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How To Be Assertive (Without Alienating Others)

A very important life skill is the ability to ask for what you want or need. What I often see when working with my couples clients is either not speaking up or speaking too forcefully. Not stating our needs leaves us with a partner (friend, family member, or colleague) who has no real idea what you want!

On the flip side, stating our needs aggressively may make your partner shut down, get angry or feel resentful. A balanced middle ground is the best because it leaves both parties satisfied and feeling good about themselves.

Take a look at the following tips:

Try to be as clear as possible…

Being assertive starts with knowing what you are — and aren’t — willing to be, do, or have. For many of us, coming to this knowledge is a not an easy thing. All of us generally operate in “automatic mode,” responding without truly thinking to situations that arise. The first step in switching to “manual” is to delay a response until we have thought carefully about what we want. Focusing on an ideal outcome opens our minds, prevents us from falling into either passivity or aggression, and helps us get really clear on what we want and don’t want.

Setting boundaries…

Once you know what outcome you want, share it with your partner.  Phrases like “______ doesn’t work for me” are simple ways of being assertive while maintaining connection with the other person involved in the conversation. Once you have set a boundary, it is up to you to maintain it!

If you want to be heard…stop and listen…

When your partner responds to your request, listen as though you are learning something new. Pay attention to content and emotions, work to see things from the other’s perspective instead of immediately planning your rebuttal in your brain. You can build your assertiveness through practice. Try speaking up about your needs, on a daily basis. When larger, more complex issues come along, you and your partner will have a healthyframework in place for dealing with differences in needs, and you’ll have greater confidence in the resilience of your partnership.

Give as Much as You Get.
Assertiveness is really a two-way street. If you want your boundaries to be respected, you must return the favor. When it comes to following through on a partner’s reasonable request, actions really do speak louder than words.

If your partner isn’t respecting your boundaries even though you’ve set them clearly, it may be time for professional help for you and/or your relationship.

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