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LCSW
Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

Are you assertive enough?

  • Your wife likes romantic comedies and you like drama. So why is it that you always seem to watch romantic comedies?
  • Your husband loves basketball and plays at least three times a week. Now, in your seventh month you need his help more than before, but you can’t bring yourself to ask him to give up his passion.

You might be one of those people who thinks, “I’d rather keep my friends/lover happy than deal with a disagreement.” But while it is certainly good to be considerate, isn’t it possible to be considerate without being a push-over?

It is if you learn the art of assertiveness!

What Is Assertiveness?

  • Assertiveness is the midpoint between aggression and passivity.

However, since it shares some qualities of both, it is often confused with either one.

  1. The desire to “win” is common to both assertiveness and aggression.
  2. The desire to be considerate is common to both assertiveness and passivity.

When a person is assertive, the desire to win is tempered by consideration for the other side’s view or feelings. (Passive-aggression is different. Passive-aggression is when a person is passive with an aggressive intent.)

According to the Mayo Clinic, assertiveness means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others.1

This is easier said than done; it does not come naturally. It is a skill that must be learned, and in a relationship it is essential.

Learn assertive conflict resolution techniques.

Finding the Middle-Ground

Being overly considerate has its drawbacks, for example, volcano syndrome.
  • You’ve seen that. It’s the guy (or gal) that seems so nice, sweet, kind and sharing until the angry explosion that's triggered by built-up resentment from giving in too many times.

However, when deciding to become more assertive, it's easy to go too far, and become aggressive instead.

  • She says: “I’m not going to let anybody take advantage of me anymore.” Or, he decides that, “come hell or high water” I’m going to get my way!" Consideration is simply thrown out the window!

The trick is to find the middle ground between passivity and aggression. That middle ground is assertiveness.

Benefits of Assertiveness

Being assertive is good for you; it reduces negative stress. Since you have an efficient way of refusing requests and demands, you feel more control over your life.

  • When your spouse asks you to take over the 3 AM feeding of the baby, while you are getting up at 6 AM for work, refusing in an assertive manner is less likely to cause problems than refusing in an aggressive manner. You certainly would be less stressed than if you passively acquiesced.
  • Or, if your kids are older and they are calling you, it can be important to set a rule that they do not call after a certain hour. Making an assertive claim puts less stress on yourself than an aggressive demand.

Assertiveness Builds Satisfying Relationships

When you are not assertive you tend to become resentful.

  1. When you do something out of passivity, you don’t really want to do it and this can cause resentment.
  2. If your partner does something because you are aggressive, your partner will become resentful.
  3. When you learn the skills of assertiveness, the resentment goes down and enjoyment goes up.

What follows is a general improvement in the relationship. With a lower level of resentment you and your partner will feel more comfortable expressing needs and desires with little reason to fear aggression or being taken advantage of.

Beyond Your Relationship

Assertive communication can increase your self-confidence.

Assertive communication is based on the idea that you control your life. This translates into what psychologists call an internal locus of control, which means that you recognize that your life, attitudes and behaviors are not determined by other people.

You come to believe that you decide what and how you can change to improve your personal situation.

Build your self esteem with assertiveness.

4 Steps to Assertiveness

1. Get Your Partner on Board

All change is difficult; it almost always involves resistance, failures and successes. Since this is a project that affects both of you, it is important that you explain your assertiveness goals and the likely benefits to your partner. (This might be the first of your assertive communication practice sessions!)

How will you ask for your partner's participation? Here's one way to frame your request:

  • When I give in when I don’t want to (or act aggressive against my better judgment), I feel terrible (or guilty or whatever), so I want to learn to be more assertive.

2. Swear-off Accusatory and/or Blaming Statements

This is much harder than it sounds, but accusations and blame are used when you feel disempowered, and using them reinforces that feeling.

3. Use “I Statements”

The I statement: “When X happens, I feel Y, and Z is the result/consequence/request.”

This is the crux of assertiveness; when you frame a request based on how it makes you feel, it becomes difficult for anyone to disagree or argue.

A you statement example:

  1. “You are always choosing what movie to watch, you don’t listen to what I want!”
  2. This statement can easily start a fight.

An I statement example:

  • “When you decide what movie to watch without hearing my opinion I get frustrated, so let’s discuss it from now on.”
  • I statements can also be framed as natural consequences or means of self-protection. For instance, “When we watch horror movies before bed, it disturbs my sleep, so I am going to read a book instead.”

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Assertiveness is a complex skill. To learn it, you will need to persevere. This is where it is really good to have your partner’s support!

References
About the author Ari Hahn:
I am a professional helper since 1976 and an LCSW since 1991. I have specialized in survivors of trauma. Presently I also have an on-line therapy and coaching practice where I also specialize in helping families and loved ones of ex-abused people. I also am a professor at TCI College in NYC.
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Page last updated Jun 18, 2014

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