ at that moment and will experience some disconnection. In response to that, she will most likely react either by Pursuing or Withdrawing to address that disconnection and you two may very well end up in your familiar negative pattern.
(If the terms ‘pursuing’ and ‘withdrawing’ are unfamiliar to you, please refer to my blog “Our Relationship Conflicts: Two Sides of the Same Coin” to learn more about how we handle conflicts in the lens of Emotionally Focused Therapy)
We are expressing our feelings or needs in the hopes our partner will do something differently. The goal is to make things better, not to create a conflict or ‘attack’ our partner. But, despite our best intentions, we may not know how to express ourselves otherwise.
What to Do Instead?
Use the “I” Perspective, When You Can
Express what you feel, hear, see, and interpret, rather than what your partner is ‘doing’. By using “I”, you are naming that it’s your perspective; that it’s coming from you and cannot be debated. That is very different than telling your partner what he/she is doing to you (which your partner can then deny and debate).
“When I see the door locked, I don’t feel wanted; I feel unwanted, actually.” versus “You didn’t want me; you locked me out.”
“I feel minimized and invalidated right now, like my opinion doesn’t matter.” versus “You are minimizing me again; you don’t even care what I think.”
“I hear anger in your voice and I am concerned we may have an argument.” versus “I know you are angry; I can hear it in your voice. You are just looking for a fight.”
“When I am talking and then I get talked over, I feel unheard; like my opinion is not important.” versus “You always interrupt me; why do I even bother?”
Use a More Passive ‘Voice’
This involves using ‘we’ or taking out ‘I’ and ‘you’ altogether. With this strategy, it’s more about describing the situation in general or omitting the ‘you’, even if it could have been said.
“It seems our relationship is stuck.” versus “You don’t love me anymore.”
“This seems so big and full of emotion right now.” versus “You are just being too needy and sensitive about this!”
“When these conflicts come up again and again, it’s really hard to keep trying.” versus “You just keep bringing up issues all the time; we are hopeless.”
“When the kids were not picked up today, they were scared.” versus “You didn’t pick up the kids today; they were scared.”
Use Softer Words if You Must Use “You”
Some words convey things as facts. When you use such words, your partner is more likely to react because it sounds as if you are presuming you know more about them than they do themselves. Substitute the stronger words of ‘is’ and ‘are’ with softer words, such as ‘seems’ or ‘looks like’.
“I see your face and from my view, it seems you are not fine.” versus “You don’t look fine.”
“I wonder what is going on for you?” versus “What’s your issue now?”
“You seem sad.” versus “I can see in your face, you are sad.”
“It looks as if you are still thinking about things.” versus “You are still thinking about it; I can tell.”
This Takes Practice
Be compassionate with yourself and remember that we are looking at the world through our own lens and seeing what is DONE TO us. Nonetheless, we want you to challenge those tendencies so you are less likely to express yourself in a manner your partner perceives as an attack. Try the practice below (maybe even with your partner) to improve those skills.
Communication Activity: Removing the “You”
Below are 5 sentences. Play with them to see how you might be able to express a similar concept but sound less ‘attacking’.
“These socks were left on the floor by you.”
“You are hurting my feelings.”
“You are asking me so many questions; I can’t think!”
“You didn’t introduce me to your mother.”
“I don’t like it when you look at me that way.”
You will get this; be patient, practice, and listen to others as examples of what works and what doesn’t work.
Learn Communication Tools for Your Relationship With a Private Couples Therapy Intensive
Relationships can be complicated and it’s exhausting to have to deal with conflicts coming out of nowhere. Sometimes communication can feel like a carton full of eggshells just waiting to be walked on.
Private Couple and Marriage Retreats (couples therapy intensives) and “Hold Me Tight®” Couples Workshops help you learn communication tools so you can resolve conflicts and re-connect. New England Hold Me Tight has skilled therapists and relationship coaches who specialize in helping couples like you who want to save a marriage or improve a relationship.
To start your path towards a healthier relationship, follow these simple steps:
1. Contact Bri McCarroll at New England Hold Me Tight.
2. Meet for a free 50-minute consultation (video or in office).
3. Determine if a Private Couples Intensive (Retreat) or a “Hold Me Tight Workshop®” could be helpful to improve communication and connection.
4. Start to communicate more effectively and deeply.
Additional Relationship Tips (Free)
I want you to succeed, so consider learning some communication strategies and relationship skills NOW with my FREE videos and blogs.
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