Have you ever noticed that when you’re talking to your partner and start a sentence with the word you that you are usually blaming him or her for something? So, when you say, “You left the clothes in the dryer and now my shirts are all wrinkled,” you’re not saying, “Thanks for putting my clothes in the dryer honey.” You’re saying, “It’s your fault that my clothes are wrinkled. Now I have to iron my shirt. I’m going to be late to work because you screwed up and I’m pissed about it.”
If your goal is start a fight, this is a great strategy. Your partner is likely to get defensive. He or she may respond to your You….. with something like, “Well you left the clothes in the washing machine last week and they started to mold. At least I put them in the dryer.” You may have to dredge through the muck of your memory to find something, but you can probably find at least a minor offense to hurl back. “Well last week, you left the bag of Fritos open and they got stale.” And before you know it, both of you are sounding and acting like third graders and your relationship feels like a war zone.
If you don’t want to pick a fight with your partner, shift your focus from you to I. For example, “I feel frustrated. I didn’t realize that you left the clothes in the dryer. I’m worried that I’m going to be late to work because my shirts are wrinkled and need to be ironed.”
It’s not enough to just shift the words though. You have to mean them. To keep out of the blame game, you have to take responsibility for your feelings and your choices. There’s a tripped out version of a Rumi poem that goes something like this:
Don’t be angry at the flat tire because it is flat. That’s what tires do. The source of your anger is not the flatness of your tire. It is the expectation that your tire would not go flat.
Your frustration with the wrinkled shirts operates on the same principle. You expected them not to be wrinkled. You got angry because your expectation didn’t get met. And here’s the kicker: your anger is a choice! You could look at your wrinkled shirts and laugh! You could look at your wrinkled shirts and kiss your partner because it means that you get to spend more time together. You could side with your partner and acknowledge that neither of you like to do laundry and make a plan to cut your expenses someplace else so that you can afford to have someone do the laundry.
This brings up a second benefit to focusing on I. When you start a sentence with you, you are essentially marking a line on the floor and declaring yourself to be on one side and them to be on the other. It’s like you are taking the red shirt, giving them the black one, and competing with each other for points. When you focus on I, you invite them to stand on your side of the line, to wear a red shirt and play on your team. And if all goes well, you will have turned a potential fight into an opportunity for deeper connection.