3 Negative Communication Styles Couples Use That Can Cause Unhappiness and What You Can Do to Communicate Better with Your Partner - Part 3
This week's post is the continuation of my recent blog on assertive communication in your relationship. You can read the first part of assertive communication here as well as the 3 common negative communicate styles couples use in their relationship here for reference.
As you remember from my last posts, passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive communication are the 3 common negative interaction styles that often cause unhappiness in a relationship. On the other hand, assertive communication can help improve your marriage in a very satisfying way. What makes assertiveness a powerful communication tool is its focus on calmness, clarity, and honesty in each partner's self-expression. Being assertive teaches couples to own their emotions and voice them in a way that increases autonomy and mutual respect.
So have you ever wondered what assertive couples look like in their relationship?
They have a high level of self-esteem: People who are assertive in their relationship often show confidence in being themselves. They don’t mind speaking their mind and are not afraid of being judged. They take risk to freely express themselves because their feelings matter to them. They believe in their self-worth and their partner’s worth and strive to maintain a balance between their sense of individuality and togetherness as a couple.
Assertive couples are less driven by fear: They're not afraid of being rejected by their partner because they know communicating clearly only improves the relationship. They choose to express openly so their partner knows where they stand and won’t cross each other’s personal space due to mutual respect. Because you act out of your best interest in growing strong with your partner in a healthy relationship, he/she will see that you’re genuine and not trying to manipulate them into doing things only for yourself. When you communicate from a place of honesty, fear loses its grip. The more assertive you become, the less fearful you feel in sharing who you are with your partner.
They are less driven by self-defense mechanism and feel less anxious about their relationship: When you choose to communicate with your partner assertively, you already prepared to take risk: risk in speaking the truth and risk in trusting that your partner will respond to you in a similar fashion. It takes courage to trust yourself (i.e. making the right decision) and your partner (i.e. being there for you); though, when you reach that level of acceptance, there is no need to stay guarded because you’re free from fear. Healthy partners believe in their relationship. Assertive couples know that what they have is real and will not be taken away just because they choose to embrace their freedom of expression.
Assertive couples are more differentiated in the relationship: Differentiation is an important element of assertiveness. It’s the ability to hold on to one’s values and beliefs while staying open to your partner’s differences. Differentiated couples do not put each other down because they disagree on things. They don’t give in just to keep the peace. They compromise. Assertive couples maintain a balance between “my needs” and “your needs.” They value their own growth as an individual as well as their sense of togetherness as a couple.
Assertive couples are well-grounded and able to get more out of the relationship: Assertive couples hold a high level of self-esteem and relationship-acceptance. They feel grounded because they embrace their own strengths and flaws as well as those of their partner’s. They accept that no relationship is perfect and the only way to improve it is to practice being assertive in asking for what they need. Couples with this skill are able to enjoy and get more out of their relationship because they are not limited by self-restricted behaviors (i.e. acting or doing things a certain way to gain the partner’s approval). When you’re free to be you around your partner, the relationship becomes more fulfilling.
The Assertive-Communication formula:
My Assertive-Communication formula is a 5-step method that I use in my work with couples in therapy. You can use and change it to your own liking, but remember to take the below instruction into consideration. In addition, the listed steps don’t always happen in order, but they work together as a whole. If you start feeling confused, don’t worry! I’ll give you some examples at the end to demonstrate the technique.
Step 1: Assessing the situation
It’s always a good practice to pause and reflect on what just happened that makes you feel the needs to express yourself. Try to think of it as objectively as possible even though it’s difficult for you not to take things personally.
Step 2: Recognizing your feelings and take ownership
Identify any feelings you have in the moment. Don’t avoid it by sweeping it under the rug. Also, don’t give in to your feelings by reacting immediately. Just sit with it. Your feelings are often clues that tell you about your current state of mind and position in relation to your partner. When you can pinpoint what it is that you’re experiencing, don’t try to change it. Just accept it for what it is.
Step 3: Identifying what you need from your partner
As I mentioned earlier, your feelings are often clues that tell you something about yourself and your relationship with your partner. If you feel angry, don’t give in to your rage. Dig deeper to find out which of your needs are unmet that create such anger. For some, it’s a need for appreciation while for others it’s a need for belonging or worthiness. Whatever your needs are, recognize them and prepare to communicate them with your partner in the next step.
Step 4: Use of “I” statements
“I” statements are an effective way of expressing yourself while eliminating the blaming part that causes your partner feeling of defensiveness. It’s a way of re-framing your choice of words so that your message still delivers the truth of what you experience in the moment, yet provides your partner the motivation to work with you in finding a desirable solution. It looks like this:
“I feel ____________________ when ____________________________________________________.”
(insert your emotion) (the happening of an event/situation you both are involved)
Blaming: “Why do you keep coming home so late? I’m tired of waiting for you.”
“I” Statement: “I feel worried when you get home late. I’m afraid that something might happen to you.”
Blaming: “You’re always late. You’re never on time.”
“I” Statement: “I feel hurt when’re you late to our date. I’m concerned that you don’t care.”
Step 5: Inviting your partner to take responsibility for their action
After using “I” statements to express how you feel, the next step is clarifying your needs in a concrete and tangible way that provides clarity to your partner. It’s important that you come up with specific requests in order to avoid vagueness. Remember, you want your partner’s cooperation, so avoid blaming. Invite him/her to take part in the solution. Your partner is more likely to work with you when they know they’re included in your plan.
Blaming: “Stop yelling at me! You’re nuts!”
Assertiveness: “I feel small when you raise your voice at me. I feel like I have failed you and it makes me sad. I understand that you’re frustrated, but I can’t think well when I’m yelled at. I’d like to talk when we both can remain calm.”
Blaming: “You always watch TV when you get home. I guess we just won’t talk to anymore.”
Assertiveness: “When you ignore me, I feel invisible. It may not be your intention, but I can’t help but feel unloved and/or unwanted. I miss talking to you. How can we make this work?”
Tips for successful practice of communicating assertively:
Assertive communication is a skill that requires consistent practice to master it. It may be difficult for you at first to freely express yourself. You will make mistakes along the way, but don’t give up and just enjoy the process. We learn best when we have fun trying new things. You can always recruit your partner to work on this goal together. For example, you can create a weekly challenge in which you and your partner choose an area in your relationship to practice assertiveness. Start with something small to create resilience and then move up from there. Baby steps are essential in keeping you on track and feeling accomplished as they are smaller and more tangible goals. It can be very rewarding to see yourself and your partner working on a shared goal together as a couple. I hope you find joy in the process. Let me know if you have any questions by sharing your comments below. For those of you who need further professional help in couples’ relationship issues, please reach out to me. I’m just a phone call or email away. I’ve helped many couples find love and intimacy again in their marriage and I can help you.