“I’m a Strong Person–So Why Do I Let Him Walk All Over Me?”
You can speak up for your kid. You can advocate for your client, call out your nosy neighbor, and tell that telemarketer you’re just. Not. Interested.
So why is it so, so hard to be assertive in your relationship?
Ironically, not speaking up to your partner serves a purpose. A messed up purpose, but a purpose nonetheless.
It could be that sticking up for yourself would require a loud fight and the loud voice makes you feel unsafe.
It could be that speaking up to your partner lets you think that you are securing his presence in your home (thus preventing abandonment).
And it could be a number of other things that provide you a reason to let him just be.
While the “why” behind your lack of assertiveness can be helpful, coming to an understanding is not necessary to become more assertive (although getting to the bottom of it would likely be a bonus for your mental health).
To become more assertive with your spouse, consider a few thoughts:
What is the worst-case scenario I fear would happen if I spoke up?
Get real with this question. Discuss the fear with a counselor or journal it out. How likely is it that the worst-case scenario could come to pass?
And here’s the kicker–even if that worst-case scenario occurred, do you believe you could handle it? 99.9% of the time, you would find a way to handle it.
What I’m discussing is a habit of thinking called Catastrophic Thinking. Our minds try to keep us safe by remembering the scariest possible scenario. If we believe that there is absolutely no way we could handle the terrible situation, we crumble. We give in. We keep status quo.
Further, feelings of anxiety keep us from being assertive. Anxiety tells us to avoid the troublesome conversation and let it go. Avoidance creates a feedback loop in your brain saying, “Yup, avoiding that convo was smart cuz I’m still safe. Let’s keep that protocol in place.” We then get comfortable (oddly) with side-stepping the confrontation.
Anxiety can kick us while we are down, prompting thoughts about shame. “You should be ashamed that you cannot confront your spouse. You are a big Boss Lady? Ha! You can’t even call him out for what he said to you.” Shame can lead to depression, resentment, and continued problems in the relationship.
In the end, unvoiced needs and wants lead to resentment. Choosing passivity instead of assertiveness builds a wall between spouses–and it starves self-confidence.
(This is not medical advice. Seek a medical professional.)