One of the most important tools to develop or restore communication skills is the use of “I” messages. "I" messages are not as likely to elicit defensiveness. They actually increase the probability that your message(s) will be heard. With this simple change in how you communicate with your loved one, you are more likely to actually accomplish your communication goal.
Most couples with marital distress habitually use “You” messages, defining each other as “the problem”, with the expectation that a change in the partner’s behavior, attitude, or feelings will solve all the identified problems. “You” messages are usually cleverly (or not so cleverly) disguised dirty fight tactics. Call them what you will; “You” messages serve as roadblocks to effective communication.
"I" statements allow us to take responsibility for our feelings, decisions, behavior, thoughts, experiences. In the use of them, we are describing ourselves and allowing the other person to know about us. In the process we gain more awareness and insight inito our own thoughts, feelings, behavior, and intentions. Use of “I” messages involve a certain amount of risking. With them, we putting ourselves out there, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to another person.
“You" messages tend to contain labeling, blaming, defends, and bypassing or ignoring feelings altogether. “You” messages project responsibility onto the other person for our feelings, decisions, and behavior. This is obvious in such statements as “You make me…”, “if it weren’t for you…”, “You always….”. “I” messages on the other hand, tell the other person that I am taking responsibility for my own issues, feelings, behavior, etc. When I use an “I” message, I am revealing parts of myself and giving my listener an opportunity to hear without a need to be defensive, what I am trying to say. The listener is much more likely to be able to hear my concern about issues in our relationship. “I” messages allow me to be direct about what I want to talk about without a lot of defensive clutter.
Most people use "You" messages because they feel less vulnerable. But with these indirect statements, the other person gets to try to sort out what is really going on, through the protective devises of opinion, blame, and judgement. “You” messages often label the other person as “not good enough” or as a failure. These messages tend to convey permanence and expectation that the other person will continue to be “not good enough”. Continuing criticism and blame set the mood and the stage for future conversations which make it less likely that they will be effective. These indirect statements create a kind of verbal and conceptual fog that continue to plague the relationship in future interactions.
The intended message of a "you" message is usually pretty well disguised and hard to sort out. The listener may never actually sort it out. “You” messages tend to be accompanied by absolutes, like "always" and "never". Many people stop listening when they hear "always" or "never", immediately thinking of the one time that makes this statement untrue. The general content of what they just said is dismissed or negated.
The indirect approach does not provide the sought after safety. It creates more conflict and reduces the probability of being able to resolve it. The direct approach of “I” messages also has no guarantee of protection. When you uses a direct approach, like “I” messages, the other person is more likely to understand what you are trying to say, but they are still free to respond with “I don't care", or "I don't want to." That leaves us vulnerable. Ego defenses do not work as well to protect ourselves from hurt and rejection when we know, in fact, that we were heard and understood, that someone that we love is simply not interested in what we want, need, or feel.
Yet to improve your communication, try these "I" messages. Write them down. Post them on your refrigerator next to your Fair Fighting Steps.
I want...
I feel...
I need...
I will...
Change the way that you communicate with the people in your life if you want to be understood and if you want to move to the next level of effective problem solving. These "I" messages are a cornerstone on which to build a new foundation for effective communication, then ultimately to building powerful problem solving skills.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D., LADC, LMFT, Marriage/Family Therapist and Alcohol/Drug Counselor.
Whether you are dealing with addiction issues, emotional or mental health issues, relationship issues, or need some additional living skills, my website is available to you. The "Links" page offers a wide range of resources for additional help. There is a "Recommended Readings" page and an "Ask Peggy" column. My site is a work in progress with additional features, articles, and resources being added to it on a regular basis. Ebooks, podcasts, and other information vehicles are forthcoming. Check it out at

"The Honey Jar", a semi-structured couple communication exercise is also available for purchase and download at It can assist couples with getting back on track with setting aside time for communication, and can assist with getting the conversation started.