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“I” Statements: What Are They All About? Part 1

Written by Kara Thompson, Licensed Social Worker

As defined by GoodTherapy, an “I” statement “is a style of communication that focuses on the feelings or beliefs of the speaker rather than thoughts and characteristics that the speaker attributes to the listener” (GoodTherapy, 2018). The concept of “I” statements, developed by Thomas Gordon, encourages healthy and assertive communication that positively contributes to the building and maintenance of healthy relationships. While highly effective, it can at times be a difficult tool to implement which is why it is so important that we begin putting it into practice. 

Let’s set the scene here for an example: You’ve had a long day at work and can’t wait to get back home for the night to relax. You know that you are your partner don’t have plans for later tonight, and you’re really looking forward to spending time with one another. Finally, you two get some alone time. Both of you get home late, your partner immediately b-lining to the couch, unlocking their phone, and beginning to scroll. You join them on the couch, in hopes that they’ll engage in conversation with you, maybe offer to watch that show you both were talking about. You try to start a conversation, and you get some “uh-huh”s and “mhmm”s as the scrolling continues. All you want is SOME sort of connection. But alas, they just. keep. scrolling. You finally snap, “You never pay any attention to me! You are obsessed with your phone! ” To which your partner looks at you and quickly reacts by saying “I’m sorry you feel like that.” Their response feels cold and invalidating, maybe even a little upsetting. Andddd…. Now we are stuck.

In Part 1 of this blog series, we are going to focus on the “I” statement basics as we break down the original statement: “You never pay any attention to me!” I encourage you to check out Part 2 “‘I’ Statements: Apology Edition” for a deeper dive.

You never pay any attention to me!”

Acknowledging the emotions and feelings that may be rooted in where this statement is coming from is vital. What am I feeling when this statement shows ups for me? Is it disappointment, rejection, fear, loneliness, or anger? From the sounds of it, we are upset and hurt in some way by our partner’s actions. While these feelings (and all feelings) are valid, let’s look into the effectiveness of the original statement, “You never pay attention to me.” Is the way I am expressing and communicating my feelings working? How am I getting my point across? Does this statement allow me to be heard? Will this statement help me get the change I am looking for from my partner? My guess is that the original statement is actually not working to change behavior. 

So, let’s “I” statement-ize this…

“You never pay attention to me.” 

I feel ignored when your attention is on your phone when we are together.”

By breaking down the original statement, we can see the way the words “you never” could feel accusatory, inflexible, and extreme. It would not be uncommon for our partner to spring into a defense of the frequency adverb “never” discussing ALL the times in which they did pay attention… but that’s not really what you are trying to communicate anyways, is it? We are desiring connection in that moment. By transforming the “you never” to “I feel,” we are focused on the here and now. How am I feeling at this specific moment? What do I desire from my partner that I am not receiving? Do they know that I am feeling ignored? “I” statements can guide someone to become more aware of the behavior that feels problematic, while also encouraging the speaker to own their own feelings and thoughts about the situation. While this communication tool can take time and practice for both the speaker and the receiver, it is a powerful way to practice mindfulness in your communication styles… especially in addressing those conversations that just are not working.

Interested in learning how “I” Statements can play a role in apologies, check out Part 2 of this blog series titled, “‘I’ Statements: Apology Edition.” If you or a loved one are interested in exploring your communication patterns and working to implement some more “I” statements into conflict-filled conversations, reach out to us at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact us online or by phone at (312) 578-9990 to schedule an appointment with a clinician today.


 “I” Message (2018, February 14). GoodTherapy.

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