How to Be More Assertive in a Relationship?


Ideally every relationship should have a balance between rights and responsibilities, expectations and adjustments. It is when this balance is disturbed that a partner is left feeling short-changed and experiences a loss of control. If you feel the same, here are a few tips on how to be more assertive in a relationship.

Know what you want

Assertiveness is often mistaken for verbal aggression or even abuse. It is not so. Assertiveness is simply the ability to express oneself without hesitation or fear, while still respecting the opinions and rights of others. This is an indispensable quality in maintaining the balance of power in a marriage. A partner who lacks assertive skills is likely to suffer from a feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability. His/her needs and desires in the relationship will be rarely fulfilled not to mention that he/she will be reluctant to reluctant to address marital problems and seek help for abuse. On the other hand the other partner may eventually take up a more aggressive stance, using intimidation, blame and manipulation to get what they want. Aggression in a relationship often though not always leads to abuse.  Yet another situation where assertiveness might help is in a passive-aggressive scenario where spouses fail to convey their emotions directly. Instead of verbally communicating their disagreements, concerns or feelings, they opt for non-verbal expressions, including the “silent treatment” or the slamming of doors.

Understand your personal rights

Once you have identified your situation and understood how it is being caused by lack of assertiveness, it is time to take things in hand. Start by understand what your personal rights are – to begin with every individual has a right to physical and emotional safety; also in a relationship you should expect to be treated with respect and consideration apart from love and affection. No matter how close you are to your partner, under no circumstances should be you be made to feel unsafe, manipulated and humiliated.

Learn to say “no”

One of the most important ways of asserting oneself in any relationship - romantic, social or professional - is to learn to say no. As soon as you feel that a request being made by your partner, no matter how politely put, is creating stress for you, simply say no. There is no need to find excuses or give reasons for your inability to perform a particular task – just say that you are sorry that you cannot do what is being asked of you. The simpler you keep it, the better you will be able to protect yourself from any attempts by your partner to negotiate or even manipulate you into accepting the demand or the request.

Avoid getting accusatory

Being assertive is not to be confused with attacking another person. It is about asserting one’s own it is and not putting down someone else. So when you talk to your partner, ensure that you do not launch into a conversation with an accusing tone. Stay away from sentences starting with a capital ‘You’, for instance, “YOU do not listen to me anymore”. Rather give voice to your perception like, “I would feel much more loved if we could just talk to each other now and then”. Again avoid generalizing like “You ALWAYS avoid me when I want to talk” or “You NEVER want to listen to what I have to say”. Words like these will only make your spouse defensive and will not get the conversation anywhere.

Don’t let a fight turn ugly

Yet another mistaken notion about assertiveness in a relationship is being able to prove your point, even at the cost of an ugly fight. Rising tempers and slanging matches are no way to assert yourself in a relationship, even though you may feel that shouting at your partner is the only way to get yourself heard. When a fight turns ugly, both sides end up losing and you may say things in the heat of the moment that you may not only regret later, but are essentially not true.

Be clear about your expectations

A far easier way to be assertive is to be clear as to what you expect from your partner, what you would like him/her to do and not do in a relationship. Instead of expecting your partner to be a mind-reader and sending vague signals to be expertly decode by him/her, clearly and calmly put forward your thoughts and feelings. For instance if you feel stressed out by all the household chores, request him/her to do the dishes on certain nights of the week, instead of expressing fatigue whenever he/she is around or worse accusing him/her of not doing “anything” around the house. Being direct and upfront about your needs – albeit in a civil manner - will remove any room for doubt or misunderstandings and not only help you be more assertive but vastly improve communication in a relationship.

Learn to listen to the other person

However developing assertiveness in communication does not only mean putting forward your views learning to say no. It equally means learning to the listen effectively. It also means that you try and understand what your partner may be feeling and thinking as well. When he/she speaks, be quiet and listen actively; don’t interrupt and keep your observations or questions till after he/she has finished. If your partner appears to be shying away from communication, explore ways to involve him/her in conversation – ask how was his day or what did she do on her evening out. Showing an interest in your partner’s thoughts and activities will make it easier for them to open up.

Establish certain boundaries

Sometimes though being assertive may require you to take a firmer stance, especially if your partner has been long taking you for granted. Let them know that while you love them very much, you will not tolerate being treated like a doormat. Your wishes and needs are equally important and they will have to learn to respect them if you are going to be together. To do this, you may need to establish clear boundaries on what sort of behavior is and is not acceptable. If you find your partner at least willing to listen, help the process along by being more specific like what sort of personal liberties you expect and what kinds of responsibilities you want to handle on your own. This may be easier said than done especially if your partner has long been in control of the relationship. However you should realize that no matter how many times you give in to your partner’s wishes and how understanding you try to be, unless you do something to defend your own self-worth and self-respect, no one else will.