Tips For Learning How To Be More Assertive In Your Relationship

It's often said that communication is the key to a successful relationship. However, a presence or lack of communication isn't exactly the issue for most couples. Instead, the problem lies in the communication style each partner is using to attempt to communicate their needs and desires. Passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive communication is not only ineffective; it can be damaging to your relationship, your partner, and your sense of self, according to CBT Baltimore.

If a relationship is worth committing your time and energy to, then it's worth doing the work to learn how to express your needs and opinions assertively. This means directly and respectfully communicating what you need and want from your partner without manipulation, apologies, or demands. As detailed by Berkeley Well-Being Institute, assertive communication also does not allow for criticism, avoidance, threats, or inappropriate timing. If you struggle to communicate in a healthy manner within your relationship, here is a guide to learning how to express yourself assertively.

Find your worth

If you struggle to express your needs directly and consistently across all relationships in your life, it may stem from feelings of unworthiness. You can't confidently ask for your needs to be met when you don't truly believe that you deserve that basic kindness. Name the voice inside you that relentlessly criticizes you and start fighting back (via Positive Psychology). Some people name this voice after a critical parent or teacher from their childhood. When you have a self-critical thought, tell the voice out loud, by name, to stop. Then, replace the thought with a corresponding affirmation. For example, if your inner voice tells you that you're lazy, replace that statement with one such as "I reserve my energy for endeavors that spark true passion within me."

Identify your triggers

If you had a childhood where your needs were not consistently met, addressing those needs as an adult can be triggering. Having your basic human need for love, shelter, or nutrition denied via abuse, neglect, or ignorance during your formative years makes you expect rejection when you express them later in life. For many people, this risk of rejection is so frightening that they resort to passive or passive-aggressive ways of attempting to communicate their needs. They may engage in people-pleasing behavior as a form of self-preservation, according to Therapy Group of NYC. If you can identify this trigger within yourself, it becomes easier to realize when you're shutting down, why, and separate those feelings of fear from your relationship.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Hold space for your partner

As you work through your own issues that interfere with your ability to communicate assertively, keep in mind that your partner likely has their own to address. Encourage them to express their needs openly and directly whenever they have the opportunity. Listen calmly and with compassion, even when you don't agree with all the details. Remember that the point of the conversation is to make healthy communication a desirable behavior with a positive outcome. Employ active listening tactics like summarizing what was said and repeating it back to ensure that you heard the same message your partner was trying to convey (via MindTools). Then, ask if there is anything you missed.

Practice speaking up

Once you've addressed what has been holding you back from defaulting to a healthy and assertive communication style, it's time to put your work into action. If you haven't already, let your partner know that you're planning to start expressing yourself more directly. The next time you're upset because your partner is late, for example, don't give them the silent treatment. Instead, express your feelings through a statement such as, "I feel like you don't respect my time when you show up late." Statements that begin with "I" tend to feel less accusatory to your partner, according to GoodTherapy. Allow them time to respond and listen actively. Over time, making a point of practicing assertive communication will become a learned skill, then a habit, and then your default style.