An old adage says, “Treat your family like friends and your friends like family.” Most of us need to make concentrated effort to speak as politely to our spouses as we do to our friends. Often familiarity leads to neglect and disregard, and soon we pull out all the stops and feel that we can say and do anything we like. “After all,” we rationalize, “its only family.”
How are you coming across to your mate? Does your speech sting with sarcasm? Can you state what you mean? Do you show an interest in your mate as a person, let him know that you care? Have you tried using I-messages in your conversation? They identify your actual feelings and report them openly, honestly, and kindly to your mate. I-messages are particularly useful when you feel irritated with something your mate does. Rather than responding with hostile words and actions, say, “I feel irritated because…”
Compare the different reactions to these two messages sent by wives after their husbands refused to take them out to dinner.
Wife No. 1: “You’re so inconsiderate! All I do is slave for you, and you never think of anyone but yourself. All you want to do is watch TV. You make me sick!”
Wife No. 2: “I really need a break tonight. I’ve been cooped up in the house all week. I need to be alone with you to communicate on an adult level.”
Wife No. 2 tells only how she feels, a fact her husband can hardly argue with. Wife No. 1 blames, judges, and puts down her husband. This gives him ammunition for an argument and will probably cause him to become more stubborn and defensive than before.
I-messages quickly eliminate the attack and defense in mutual name-calling and reciprocal blaming. If a wife reminds her husband in an accusing way that he has plenty of time to work on the camper but no time to keep the yard in shape, he will probably react something like this: “There you go again, always hounding me about the yard. Nag, nag, nag.”
A direct of her feelings through an I-message would ease the situation: “I’m becoming more and more irritated over this unkept yard that I must look at all day. I’d like to sit down and talk about it while I am still able to control my irritation.” She reported her personal feelings without put-downs and without telling him what to do. He is now free to accept or reject her opinion.
More examples of how to use the I-message follow:
The wife is watching television in bed when her husband wants to sleep. “I’ve had a hectic day, and I’m too tired to watch television with you. I’m going to turn over and go to sleep now.”
The husband buries himself behind the newspaper as soon as he get home from work, but his wife says, “I need a little intimate conversation tonight because I feel all bottled up inside. I really could use a little time to talk with you.”
I-message bring some startling results. Spouses are surprised to learn how the other really feels about matters. Often their replies might sound like this: “I didn’t know it even bothered you,” or “Why didn’t you say something before?” We often underestimate the willingness of our mates to be more considerate. If you really want to have your feelings recognized, you must continually communicate them directly until you are understood.