Assertiveness is about finding a middle way between aggression and passivity that best respects the personal boundaries of all relationship partners.
Prior to Doug’s emotional affair neither one of us were very assertive in nature. We were both non-confrontational people pleasers. Over the last three plus years we have both learned how to become assertive through mostly trial and error.
It has been an adjustment as at times we both have problems adjusting to each other’s new found assertiveness. Sometimes the assertiveness is taken out of context and causes tension and defensiveness.
Other times the assertiveness has bordered on aggressiveness. Doug’s near confrontation in the grocery store several months ago with a man who shook his head and rolled his eyes at him when Doug almost ran into him with his cart is a prime example of that. I thought they were going to brawl right there in the store!
For the most part however, learning how to become assertive has resulted in more effective communication, the establishing of firm boundaries and better verbalization of our wants and needs.
In any healthy relationship, both spouses feel comfortable expressing their opinion freely and clearly and each partner actively listens to what the other is saying. Each person believes in their right to have an opinion—and to share it.
Assertiveness projects confidence, rationality and respect. It will also help you to get the treatment you want in your relationship and will lead to more positive results.
Consider these core principles of assertiveness:
- It is ok to share your opinion as long as you do it respectfully.
- You are honest and respectful when talking to your spouse.
- You listen to spouse’s opinion, knowing that just because you listened to it does not mean you have to agree with it.
- You feel your spouse has a right to his/her opinion—though it differs from yours.
- You will share your thoughts or opinions in a clear concise way.
Remember that it is virtually impossible to change your spouse – but you can change yourself. If you lack assertiveness and feel that it is causing problems in your relationship, consider the following 10 steps on how to become assertive offered by Randall Bennett, MA, LMFT, LCPC in his book, Melt Your Man’s Heart.
How to Become Assertive – 10 Steps
Ground work: For the first three steps, you will need to evaluate yourself and where you currently are.
Step 1: State Your Style
Before you know where you are going, you need to know where you are today. Based on the four behavior/communication styles (passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, assertive), assess which one most honestly describes yours. There is no “wrong” answer, and no one is judging you. For some people, they find that they are assertive at work, aggressive with the neighbors and passive with their wife/husband. Others find they fit squarely in one camp or the other. But, for purposes of this challenge, assess your communication style as it relates specifically to your interactions with your spouse.
Step 2: Believe You Have the Right
No matter what style of communicator you are, you need a basic belief that you have a right as a human being to be heard, to give voice to that which is inside of you. Without this belief in your right it will show, and your spouse may struggle with believing in your right if even you do not believe in it. People tend to mirror back the message they receive. For example, if you smile, others tend to smile in return. So, you will set the tone of a conversation simply by how you project yourself and your inner beliefs.
I recommend repeating it as a mantra to yourself: “I have the right to be heard and to speak my thoughts.” It may be helpful to look into a mirror as you say this. Say it to yourself until you not only believe it—but are practicing it regularly.
Step 3: Journal Thoughts/Needs
In order to appropriately communicate your thoughts and needs, you have to be acutely aware as to what they are. If you have never journaled before, now is the perfect time to try it.
Whether you use a notebook or a computer, the act of journaling can help you assess who you are deep inside at your core. It is a healthy means of releasing any pent-up anger, resentment, disappointment and frustration. And as an added bonus, when you give vent to these emotions in your journal—they are not as likely to bubble up while you are communicating with your spouse. You may be able to describe to him/her what you are discovering and feeling, but it will not be as overwhelming to him if it is presented as a statement rather than in an angry outburst.
Life Practice: For the next seven steps, you will need to diligently practice these behaviors until they feel comfortable.
Step 4: Rehearse Scripts
You can probably think of multiple scenarios right this minute that you wished had gone differently with your spouse. “I said this, he said that, and I wish I had said this so the outcome would have been different.”
So, write out a script that is new. Remember when we looked at bad habits and response patterns we get into with our spouse—the Dance of Dysfunction? We know what they are going to say before they say it, as if it is a movie we have already seen a dozen times. Well, you are the director of this movie called Your Life, so you change your—the lead character’s—lines.
For example, if you always say, “Honey, it is trash day tomorrow,” and you know he will say,
“I know,” and then your response will be, “Well, are you going to do it?” then you may want to change what you say. “Honey, I wanted to give you a reminder that tomorrow is trash day, which I am sure you already know.”
He may respond with his “I know,” in which case, you could make the advance decision to not say anything more that would appear to be nagging. Or, he may respond differently after a couple of weeks and say, “Thanks for the reminder.”
Step 5: Body Language: Check
Check how you physically hold yourself when in conversation with your spouse. What you want is to be relaxed throughout your body, stand tall and make frequent eye contact to project confidence. You want to keep your face open, with either a neutral or happy expression that conveys you are interested in hearing what your spouse’s response is to what you say.
Body language you want to avoid includes:
- clenched fists
- furtive looks
- crossed arms
- head shaking
- rolling of eyes
While rehearsing your scripts from Step 4, practice in front of a mirror so you can gauge how you actually look when you communicate. Then, when you are talking with your spouse, you will start to develop self-awareness, mentally checking your body language to see what you are communicating non-verbally.
Step 6: Emotional State: Assess and Respond Appropriately
Express feelings you are experiencing in a non-accusatory way. If you are feeling angry, state that you are angry and what you are angry about. This is more effective than shouting, “You piss me off!”
Step 7: Respect for Self and Others
Use a tone of voice and language that is respectful of your spouse—the way you would with your best friend, your parent, your doctor or a judge in a court of law.
Step 8: Mind Your Language
Men are not as verbal as women, and therefore can become quickly overwhelmed with too many words. Be specific with your words, clear and concise, so that he is able to understand what you are trying to convey.
Step 9: Replace “You” with “I”
To foster a collaborative approach, make your statements begin with “I” rather than what sounds more accusatory: the use of “you this or you that…” If you want cooperation from your spouse and for him/her to truly hear what you are saying, you want to make sure you do not lead with “You,” or you will almost be able to see his/her guard and walls go up as if he/she is being attacked.
By working with “I” statements, you remove your spouse’s perceived need to protect him/herself from what you are saying—and therefore his/her tuning you out and not hearing, with the respect and attention you deserve, the information you are conveying.
Step 10: Ask for What You Want
If you want something, you need to state clearly what it is. When you want to bring up a conversation with your spouse about something important related to your marriage, think of the outcome you would like to have. In order to increase your odds of achieving that outcome, you must communicate to your spouse what, exactly, you would like the outcome to be.
Remember, assertiveness is the happy medium between the two extremes on the communication spectrum. If you are currently a passive communicator, it is going to take some getting used to when it comes to expressing your needs and opinions.
For example, if your husband asks you what you are making for dinner, you may always respond with, “I am not sure—what do you want?”
The next time he asks, try this: “I am not sure, but I am leaning toward making spaghetti because I have a craving for Italian tonight.”
It is simple, straightforward—and it may be refreshing to your husband to not have to make the decision.
If you have always come across as aggressive, feeling the need to be right or to always win, it will take some getting used to when it comes to tempering your style. Using the same example above, if your husband asks you what you are making for dinner and you usually respond with,
“You do not have to worry about it because you are not the one cooking,” you may want to try a gentler approach: “I was thinking of making spaghetti tonight. Would you be in the mood for spaghetti, or would you like something different?”
Click the following link for more information on Randall Bennett’s book, Melt Your Man’s Heart.
A Few More Resources
Here is a link to an Assertiveness Quiz to help you assess your style in relating to other people.
For more information on what is assertiveness and how to be assertive, you might want to watch this short video from assertiveness expert Brian Carroll.
There is a lot on the web with respect to assertiveness training. There are articles, books, seminars, etc., but much of it is related to assertiveness in the workplace. Though certainly you can relate much of the work related information to your personal relationships, I find it more difficult and less relevant.
If you want to find more relevant results for how to become assertive or assertiveness training on Google, try searching using terms like “relationship assertive training” or “assertiveness training for marriages.”