When You . . .
I Feel . . .
and I'd Like . . .
I used to own a 1972 Chevrolet Nova. I loved that car. Washed and polished it every weekend, had sheepskin seat covers, a Pioneer AM/FM/cassette player, etc. I wasn’t much of a mechanic however, and rarely lifted the hood except to check the oil, but I sure took care of appearances.
Every now and then my Nova would sputter and cough, lurching along for a block or two with billows of dark fumes spewing out the back. My heart would race, thinking “this is the time, this is it . . . she’s broken, my ride’s broken, what am I gonna do?”, but then, after a few more barks and backfires, that six-cylinder would smooth out and I’d be cruising again. Those scares were unpredictable—I might have a month or two without one, then two or three within a week—making my cruising less than carefree. I always felt a little on edge.
Relationships are a lot like my Nova. We need to blow out the carbon now and then, to get things running smoothly again. It doesn’t have to be disastrous, with fire coming out the exhaust and smoke exuding from the hood. It can be more like my Nova, just some coughs and a backfire or two to blow out the accumulated gunk.
Here’s an easily remembered way to keep those blow-outs under control. When you are aware of some irritation with your partner, and it is recurrently irritating rather than a one-off, say this, filling in the blanks as explained below:
When you __________ , I Feel ___________ , and I’d Like ___________ .
When You . . . Describe the behavior, and do it objectively, descriptively, totally without your editorial option or interpretation. This is the way an innocent bystander would describe what he or she heard and saw.
I Feel . . . Stick to feelings here, again without ascribing motive or “mind-reading” your mate. Do you feel hurt? Lonely? Stupid? Discounted? Embarrassed? Jealous? Know that we often insert a judgment here, rather that the bare naked feeling inside (which can be hard to find).
I’d Like . . . Tell him/her what would have felt better, as a suggested alternative to keep you from that unwanted feeling. It’s not a demand or prescription to be followed, it’s what you’d like (if they can do so) rather than what you require.
Example: Jane and Kerry like social get-togethers, but Jane is socially nervous. When Kerry tells a familiar funny anecdote to another couple, Jane often interrupts to finish the story. Later, on the ride home . . .
Kerry: “That was a fun party, but I’ve got one of those When You’s to share with you.”
Jane: “Okay, what?” (hopefully she knows this can be helpful, and isn’t a defensive listener)
Kerry: When You interrupt a story I’m telling, like the one I was telling about our disastrous fishing trip, I Feel, uh, frustrated I guess, and maybe a little unimportant. And I’d Like it if you’d try to hold back joining in on my telling stories if you can remember to.
Jane: (pondering it) ". . . Well, I don't mean to make you feel that way, Kerry. I guess I get a little impatient with your slow pace of telling something, but I think I can do that. I'll try to avoid interrupting, I really will.
This is a great tool for a couple, but both have to realize it is valuable as a method of healthy communication so that the “receiver” hears it as constructive and doesn’t turn it into an argument. The “sender” or initiator has to remember the rules above, to keep it from sounding like a veiled criticism.