I Statements, not We Statements

During couple’s counseling sessions, if I ask one member of a couple if he’s had a good week since the last therapy session, he is likely to say (this could be the she as well of course) “Yes we did” or “No, we were upset most of the time”.  You notice I asked how the individual’s week was and was answered with a statement about the couple’s week.  Fair enough, but frequent “we” statements in therapy indicate a specific  kind of problem.  I have learned that the more a couple thinks in terms of the “we-ness” in the relationship, the more likely the couple is to be stuck in their troubled situation.  It isn’t until at least one of the partners starts to think in terms of what he or she can do, has done, or will do as an individual that the relationship can improve.

“We need to work on our communication.”

“We keep having the same arguments.”

“We can’t agree on anything.”

“We need a plan to make things better.”

When someone makes a “we statement” like the these, he is acknowledging that the problems are happening, sure, but not how they are happening; what each person is doing to cause and perpetuate conflict. He is indicating that he probably doesn’t have an awareness of his part in the dynamic.  That awareness of self is the first step toward change.  Consider how different these sentences are from the ones above:

“I need to work on how I communicate.”

“I keep arguing with my wife about the same things.”

“I disagree with everything my wife says, almost by habit.”

“I need a plan to improve my behavior.”

Slight changes in words, but a world of change in meaning.

When people say to me, “We need to work on our relationship” I often point out that there is no actual relationship-it’s a concept.  The relationship is not sitting on the couch between them.  The relationship consists of two individuals, and until that’s truly absorbed and accepted there can be no change.

When things are getting better in a relationship and I ask a partner the question, “What did you do differently to make this a better week” and he or she is able to answer, I can be optimistic that this is a couple on the way to a better future.

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