Perpetually helping your loved ones and responding to their needs without getting anything in return can be draining and frustrating. Assertive behavior is essential to self-care and to maintaining healthy relationships, particularly when the relationships are with those most involved in your life -- your friends and family. Irina Firstein, a therapist located in Manhattan, indicates that this is because communicating in an assertive fashion demands respect and nurtures self-confidence. Integrating techniques for interacting with your loved ones in a consistently clear and confident manner will foster richer, healthier relationships with them.
Learn your limits with regard to the actions of friends and family members. You may be uncomfortable when your mother enters the bathroom during your shower, or unable to tolerate your spouse calling you names. These boundaries may change during the course of a relationship, and from one relationship to the next. You must be aware of these limits in order to assert them.
Tell your friends and family how you feel. Voicing your emotions gives them validity. Acknowledging your feelings also boosts self-respect, as it is a reminder that they are important and should be valued. According to psychologist Mahima Gupta, "When we get in touch with our emotions and share them, we create a bridge for the opposite person also to get in touch with how we’re feeling."
Own the responsibility for what you are communicating. Gupta also states that accusatory statements -- 'You’re too messy' or 'You’re so boring' -- may put the listener on the defensive and build a barrier to the relaying of your message. ‘I’ statements send factual information about how you are feeling, such as 'I feel ashamed embarrassed when you discuss our sex life in public.'
Decline any requests that might jeopardize your well-being. You need not apologize. Mayo Clinic recommends saying 'no' clearly, respectfully and honestly. Do not go skiing with your best friend if you’re just recovering from bronchitis. Do not lend your brother money if you will be unable to pay your rent.
Minimize nervousness and the possibility of relenting by rehearsing a conversation ahead of time. You may do this out loud, in front of the mirror, or with a trustworthy confidante. Take note of your use of eye contact and other body language. Being assertive can be trying, especially when we are eager to please.
Reiterate your words concisely and as often as necessary. Friends and family may have difficulty hearing your message and accepting your terms, particularly since assertive behavior might be new in your repertoire. Mayo Clinic also reports that, when asserting your boundaries, it is important to render them non-negotiable. So be sure to repeat yourself firmly if you are questioned or met with hostility.
- The presence or threat of physical abuse in relationships often renders healthy communication unsafe. Do not assert yourself to a potentially dangerous person without first speaking to a professional.
Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.