- Silencing your voice to focus on pleasing a partner can set an unhealthy precedent in a growing relationship.
- To become more assertive in your relationship, take responsibility for having your voice heard and practice simple habits.
- Standing up for yourself is a skill that can be learned.
- “I need to make them happy, otherwise they won’t want to be with me.”
- “I might hurt them if I don’t do what they want me to.”
- “I don’t want to do this, but I just don’t know how to say no.”
As important as it is to listen to your partner and understand their needs, it is equally imperative that you are able to assert yours. Silencing your voice to focus on pleasing a partner can set an unhealthy precedent in a growing relationship.
Here are a few simple ways to be more assertive and take care of your space without being dismissive of your partner.
1. Reflect on your sense of self
Our self-evaluation shapes our behavior and attitude and plays a key role in the contributions we make in our relationships. When we lack a positive self-perception, two things tend to happen:
- We run away from tasks or conversations that may require our attention.
- We overcompensate for our perceived shortcomings by becoming aggressive, boastful, or dismissive.
Either way, we risk living in denial of our true needs. One study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology revealed that despite our need to be assertive in certain situations, we tend to avoid being assertive, especially if we struggle with anxiety.
Low self-esteem and a high tendency to please people can lead to an "always yes" attitude. In other words, you may end up compromising on your wants and needs to keep others happy. High self-esteem, on the other hand, is accompanied by greater self-awareness and acceptance. By treating yourself with respect, you gain the ability to ask and expect the same from others as well.
If you’re unsure how to raise your self-esteem, try a few of these research-backed exercises:
- Take a break from social media.
- Silence your inner critic and, instead, treat yourself the same way you would treat a close friend.
- Focus on progress, not perfection.
- Celebrate small wins and mini-milestones.
2. Take responsibility
Whether we’re in a new relationship or a long-term marriage, we cannot fall into the trap of expecting our partner to "always" and "completely" understand us, especially when we don’t tell them how we feel.
A study published in Communication Research Reports shows that the desire to have one’s needs fulfilled without having to express them leads to disappointment and conflict in relationships. The authors write, “Some people believe that intimate partners should be able to understand each other’s needs and feelings without their having to express them. Those holding ‘mind reading expectations’ often have less-satisfying relationships.”
Communication is the cornerstone of all good relationships. If you find yourself struggling to express your needs, use these three tips to make your voice heard in a loving way:
- Use the premise of “when you do [x], I feel [y]” to neutralize the blame game and express yourself clearly.
- Keep a check on your emotions and communicate without letting your feelings get the best of you.
- Be confident and assertive with your body and words.
Rationing your words to be concrete and concise can help increase the comfort of your expression.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Assertiveness is an acquired skill that requires patience to unlearn, relearn, and reframe. Picking up simple habits can help you get where you need to be, like:
- Starting small and making frequent requests for what you need. A simple ask such as taking a walk together or making a grocery run can help you build reassurance.
- Acting confident until you feel confident. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be scary. You can set the right expectations by pushing yourself to making a change that will, over time, help you and your partner.
- Choosing the right time to be assertive. Before stating a request, you may consider making a conscious effort to check in with your partner to assess whether they have the emotional space to meet you where you’re asking them to.
A functional, mature relationship relies on both partners having the ability to express themselves and listen. Continually putting your partner and your relationship before yourself can lead to silencing your own voice. Standing up for yourself may not be something that comes naturally to you. However, it is a skill that can be learned. If you struggle with assertiveness, reaching out to a mental health professional for help is always advisable.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.