3 Negative Communication Styles Couples Use That Can Cause Unhappiness and What You Can Do to Communicate Better with Your Partner - Part 2
This week’s post is a continuation of my recent blog on three negative communication styles couples use that affect their sense of satisfaction and happiness in the relationship. If you haven’t read my last post, you may want to read it here before you continue with today’s blog. It’ll help you make a better connection between the importance of avoiding use of negative communication styles to ask for what you need and how to express yourself in a way that increases intimacy in your relationship.
As you know, communication is an exchange of information between you and your partner through different means of interaction such as verbal and non-verbal language (i.e. eye contact, tone of voice, facial expression, posture, etc.). Couples in therapy often state that when they are upset at their partner, they usually just stop communicating by not talking to each other. This is the number one misconception that couples have. Communication is not just about exchanging words. Not talking to each other (i.e. passive style) does not stop your communication. In fact, you and your partner are constantly communicating with each other regardless of your awareness.
For instance, your husband/wife comes home from a long day at work only to see you looking upset and nagging him/her about being late and not helping enough around the house. Instead of expressing your needs, you both start an argument and at the end, you remove yourself to the bedroom while your significant other stays back watching TV. You remain silent all night so “I don’t have to communicate with him/her.” What you both are really doing is avoiding confrontation. The ongoing communication still happens, just under different forms, as you continue to send indirect messages through ignoring and avoiding the other. Your message becomes “I don’t feel close to you. I’d rather be somewhere else or doing something else rather than being with you.” This is fear-based communication. If this silent treatment continues, you may end up sleeping in different rooms or going to bed with a guarded position. Instead of the usual snuggling or holding each other to sleep, you turn and face the opposite direction. Your body language tells your partner that you’re closing yourself off and rejecting them. When you communicate from a place of disconnection, it’s very difficult for you to relate to your partner in an intimate way.
Remember, your communications style is a continuum. It can move around within the range of passive to aggressive depending on how you feel in the moment, where you are, and who you communicate with despite your usual go-to strategy. There is no one size fits all. Though as you know from my last post, communicating with your partner through a passive, passive-aggressive, or aggressive fashion can provide you short-term relief, but it will affect your level of affection and satisfaction in the long run. For that reason, I want to show you a different way of communicating with your partner that will help you feel more confident in receiving positive interaction from your loved one. It is called assertive communication.
So What is Assertive Communication?
Assertiveness is the ability to communicate your own needs, feelings, or wants with calmness, clarity, and honesty. Assertiveness means owning your emotions and expressing them in a way that increases your self-respect and respect for your partner. Communicating assertively means letting go of passive and/or aggressive forms of expression and replacing them with new, effective skills that strengthen your relationship.
Why does Assertive Communication matter?
Because it teaches you to stand up for yourself in a healthy way by expressing your needs assertively without the need of using either passive or aggressive communication.
Assertiveness helps your partner take you more seriously because you understand your self-worth and communicate it with him/her with clarity and honesty.
Because assertive communication is built upon the couple’s mutual respect for each other and the understanding that your needs are as important as his/hers, you’ll do your best to make sure that you and your partner are treated equally in the relationship. When you work towards fairness in your marriage, you’re role modeling for your partner to respond to your effort in a similar way.
Assertiveness enhances your self-esteem because you become more self-accepted by attending to your needs. Because you choose to embrace who you are and share it with your partner, you feel more secure about your relationship and less preoccupied by the need to gain your partner’s approval.
Assertive communication makes your relationship more fulfilling because you and your partner understand the importance of promoting each other’s self-worth through fairness and equality in the relationship.
Important Components of Assertive Communication:
Understanding your self-worth: Assertive couples practice a high level of self-acceptance. They understand that their needs are worthy to communicate with their partner. It is in their best interest to set healthy boundaries in the relationship. Assertive partners know that standing up for him/herself when needed is key to keeping their marriage growing strong.
Attending to both partner’s needs: Assertive partners understand that their needs are important, as are their partner’s needs. It looks like this: you communicate what you want openly with your partner while also listening to his/her needs willingly because you understand that satisfaction comes from your working together as a team rather than attacking each other through being aggressive or passive.
Willingness to compromise: You and your partner are two separate individuals. Even if you both share many similar interests, it’s normal and okay for you to disagree on things that you don’t see eye to eye on. Before you became a couple, you were two individuals raised by different families of origin who share different sets of values or beliefs. This individual in you doesn’t change just because you’re a couple now. You’re still the same person, but with the bonus of developing tolerance and acceptance towards your partner’s differences in the relationship. When conflicts happen (and they do!), remember to compromise. Compromising is not giving in to your partner’s demands and neglecting your own needs. It’s accepting each other’s differences and working together to create the middle ground where you both become better partners and feel more intimate as a couple.
Self-control: It’s the ability to express yourself with clarity, honestly, and calmness. It’s making the choice to communicate with your partner through mutual respect, knowing that it’d be much easier to lash out at him/her or lying that everything is okay so you don’t have to do the hard work. To be honest with you, there are still days when it’s difficult for me to practice self-control. Those are times when I give in to my anger and then become very critical of myself for failing. Other times, I’m more in tune with my emotions and so I do better in managing them. Self-control is a process of making mistakes and learning to bring out the best in you and your partner through trial and error.
Taking Ownership: Assertive communication requires couples to be real about how they feel. It means not sweeping things under the rug to avoid confrontation. Assertive couples are in sync with their emotions, understand the needs behind them, and communicate those needs clearly with each other. When you take ownership of your feelings, you’re communicating with your partner that “I don’t blame you for the way I feel. I’m responsible for my own feelings and I choose to share them with you.” Because there is no place for blame in your ownership, there is no need for you and your partner to feel guarded against each other. Imagine how much freedom you and your partner will have to grow in the relationship?
No-judgmental Stand: What do you do when you feel judged by another person? Shut down? Feel the need to defend yourself? Become angry? Or get back at that person by humiliating them? Now what do you think your partner will do when he/she feels judged by you? I think you get the point. No one likes to be judged, especially in an intimate relationship. If you want to receive your partner’s cooperation, make him/her your ally. Couples report that they do best when they feel heard and understood by their partner; they turn away or turn to someone else when they feel judged or invalidated in the relationship. So, next time your partner shares something with you, remember: don’t judge!
Confidence: Being confident is a gesture of telling your partner that you know your self-worth and you value your own needs. There may be times you doubt your decision of standing up for yourself, but stick to your guns! If you feel the need to speak up, it means there is a potential boundary violation that makes you feel an urgency to express yourself. Trust your gut! As long as you don’t diminish your partner’s needs or put him/her down for your gain, be confident in your ability to make judgment.
The Messages behind Assertive Communication:
Conflict is a normal part of any relationship: Healthy couples understand that conflicts happen in the relationship. They don’t try to avoid it by being too passive or confront it by being too aggressive towards their partner. Assertive couples accept that avoidance or confrontation are negative ways of getting what they want. As such, partners choose to communicate their differences assertively through mutual respect.
Please don’t speak for me. Speak for yourself: Assertive communication encourages partners to speak for themselves and not for each other. It means “I don’t know how you feel because I’m not you. Let’s hear you out before I take my turn.” It also means no interruption while your partner is talking even though you feel the urge to defend yourself. It takes lots of effort to practice this self-control but it’ll make you a better partner. Too much interruption creates enmeshment where partners lose the ability to think or speak for themselves.
You may not get what you need but it’ll help you improve your relationship: Assertiveness doesn’t guarantee that you will always get what you ask for. Your partner can still refuse to cooperate, but remember this: you can’t control what your partner would do or say. You can only control your own actions. The practice of assertiveness is for you. It is the process of you learning to become a better person and partner. It teaches you to accept your self-worth, appreciate your differences, and communicate your uniqueness with your partner through positive interactions. It is in hope that your effort of becoming a better partner will help motivate your partner to better him/herself. As a marriage and family therapist who has worked with many couples and families, I believe that change in one part of the system will change other parts in the system. So, work on yourself and let the positivity follow!
Don’t be afraid that you will damage your relationship: Assertiveness doesn’t damage your marriage. Passive and aggressive communication do. Healthy couples practice mutual respect through recognizing one’s needs while still validating the other’s wishes. Assertiveness is meant to strengthen your relationship through practice of self-worth and acceptance. Its message is “I’m a grown up and I choose to communicate with my partner in a mature way.” When you embrace honesty and openness, you draw a clear future direction for yourself and your partner. This bonding will increase intimacy and satisfaction in your relationship as you now speak the same language.
Your partner doesn’t leave you or think less of you just because you choose to communicate assertively: Assertiveness doesn’t drive your loved one away, it draws him/her closer due to your confidence in expressing yourself. It may feel intimidating for your partner at first if he/she was used to your previous communication style. Every change requires a period of adjustment. Just give your partner time while you stay consistent with the new practice. Your partner will see the benefits of what you’re doing and will appreciate it in the long run. You’re modeling a new communicating technique that many couples haven’t heard of or done before. So be patient and enjoy the process!
So this is it for this week. Originally I planned to write everything you need to know about assertive communication in this post. However, after some consideration, I decided that it'd be better to create a separate guide on assertive communication techniques that you can use at home. So stay connected! I look forward to sharing more with you on the topic next week.