Being Assertive Without Damaging Your Relationships

Asking for what you want—and setting boundaries around what you don’t want—is a key life skill.  But sometimes in our enthusiasm to practice this skill, we over-do our own assertiveness and end up with a partner who shuts down, gets angry or feels resentful.  Here are four tips for expressing your assertiveness in a way that will actually strengthen, deepen and enrich your relationship—thus avoiding the “alienation trap”:

1:  Get Clear.  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 real task unto itself.  Here, it may be useful to ask: “In an ideal world, what would I like to have happen?”  Focusing on an ideal outcome opens our minds, prevents us from falling into passivity or “victim-thinking,” and helps us get really clear on what we want and don’t want.

2: Set Healthy Boundaries.  Once you know what outcome you want, share it with your partner.  Pay attention to the way stating your boundary feels in your body.  With practice, you can actually sense when you’re hitting the “sweet spot.”  It can feel really pleasurable, even exhilarating, to express your desires clearly out loud.  Phrases like “such and such doesn’t work for me” are simple ways of being assertive while maintaining connection with your partner.

3: Make a Regular Habit of Stating Your Desires.  You can build your assertiveness the same way you build any muscle: exercise.  Practice speaking up about your desires, big or small, on a daily basis.  When you speak up about things that are less controversial—such as where to go to dinner, requesting help unloading the dishwasher or what TV program to watch—both you and your partner get used to your assertiveness.  It becomes easier for you to practice and for your partner to hear.  Also, when bigger issues come along, you and your partner will have a healthy process in place for dealing with differences in needs, and you’ll have greater confidence in the resilience of your relationship.

4: Give as Much as You Get.  Assertiveness is a two-way street.  If you want your boundaries to be respected, you must return the courtesy to your partner.  If he doesn’t want you to use the bathroom when he’s in the shower, don’t.  If she asks you to give her a half an hour after work before you talk and connect, respect that.  When it comes to following through on a partner’s reasonable request, actions really do speak louder than words. 

If you and your partner are having difficulty respecting each others’ boundaries, even though you’ve both set them clearly, working with a coach might be just the thing to help your relationship become a more constructive, collaborative partnership.

Author’s content adapted under license, © 2011 Claire Communications

About djwlifecoach

As a retired board-certified coach, author and Reiki master teacher, I continue to share hope, possibilities and empowerment with the world. What's love got to do with minimizing stress and getting unstuck? Everything! My book, "Choose Your Energy: Change Your Life!" (Hay House/Balboa Press 2013) shares my story and the stories of 10 of my clients along with my signature Discovery Framework. During my 30 years as an organization transformation consultant, I served as a senior partner in four of the world's largest, most prestigious global professional services firms. In 2005, I took a five-year sabbatical to find healing and peace because non-stop work had taken its toll. My recovery from burnout, including a sustained 80-pound weight loss and freedom from 10 years of debilitating depression, led to finding my purpose sharing hope, possibilities and empowerment with the world. Through healing and self-exploration, I discovered that loving yourself unconditionally is the key to transforming your personal life, your work and the world. With attention and intention, I learned to live in alignment with love through a wealth of energy-shifting tools and techniques that help me reduce stress, anxiety and overwhelm by releasing limiting beliefs, emotions and habits. My books, blog and radio episodes help individuals and organizations harness the transformative energy of love to turn unexplored possibilities into fulfilling realities and step into their greatness. Learn more and access FREE resources at For fun, I love singing, reading, sewing, knitting, golfing and movies. I live in Williamsburg, Virginia with my husband, Wilson, and the coaching cats who manage my life—SiddhaLee and Maisy Jane.
This entry was posted in All My Blog Posts, Authenticity & Purpose, Curiosity, Respect & Compassion, Relationships, Boundaries & Belonging, Stress, Perfectionism & Burnout and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Being Assertive Without Damaging Your Relationships

  1. Alfredo says:

    Hello. excellent job. I did not expect this. This is a remarkable story.

    • djwlifecoach says:

      Relationships are the Graduate Program of Life. Just when you think you’ve figured out what loving yourself and setting healthy boundaries looks like on your own, Life sends you relationships and raises the bar a few more feet! Thanks for letting me know you found this blog helpful.

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