Family Resources on Using “I” Statements
Project and Purpose
One technique for respectful communication in relationships is the use “I” statements, students will practice using “I” statements in the context of an intimate relationship.
How can we prevent unnecessary conflict in an intimate relationship using “I” Statements?
If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students analyzed how using “I” Statements is a useful technique for communicating effectively an intimate or romantic relationship. In class students discussed the difference between “I” Statements and “You” Statements and how a partner often will receive each type of statement differently. In small groups students developed and shared scenarios where they could compare the difference in tone between using “I” Statements and “You” Statements.
Getting Ready for the Conversation
An “I” Statement is one where the speaker says something to a partner by using the word “I” which focuses discussion on how something affects them as opposed to a “You” Statement which often is accusatory and increase the chance that a negative conflict will occur. When someone hears an “I” Statement the usually understand how a particular event or issue affected the other person which will encourage a response based on empathy rather than accusation.
Conflict is a normal part of relationships, including romantic relationships. It is important for parents and adult mentors to help adolescents learn that they should expect differences and conflict within a romantic relationship and provide adolescents with tools to deal with conflict respectfully.
Article on using “I” Statements from Relationships Australia:
Kimberly Key article in Psychology Today about using “I” Statements effectively (and sometimes ineffectively):
More on effective use of “I” Statements in relationships by Dr. John A Johnson at Psychology Today:
Constructive Conversation Starters
The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.
What happened in the scenario your group developed during class? What was the difference between using “I” and “you” in your scenario? Describe why you think an “I” Statement is different from a “You” Statement.
Why do you think it is respectful to bring up a difficult issue by talking about how you feel instead of talking about what the other person did?
Do you think it is a good idea for both people to use “I” Statements when discussing a difficult issue in a relationship (as opposed to just one person)? Why or why not?
Describe why remaining respectful of the other person is essential to maintaining a healthy intimate relationship.
School to Home Resources on Using “I” Statements
- Paper/writing instruments
Review and restate session norms. These should remind students how to interact and communicate respectfully. Essential question should be prominently displayed.
- Students may or may not be familiar with the term “I” statement.
- All too often people use “you” statements when they are angry or upset. This is true in a variety of relationships, not just intimate partner relationships.
- “You” statements often accuse and lead to conflict and anger because the persons saying the “you” statement has already made an assumption about the other person. Often “you” statements are overly generalized.
- Some examples could include (you can use your own examples if you like):
– “You are always late.”
– “You are lazy.”
– “You don’t love me.”
- Ask students why these statements would be wrong and why the listener likely would become angry if one of these statements was said to them.
- Provide feedback as needed.
- Ask students to think watching a movie. If one of the characters in a romantic relationship said, “You don’t love me” what would you expect the other character to do or say?
- Give students wait time to write down some thoughts.
- What about if a character says, “you care more about your dog than me!” what might you expect?
- Discuss with students that that while by the end of the movie, the problem may be resolved in real life statements like that can damage or end a relationship.
- Ask students to try using an “I” statement instead of the “you” statements above. An example of an “I” statement could be, “when you spend so much time with your dog, I feel that you don’t care about me as much”.
- Using your knowledge of students in the group, place students into groups of 2 or 3. Ask groups to brainstorm some ideas of potential conflict in a relationship. Avoid sexual situations or situations that could likely be serious enough to cause a break up, like cheating. Examples could range from fairly serious like wanting to spend too much time (or not enough time) together to somewhat absurd, like being embarrassed because the other person uses steak sauce on a hamburger and fries.
- Once students have developed some scenarios, have each group develop a “you” statement that one partner could say that would likely escalate the conflict and two or three “I” statements that that would help get the point across in a respectful and relationship confirming manner.
- Within their small groups have students practice saying their statements and receive feedback.
- Once both students have practiced within their groups, have students come back together in a circle and share their scenarios, “you” statements and “I” statements with the entire group. Facilitator should provide feedback as necessary.
- How does an “I” statement help us communicate with someone we are close to?
- Do you believe that taking the time to think about using an “I” statement helps your relationship partner listen more respectfully (or in a more caring manner) to you?