Assertiveness is an effective way of communicating which is half-way between aggression and passivity. With passivity, you tend to “people please” then develop resentment down the line because you didn’t stand up for yourself. With aggression, you force your partner into defensiveness and bring out their resentment towards you for making them do what you want. Similarly, aggression builds resentment in the relationship and there is no mutual fulfillment. Assertive communication delivers your message effectively about what you are feeling and/or what you desire. If you feel like you’re being bulldozed – or that you’re the one bulldozing, try one of these five tips to unlock assertiveness and create a healthy relationship.
5 Keys to Unlock Assertiveness in Your Relationship
Key #1: Forgive your own feelings of guilt.
One issue that holds you back from assertiveness is guilt that you are carrying. This guilt may have developed due to past messages that you should not voice your needs or due to mistakes in the past that you feel you cannot let go. In these ways, you feel that you still owe your partner something or you feel like you are not worth having your desires met. Odds are that you have been beating yourself up enough and guilt is doing nothing but harm to the relationship. Do yourself and your partner a favor by getting rid of your guilt and forgiving yourself for any past mistakes. When you let guilt go, it uncovers the freedom to speak your desires.
Speaking assertively means to effectively tell your partner about your feelings and your desires. This can be accomplished with “I” statements. For example, “I feel (blank) when (blank) because (blank). What I need is (blank).” Here is a scenario: “I feel hurt when you interrupt me because I want to tell you something that is important to me. What I need is for you to just listen.”
If you are trying to assert a desire that had not been met, you can use a similar formula. Try saying, “I feel happier when I am able to zone out and read a book sometimes because it helps me to relax after a stressful day. What I need is to have this time for myself so that I can be a better partner for you.”
Key #3: Say why it matters to you.
To help your partner understand why you have a desire, tell them why it matters. In using the above example: “I am stressed out at work then I have to pick the kids up from school. When I get home I just want some alone time. When I read it helps me to relax and regenerate some energy for the rest of the night. I would really appreciate if you could watch the children for about 30 minutes for a couple days a week.”
Attempts at being assertive can provoke your partner to be defensive even if you don’t mean to. If this happens, focus on your positive intentions for the conversation. Remember, your ultimate goal is to get this message of your desire to the other person. Ultimately, they can react with either understanding or defensiveness. But, in the end, you can confidently know that the other person knows how you feel, what you desire, and what they can do to help.
Key #5: Pick your battles.
As you are learning to be assertive in voicing your feelings and desires to your partner, begin to pick your battles. Gauge what may be worth fighting for and what may be okay to let go. All in all, the skill of being more assertive will help you to have less resentment and live a fuller life with your partner. In the same token, it should be acknowledged that not everything is worth fighting for.
Forgiving your own feelings of guilt will free you to express your feelings and desires. You can begin to apply the skill of expressing yourself assertively through the use of “I” statements. Tell your partner why this desire matters so much to you. Acknowledge that you have positive intentions of being open and honest about your needs with your partner. And finally, pick your battles to avoid the extra unnecessary confrontations. Utilize these 5 keys and unlock assertiveness in your relationship!
About the Author
Chris Cummins is an intern with The Marriage and Family Clinic. He focuses on working with substance abuse and couples in high conflict. Chris enjoys hiking, traveling, and spending time with his family.