In many of my Houston marriage counselor sessions, I find myself telling clients to try out that old saw of using “I” statements instead of “You” statements.

Most of them have heard a version of this before, but few really understand what “I” and “You” statements really are and why they can provide a lot of relationship help if you master using them correctly. It’s not just about putting the “blame” on yourself instead of the other person, as many people believe, but rather the difference between a complaint and a criticism.

Houston Marriage Counselor: Complaining Versus Criticizing

On the surface, neither one of these words has a very pleasant connotation, but in terms of your relationship and how you interact with each other, complaining should always win out.

When you complain, you are saying, “Hey, this thing is bothering me and here’s why. If you could try to stop it or get better at it, I would really appreciate it.” Criticizing, on the other hand, says, “You’re always messing up. Why aren’t you better?”

Can you see the difference? Whereas complaints play on the other person’s desire to make you happy (because, hey, they probably like you a little bit), criticism not only blames them for doing something wrong, it typically doesn’t even focus on the specific problem, instead attacking their character. You can imagine how a lot of this kind of communication can lead to a couple seeking out relationship help.

Complaints and Criticism Are about Word Choice, Says Houston Marriage Counselor

Yes, that’s right, saying word A instead of word B can be the difference between a happy, healthy relationship and one headed for trouble. And it’s not just remember to use your “I”s instead of your “You”s. You need to remember to focus on the actual act that is bothering you and not make assumptions or generalizations about your spouse’s personality that are supposedly causing the problem. It can take some time and practice to get it right, so forgive yourself if you mess up now and then and make sure to apologize to your spouse.

If you simply can’t stop yourself – or your spouse – from criticizing, that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. You may need the help of a professional, and the Houston Marriage Counselor is ready.