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Kelly Dawson is a writer and editor who focuses on relationships. Her work has also appeared in Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, Domino, Dwell Magazine, Bon Appétit, and Vox.
How To Be More Confident In My Relationship
We all want a healthy relationship, but it’s not always easy to achieve. One difficult but very important step in improving the well-being of your partnership is learning how to stand up for yourself and what you want. Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the first few weeks of attraction or you’ve had a serious partner for a number of years, being assertive (or not) can make or break your relationship.
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“It’s up to us to communicate our wants, desires, and needs,” says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a Beverly Hills psychotherapist and author of The Self-Knowing Parent. According to Walfish, being assertive starts with ongoing communication—and not just with your partner. In order to master communication, we should regularly check in with ourselves to see how we feel. Once we have figured that out, we can voice our feelings to our partner to determine if we are on the same page.
“Instead of leading with assertiveness, a large number of couples default to a passive or passive-aggressive style of communication, where each partner tries to influence the other to meet their needs without them having to explicitly name their needs,” says the relationship expert. Jordan. Gray. “But to be in a healthy, functional adult relationship, it is imperative that both people learn to assertively state their needs and desires clearly.”
Ahead, read all you need to know about how to be more assertive in your relationship—and why assertiveness
To be assertive in a relationship is to take responsibility for naming your needs, desires and boundaries equally, says Gray. You recognize that both you and your partner are responsible for your own behavior.
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“Oftentimes, people assume that others close to them know what they think, feel, need and want. And, in fact, this is a setup for disappointment, because people are not mind-readers,” Walfisch says. This behavior stems from childhood, notes Gray, when our wishes and needs are met by our parents without us having to communicate them. Being assertive means being open and honest about our wants and needs with our partners and not expecting them to just know how we feel.
Similarly, if you’re interested in someone, being assertive can simply translate to asking that person out. “Let’s say there’s a guy and a girl, and they’re hanging out with a group of friends, the girl is attracted to the guy, and she can’t tell if he’s into her just to be polite or if he’s interested And maybe shy I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you saying something like, ‘I got tickets to the Lakers game. Would you like to join me?’ And see where it goes,” says Whale.
She acknowledges that this type of communication is intimidating whether you’re a millennial, a baby boomer or a member of the silent generation. “The price we pay is the potential for hurt and rejection if the needs and wants and desires are not reciprocated,” she continues.
“Assertiveness and confidence overlap, but they are not the same thing,” says Gray. “It’s safe to say that many confident people are assertive, but that doesn’t mean that all assertive people are also confident,” he continues. But stepping forward and claiming your desires can lend itself to greater self-assurance. Even if you don’t feel very confident,
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Confidence doesn’t necessarily mean being overly direct, however, says Walfisch. There needs to be an element of finesse in your approach. “It’s very important to keep in mind that it would be a big turn-off if you come on too strong,” she notes.
Similarly, Gray notes the difference between assertiveness and aggression. “An assertive person can say a wish, and then knows that the person who hears the wish is fully responsible for their own behavior.” Being aggressive, however, is about trying to control another person’s behavior.
If you are exclusively dating someone and would like to make the relationship more serious, Whale recommends “modeling.” “Maybe share a story about yourself when you were a kid, something that brings the other person in,” she says. “See if your partner reciprocates by telling you something personal, too. If he or she doesn’t, see if they’re still smiling and enjoying the story you’ve shared. These gentle, assertive steps can be incremental; they don’t have to be Huge jump.”
“When you’re honest, the other person has the invitation to reciprocate that by being honest,” Whale notes. “You can set the tone by modeling. You don’t have to come right out and say, ‘You’re not listening to me. I need this,’ because the other person might feel criticized.”
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First and foremost, scrap the idea that you or your partner can read each other’s minds, says Gray. It will take hard work to be more direct about your needs, desires and boundaries, especially if you are used to being passive, but it is necessary in a mature, mature relationship.
According to Walfish, individual insight is the secret to assertiveness and using it to build a strong partnership that is beneficial to both people. There are various ways to be assertive, she says, but honest communication has to be the goal. Again, Whale recommends checking with yourself first: what do you want? Once you know the answer, you can ask your partner if he or she agrees and why.
“The whole thing is about self-awareness, to have that open and honest look inside. Sometimes it’s painful, but you have to,” she says. You owe it not only to your relationship but also to yourself.
Some ways you can put your introspection into action is by making requests more often, says Gray. Once you can clearly identify what it is you want, you can ask things of your partner. Something as simple as, “I would love it if we could go out for a date this Friday night,” is a great start. “You can also give your opinion more often, say no to someone’s request of you, or invite a dialogue with your partner about something that has been weighing on you for some time,” says Gray.
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“Well, if you’re asking for commitment, I think the wrong time is too soon,” she says. “But if you’ve been patient, and they’re dragging their heels, I think there comes a certain time when it’s okay to have a conversation about how you feel about each other and where it’s going.” You have to follow your gut and ask yourself: Am I really not getting what I want, and is this unfair? Or am I just impatient and insensitive to my partner’s feelings?
According to Gray, some signs you should be more assertive with your partner are that you start to feel resentful, frustrated or upset with them more often. “If the low-level anger themes start bubbling up, it’s generally because there’s some internal boundary that’s been crossed, but you still have to stand up for yourself,” he says.
According to Whale, every relationship is unique, and the right time and place for assertiveness will depend on the couple. “The beautiful thing—and the challenging thing—about relationships is that they have to be co-created. It takes two willing partners to make a relationship work,” Walfisch says. “And what feels good to one may not feel good to the other. These things must be talked about, worked out and mutually agreed upon, or adjusted to a compromise,” she continues.
Like most things, being assertive comes with practice. If you had a passive, passive-aggressive or aggressive caregiver growing up, it may be harder for you to be assertive, says Gray. He adds that some cultures encourage passive communication, while others promote a more aggressive communication style. These reasons, however, are all the more reason to learn the valuable skill of being assertive. You will be met with increased self-esteem and a greater sense of inner peace, plus healthier relationships. This article was co-authored by Sarah Schewitz, PsyD and by staff writer, Glenn Carreau. Sarah Shevitz, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist by the California Board of Psychology with over 10 years of experience. She received her Psy.D. from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2011. She is the founder of Couples Learn, an online psychology practice helping couples and individuals improve and change their patterns in love
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