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9 Steps How To Use I Statements in Marriage With Examples

Why do we need to know how to use I statements in marriage competently?

There are seasons in marriage that provoke us to use toxic words, words that destroy the lines of communication. Learning to use I statements shifts the tension by avoiding blame, shame, or guilt. I statements can keep the conversation open and loving.

Today we will see 9 steps for using I statements in marriage effectively:

  1. Let toxic words raise a red flag.
  2. Prayerfully reflect on what is at the root of those toxic words.
  3. Forgive.
  4. Accept your spouse as they are.
  5. Evaluate your expectations.
  6. Address selfishness.
  7. Practice I statements.
  8. Fight negative thoughts.
  9. Try again if you mess up.

Why Learn How To Use I Statements in Marriage?

I wonder if you can relate…

Have you seen your spouse withdraw, mid-conversation?

My husband was non-confrontational at the beginning of our marriage. If there was even a hint of blame or agitation, he would shut me out. 

Now, he is bordering on an A-type personality. At times, he may shut down by pivoting the conversation to a topic he knows will start a fight. 

What makes him shut down or shut me down like that while we’re talking? 

In a marriage counseling session that was both couples therapy and family therapy, years ago, we learned about toxic words. Toxic words put people on the defensive and show contempt in marriage.  These toxic words destroy communication.

We know how important communication is in marriage right!?!? To fix the broken lines of communication we needed to learn how to use I statements.

I statements are an effective way to express your point of view and find conflict resolution with any communication style.  

What Are Toxic Words?

What is a toxic word?  A toxic word is something harmful, it can cause death in your relationship.

Words matter. Words can speak life or death into our spouse.

We must identify words that bring death or toxicity and replace them in our vocabulary.  You don’t want to allow anything to come out of your mouth to hurt your spouse.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need o the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 AMP)

To fix the broken lines of communication we needed to learn how to use I statements. Click To Tweet

Three Toxic Words

There are at least 3 toxic words that create barriers to effective communication in marriage.

  1. Always
  2. Never
  3. Should

When we are talking (arguing) as a couple, it is tempting to start a sentence with these words.

“You always…” “You never…” or, “You should…”

Those were common phrases in our home until that night in Christian marriage counseling.  We learned that these three toxic words are feeling words. Right there she gave us a list of feeling statements examples to help us both see our toxic patterns.

To have effective communication we need words that are true/factual rather than laced with emotion and accusation. 

Red Flags

Remember, our words begin as thoughts in our minds. That means when toxic words come from our mouths, they have been in our thoughts for some time.

To fix this, we must intentionally test every thought as we learned in the first session of our marriage workshop!

Go back and review the Philippians 4:8 test if you need a refresher.

Taking our thoughts through the Philippians 4:8 test forces us to set aside emotion and be very honest.

So, let’s be very honest for a moment. Always and never are perfect words. The only ONE who is always or never anything is God. My spouse is not perfect, so those words do not speak the truth about him.

Is your spouse perfect?

When you hear, ‘always’ or ‘never’ let them be red flags that the conversation is becoming critical, emotional, and accusatory rather than factual, loving, and constructive.

Toxic words are a barrier to effective communication in Marriage

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When Should An I Statement Be Used?

When I hear myself say something like, “Bud you never take the trash out,” or “You always leave the laundry on the floor,” I hear a red flag.

That red flag is a great time to work through the process we’ve been learning.

  1. Pause and pray.
  2. Evaluate my thoughts and my heart.
  3. Deal with my own part.
  4. Accept him as he is while giving the challenge to the Lord.
  5. Use a communication tool.

Reflect When Learning How to Use I Statements

If I am very very honest, most of the time those toxic words creep into my life, it’s about me, not him.

Firstly, the red flags warn me that I need to address these issues with God.

If we want real, lasting change in our marriage we can’t skip this step. We can’t rationalize that our spouse and their issues are the ONLY problem.

Do they have issues? Yes.

Are their issues part of the problem? Yes.

Are their issues the ONLY part of the problem?

No.

I have to own my part and accept my husband as he is. The only thing I have any control over is my part and God absolutely expects me to deal with my part.

Forgive To Learn How To Use I Statements

“Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22 NASB)

To correct this habit (and Y’all for me, toxic words were a habit) I have to intentionally forgive my husband every day.

I have to forgive him easily and quickly and then let the offense we are dealing with stand-alone.

  • Note here that I am not talking about abuse of any kind. If there is abuse in your marriage seek help.

Related Resource: Free Bible Study About Forgiveness

I Statement Examples When You Are Forgiving

When the issue of forgiveness is taken care of we simply have to correct our words.

Instead of “You never” I would say…

“Bud, when you forget to take out the trash I get frustrated because it adds one more thing to my list of things to do.”

The result of swapping the toxic words, “Always, never, and should,” with these I statement examples is almost instantaneous.

It is the difference from living in a toxic relationship… Oh, maybe you call it something else – an unhealthy relationship, dysfunctional relationship, co-dependent relationship, difficult relationship… to something you’ve always dreamed of.

  • Happy marriage
  • Successful marriage
  • Godly marriage
  • Christian marriage
  • Thriving marriage
  • Healthy marriage
  • Lasting marriage
  • Nurturing marriage
  • Loving marriage

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Acceptance and Expectations

How do you get to that place?

That place of a happy, healthy marriage where toxic words are an exception requires us to learn how to use I statements in relationships.

  • “Always and Never,” reveal a heart that has not forgiven the previous offense.
  • “Should,” reveals an area where acceptance is lacking or there are unrealistic expectations.

We learned about how to Accept Your Spouse at the beginning of the Marriage Communication Workshop.

However, I have to warn you, the issues of acceptance and expectations will creep in over and over again. That is why I suggest you invest in the workshop so you can easily find the lesson you need to review. You can also re-print pages from the workbook anytime. This is a great investment in your marriage.

I Feel Statements To Address “You Should” Red Flags

When you hear yourself say, “You should…” stop and think through what you are saying.

  • Check that expectation against Scripture.
    • If it’s Biblical, try starting the conversation with an I feel statement.
      • You may need to wait until emotions are cooled off.
      • Be sure to write the verse as a prayer and put it somewhere to begin going to war Spiritually over your spouse!

Examples of I statements to replace the phrase, “You should…”

“I feel…”
“When you do …  I see…”
“Sometimes when you …   I think…”

Selfishness

The last thing a red flag often reveals in my heart is selfishness.

And honestly, it is the last thing because it is the last thing I want to see… I don’t want to think of myself as selfish. But I am selfish.

I am a selfish, self-centered person.

As I learn how to use I statements effectively I begin with my thoughts about us both.

I Statement Examples to Combat Selfishness

When I hear those toxic words (Always, never, or should) they set off a red flag. Before I ever shift my words, I have to see the selfishness in my thoughts and begin to transform them.

The shift sounds like this:

Instead of, “He should do more…”
I shift to:
“I feel exhausted carrying so much responsibility…”
“I feel taken advantage of, unseen, overwhelmed…”

It also helps me to remember some facts about both of us as I learn how to use I statements in conflict where I know I am prone to selfishness.

  • My husband is not perfect.
    • I have NO problem saying that.
  • I am not perfect either.
    • That is not so easy to say.

“I feel hurt by my husband’s imperfections.”
“He feels hurt by my imperfections as well.”

  • My husband struggles with things in his life.
    • Sin, selfishness, stubbornness, character flaws, etc.
  • I also struggle with sin, selfishness, and character flaws.

I feel inconvenienced by my husband’s slow growth.
“He feels that way about me but is not as quick to say anything.”

We are both growing. We both fall sometimes.

I give myself a lot of grace even though I clearly see where my mess causes my family harm and inconvenience.

To learn how to use I statements effectively, I must begin by using them on myself… in my own thoughts.

“Tiffany, when you feel hurt by his imperfections and inconveneinced by his slow growth, remember to pray so you can respond rather than react from those emotions. Remember you are human as well and give him grace.”

How To Use I Statements Effectively

So far we have seen several I statement examples as specific ways to replace the toxic words, always, never, and should.

Now, I want to show you how to use I statements in communication from start to finish. I find it is much easier to understand the concept when you see it played out in the most messy way.

All those years ago, when Bud and I were learning how to shift our destructive communication, it was in a councelors office. She gave us an I statement worksheet, which we put on the refrigerator.

“How do I structure an I statement?” I asked.

She gave us cut and paste answers to pretty situations. That was not a great way to learn positive communication for us.

It was frustrating figuring out the right way to use the I statement worksheets in the trenches of a difficult marriage!  

So here is a messy example to help you get a better handle on using the above you and I statement examples.

How Do You Use I Statements Correctly In A Messy Marriage?

He got home too early. His head hung low as he told me he quit his job… again…

We had agreed a couple of years before that I should step out of corporate work to stay home and raise the kids. He agreed to keep a job so we could do what was best to raise our special needs daughter. But he was struggling to hold up his end of things.

“You should be able to keep a job. 
You always quit a job with no job lined up in the wings. 
Why can you never put our family first and stay at a job?”

Yes, that came out of my mouth.

I got it wrong.  

  • I didn’t think of the needs of the speaker.  
  • My tone of voice was wrong.
  • There was no active listening.
  • My own emotions were buried beneath a mountain of anger.
  • I didn’t care about finding the right words or better communication on a deeper level.  
  • I spewed raw hurt, accusations, and fear.

Let me just say that he shut down, walked away, and didn’t talk to me for a while as a way of setting boundaries in marriage. 

When he did talk to me it was to pick a fight about something else which was his type of communication when he was hurting.  No one won that day.

Related Post: How Good Boundaries Provide Hope for a Broken Marriage

Fighting Negative Thoughts To Be Able to Use I Statements 

I knew.

The second my mouth shut, I knew I had blown it. We were just a few weeks into trying out this new, healthier way of communication. This new communication tool was hard to pick up.

Conflict management was not on my mind.  Yes, I wanted ours to reflect the healthy relationships all around us, but in that present moment, the pain and fear felt more important.  

Ya’ know what I mean?

I wish it was later that day, but honestly, it was the next afternoon when I realized why I couldn’t even try to use any of the I statements from the councelors precious I statements worksheet on the refrigerator!

My thoughts were toxic.

  • Blame.
  • Fear.
  • Anxiety.
  • Recounting all his past job quitting history.
  • Running through worst-case scenarios.

I had to get ahold of my thoughts and my own feelings through prayer first. Communication problems can not be fixed without working through the thoughts behind the emotional reaction.

Are you working on changing your negative thinking?  It’s a process!

No amount of deep breaths wipe out that defensive reaction when you are overrun with negative emotions from a past of pain and trauma.

We have struggled financially for so many years.

When I pull from my own experience I have to process my emotional responses through, poverty, hunger, housing insecurity… Fear…

The first step was to lay all of that at the Lord’s feet and face the facts.

Fact: The Bible clearly teaches that the husband is to provide for his family (1 Timothy 5:8).

So next time, I had to re-frame this conversation – after much prayer.

Let me say that again. 

After. 

Much.

Prayer.

Related Post: 14 Powerful Ways to Change Negative Thinking in Marriage

How To Use I Statement Worksheets To Start a Real Conversation

After much prayer and shifting of thoughts that day, I began the conversation differently. I was careful to use the tips from our councelors I statement worksheet PDF.

Bud, when you change jobs so often I feel insecure and scared about how we will pay the bills.

He responded with tears.

When he could talk, he began pouring his heart out to me in earnest. There is this burden he feels to provide but there is also a struggle he feels to find the right job. I had no idea.

It was a great conversation that grew us and taught me how to pray for him more specifically.

Same topic, just a different starting phrase.  Using this marriage communication tool takes practice but it is worth it.

Absolutely worth it!

Before I Learned How To Use I Statements

Before replacing those three toxic words with I statements, I felt like I had no voice in our conversation.

Can you relate to feeling like you have no voice in your relationship?

Anytime I brought up a hard topic he shut down and I was left wounded.  Anytime!

I felt like a doormat. Yes, I was part of a team, but I was being left out of the big decisions that affected very real parts of our lives.

After I Learned How To Use I Statements Effectively

When I began to really apply all I’d learned about how to use I statements (and prayed more than I talked) things changed.

My spouse let me back into his heart. 

Using I statements consistently helped keep the tension and defensiveness out of conversations.

You and I statements allowed us to talk openly about our real feelings in the chaos.

Now, when I talk he hears me.

Now, when he talks, I understand him better. 

Without the use of always, never, and should, we are not pushing the other to defend ourselves. Instead, we communicate clearly.

We can talk about real relationship problems and discuss possible solutions.

This marriage communication exercise will pave the way for intimate conversation even if there has been none for years!  There will still be difficult conversations – we will talk about how to approach those in the last session!

Will You Learn The 9 Steps: How To Use I Statements Instead of Always, Never, or Should?

If you feel like you have no voice in your marriage, if it seems like your spouse has shut down or shut you out, I statements can help.

Learning how to use I statements instead of the three toxic words, always, never, and should can make a huge difference in your marriage.

How can you shift to using I statements effectively even if there has been little to no effective communication in your relationship?

  1. Let toxic words raise a red flag.
  2. Prayerfully reflect on what is at the root of those toxic words.
  3. Forgive.
  4. Accept your spouse as they are.
  5. Evaluate your expectations.
  6. Address selfishness.
  7. Practice I statements.
  8. Fight negative thoughts.
  9. Try again if you mess up.

Will you learn how to use I statements in your relationship?

If you are up for the challenge, set aside time to listen to yourself this week and jot down any time you hear yourself use these toxic words.

Marriage Communication Workshop

Do you need more than this article?

In the Marriage Communication Workshop, we go through this and 9 other communication exercises. There is a PDF Workbook filled with tools and strategies to apply as you learn.

Plus, the content is all in one place for a lifetime of access.

You can go at your own pace and come back as often as you need until the tools are second nature and your marriage is thriving.

Marriage Communication Class Online, marriage communication workshop, marriage communication exercises to improve communication #MarriageCommunication #MarriageAdvice Christian Marriage advice, Marriage advice, #hopejoyinchrist

In HIM,

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Tiffany Montgomery

Tiffany of Hope Joy in Christ inspires Christian Women to grow in faith, live out Biblical Marriage Principles and raise Godly Children.  Join the Wives Only Facebook Group here or keep up with her through Pinterest.

38 thoughts to “9 Steps How To Use I Statements in Marriage With Examples”

  1. A great look into some of the common communication problems found in marriages today! I love how you continuously bring it back to God’s Word because that is the only foundation that can make a good marriage. Great post!

  2. This is great advice for any marriage, not just toxic ones! I am horrible about using “always” and “never” and my husband totally calls me out on it haha.

  3. This is really great advice and a time for me to reflect on the things I say to my husband. I try to not be confrontational, but it’s tough at times. I am saving your post so that I may continue to think through my own heart attitudes. Thank you.

  4. I do not have a Christian marriage, but I would have to agree with you that communication and choosing the best words really do make a positive impact in a relationship.

  5. Great topic to foster healthy communication in your relationship. It really made me think about the words and statements I use when I am frustrated and how to turn this more positive! Thanks for posting !

  6. This is great advice! I never realized that Never and Always could carry so much meaning. I am going to work on removing those from my sentences. Thanks Tiffany!

  7. This is really great advice and something I need to think though. I often want to use these phrases as well. When I chose not to, I still stew on them causing turmoil inside. Thank you for this post.

  8. I didn’t realize how often I was using words like “never” and “always” until my husband pointed it out to me. It made it so much harder to resolve conflict when we were throwing those words around. Removing them has made such a difference.

  9. Powerful message and insight, Tiffany. I wrote a similiar article for a ministry I’m a contributor for, A Wife Like Me, called “How Not to Communicate with Your Husband.” I used examples of these toxic words and what I also called “extreme” words and phrases. Like, “You ALWAYS give others the benefit of the doubt except me.” Or “You NEVER….” I didn’t discuss “you should….” but that’s a great one too. I like your alternatives that bring our communication in marriage to a healthier place.

  10. Excellent post on avoiding toxic words! I know that mine are often a sign that I’m hurt about something and it’s not until they come out mouth that I realize how awful I’m feeling. I need to recognize them BEFORE I say them. Great advice here!

  11. This is a great post, Tiffany. Thanks for sharing it on Grace & Truth this past week. I have chosen it as my feature for this next week. Feel free to download the “I Was Featured” button for your post.

  12. Ouch! This was super convicting. I use those “toxic words” in a lot of my communication with my husband. I know I shouldn’t, but I really needed this reminder!

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