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Posts tagged ‘assertiveness’

6 Awful Relationship Habits and How to Break Them

SOURCE:  Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D/Psychology Today

Habits can be hard to break, especially when they’ve developed over the course of a long-term relationship. You know when your relationship is suffering from the effects of bad habits when you feel like something is off, or missing, in your time with your partner. You can’t quite put your finger on it, and there may be no one really to blame, but you know that things have changed.

A bad relationship habit is one that continues to occur even though it causes you or your partner distress. It may develop independent of the personalities, beliefs, or values of each individual, or it may reflect good intentions gone wrong in the way you two interact. You want to be positive, you want to be loving, but you can’t quite seem to pull it off. When alone, you build up your resolve to change, but when you’re back with your partner, that resolve melts and you’re back where you started.

Not all relationship habits are bad. The good ones allow you and your partner to function more effectively as a twosome or as part of a larger family or group. Just as your personal habits allow you to get out of bed and start your day with a minimum of mental effort, these habits being stability and predictability to your life. Knowing that your partner hates purple, for example, means that you don’t have to stop and ponder whether to buy a purple shirt you see on sale. And knowing your partner’s habits is itself a good relationship habit. It signifies that you have a pretty good understanding of your partner, even if you don’t agree with all those preferences. (And sometimes you may wish to change those habits if they’re detracting from your partner’s well-being, but that’s a different story.)

Bad relationship habits, by contrast, work against your relationship—and if they’re bad enough, they can destroy it. Here are six to watch out for, along with suggestions for counteracting each one:

1. Wait for your partner to initiate shows of affection.

The tendency to believe that you need to be approached first by your partner in displays of affection is more prevalent in women, as shown by research on who is more likely to initiate a relationship. If you hold to this belief, though, it will lead you to the habit of always waiting to be approached by your partner even after your relationship is well-established. Not only can this habit keep you from fulfilling your own needs (whether in a new or long-term relationship) but it can send the wrong signals to your partner that you’re “just not that into” him or her.

To counteract this bad habit, do what researchers do to prompt subjects to feel more in control of their destinies: Recall times when you were in control and the outcome was positive. This doesn’t have to involve relationships; it can be any time that you took action and the result benefited you. This can be enough to prompt you to feel that it’s OK to exercise control in your relationship as well. The results will probably surprise you in that your partner may very well be delighted that you’re willing to start the romantic ball rolling.

2. Argue about the same things all the time.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in arguments, especially ones that keep repeating. You might be able to predict, with depressing accuracy, the result of a disagreement with your partner over one or another weekly chore or duty. Before you slide into the routine set of complaints about having to clean the bathroom yet again, try to find a time when you can both talk calmly about the recurring problem and come up with a plan to end it. As is true for changing your own bad habits (such as giving into a daily craving for a donut), you can set up a schedule of small change comparable to going for one day, then two days, etc. without the donut. If you both decide this is fair, it will eventually produce a desired outcome of making those arguments go away.

Of course, if your partner uses the occasion to bring up a habit of yours that’s been a source of contention, be ready to make similar changes in return. Increasing your sense of personal control has the added benefit of making it easier for you to change your own bad habits. A review of six studies involving nearly 2,300 people (Galla & Duckworth, 2015) showed that people who feel a greater sense of self-control have a variety of beneficial life outcomes, including being able to overcome bad habits.

3. Take your partner for granted.

This is a very easy habit to slide into if you’ve been in a relationship for a long time. In a way, taking your partner for granted is a good sign because it shows that you and your partner feel you can rely on each other. It’s nice to know, in a way, that your partner will be able to tolerate your occasional bursts of anger or irritation, and that you can dress however you feel like around the house when no one else is there. It’s also comforting to feel that your partner will help you when you get into a jam. On the other hand, taking someone for granted also includes maybe not saying “thank you” as much as you should because you’ve come to expect favorable treatment. Take the time to recognize what your partner contributes to your life and let him or her know how much it means to you.

4. Be too serious.

You may find that you laugh with friends or colleagues outside the home more than you do when you’re with your partner. The preoccupation of having a home and family can lead people to forget that sometimes things happen that are just plain funny. You might see a Facebook post or text that makes you laugh, but when you’re in the middle of your habitual routine, you may feel that you don’t have the time to spare to take a break. However, research shows that having a laugh together may be just the boost your relationship needs. If all else fails, go to a romantic comedy together just to be able to share some silly time.

5. Not have a meal together.

The fast pace of life, particularly when we have to balance home and work roles, can lead couples to get into the habit of catching their meals on the go. Daily schedules being what they are, you and your partner may just barely see each other as you pass in the hallway. If you’re not living with your partner, it may seem impossible to schedule a time to go out or cook a meal together. Yet, having that meal together may remedy some of the other bad habits, such as taking each other for granted or being too serious. To break this habit, commit to at least one shared meal per week, or on whatever regular basis you can arrange. During that meal, get rid of your phone, play some relaxing music, and enjoy each other’s company. If your partner has cooked the meal, be sure to say “thank you,” and express that you liked it.

6. Spend too much time plugged into your devices.

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation (link is external) argues that we’re losing the ability to talk to each other in a face-to-face setting. Being on your devices while you’re apart may be a way of maintaining connection through texts and status updates, but when you’re with your partner, the devices offer nothing but distraction. That you can’t get through a meal without having your phone next to you may be a symptom of a larger problem in your relationship and if that’s the case, the other suggestions above (laughing together, avoiding repeat arguments, showing affection) can be vital ways to turn things around.


Galla, B. M., & Duckworth, A. L. (2015). More than resisting temptation: Beneficial habits mediate the relationship between self-control and positive life outcomes. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 109(3), 508-525. doi:10.1037/pspp0000026


Q&A: How Will I Know If I’m Ready To Date Again?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question:  My abusive husband left me 2 years ago, and I am so grateful that God took him out of my life after 27 years of trying so hard to make a one-sided marriage work. I have read 3 of your books, and feel like I am thriving. My question is how will I know if I am ready to date again?

At first I felt I would never want to date or marry again. I am so happy, blessed and content, but also feel that God made marriage, and it could be a great blessing to actually be in a good marriage. I have so many wonderful friends and feel so close to the Lord. In some ways, I just want to stay in my safe bubble. But maybe God wants me to grow and learn and have a “do over.”

Can you give us some pointers if we have been freed from an emotionally destructive marriage? Is there a way to know if one is ready to try again? Are there some tips, timeframes and pitfalls you could give us? Thanks for all you do to help those of us who want to grow and be free in Christ.

Answer: Your question is a good one. Many professionals recommend giving yourself a year of healing for every five years of marriage. Therefore, in your situation, they would recommend five years of staying single before marrying again.

However that does not mean that you cannot date during those five years. Let’s look at the seven indicators that show you are ready to take the plunge into the dating world.

1. Do you have a good sense of yourself? Your strengths? Your weaknesses? Your good parts and not so good parts? This is crucial work you must do for your own emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. You want to enter this new relationship as yourself and not as what you think this other person wants you to be.

Some women do not do the hard work to know themselves. Others are insecure or afraid to be themselves because they fear rejection. Rejection is painful, but far less painful than a second emotionally destructive marriage and/or divorce. If you live out of your false self, or you are constantly worrying about your image, you have more internal work to do before you are ready to date.

2. Do you recognize your own personal blind spots (such as being swept up by charm rather than looking for character qualities, or being nice to your own detriment)? Are you aware of what still trips you up in relationships such as a strong need for approval, a fear of conflict, people pleasing, and/or over-functioning? Are you working on changing these things?

3. Are you able to speak up for yourself? Can you say, “No, I don’t like R rated movies”, or “I’m a city girl and would never want to live in a rural area.” Are you able to give someone constructive feedback like, “I feel scared when you drive fast in the snow” or “Please don’t talk with me that way, that makes me uncomfortable.”

4. Do you have personal boundaries and are you able to state them with the current relationships you have? If not, start working on having healthier friendships with the people you are in relationship with before you open yourself up to dating. What are you prepared to do if they refuse to respect your boundaries or pressure you to loosen them? Have you already shown you are capable of doing that in your current relationships?

5. Have you made a list of the qualities you are looking for in a potential partner as well as your deal breakers? Do you know your own top core values and are you living by them in your current status as a single woman?

As a Christian, we want to be God-centered women not man-centered or self-centered women.   In order to have a good marriage, people look for partners with compatible values not necessarily compatible likes and dislikes or even personalities.

You know the old saying – opposites attract and that’s true. But you don’t want opposite values in a marriage. For example, if you value close family ties and he values being independent and free to travel all over the world as you get older, there may be a lot of conflict because your core values do not line up. Or if you value God and biblical truth and he does not, (or says he does but doesn’t live it) then marriages don’t do well.

6. If you have underage children, (or he does) have you thought through when you will bring them into your relationship? For example, I usually tell people that when you are casually dating someone, children should not be involved. That makes it tricky when you have visitation every other weekend and you can’t spend time together. But children of broken homes have their own issues with their parents dating and they don’t need to get emotionally invested in someone before there is a true commitment of a long-term relationship.

7. Do you have a core group of good friends or family that you trust to help you “see” whether or not this person is a good potential life partner for you? Are you willing to allow them to give you feedback on some of the red flags they may see that you don’t?

These seven criteria may seem rather tough to live up to but they will protect you from making a huge mistake. When we were young and in love, most of us didn’t really think through these things. But when you’ve already lived through 27 years of a destructive marriage, the last thing you want to do is walk into another relationship with your eyes closed.

It’s Not What You Say—It’s How You Say It!

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Dr. Bill Knaus, Ed.D./Psychology Today

A number of recent PT blog posts on the subject of being assertive make it sound as if assertiveness is all about what you say.  Various writers have offered lists of three or ten or eighteen “phrases” or “assertive responses” to use in expressing yourself. Helpful perhaps, but only part of the story.

In more than forty years of teaching, consulting, writing about and researching healthy elements of assertive expression, I’ve learned that it’s really not so much what you say as how you say it.

Think of it this way.  If I tell you that “you really look great today,” and say it while making eye contact and smiling and speaking in a friendly tone, you’ll likely take it as a compliment.  If I say the same words while rolling my eyes, shaking my head, scowling, and speaking with derisive inflections, you’ll know I’m being sarcastic and critical.

The non-verbal components of an assertive message are really the key to its effectiveness.

Eye Contact.  If you look directly at the person you’re talking with, it helps to communicate your sincerity and to increase the directness of your message. If you look down or away much of the time, you present a lack of confidence, or a quality of deference to the other person. If you stare too intently, the other person may feel an uncomfortable invasion. Don’t try to maximize eye contact, but keep in mind that a relaxed and steady gaze at the other person, looking away occasionally as is comfortable, helps make conversation more personal, shows interest and respect, and enhances the impact of your message.

Body Posture.  Solid research has shown that how you stand or sit is a huge part of how you come across—and even how you feel. Watch other people talking with each other; notice how each is standing or sitting. An active and erect posture, while facing the other person directly, lends additional assertiveness to your message. A slumped, passive stance gives the other person an immediate advantage, as does any tendency on your part to lean back or move away.

Gestures.  Gestures go with posture to lend strength to your self-expression.Accentuating your message with appropriate gestures can add emphasis, openness, and warmth. While gesturing is a culturally‑related behavior, a relaxed use of gestures can add depth or power to your messages. Uninhibited movement can also suggest openness, self‑confidence (unless the gesturing is erratic and nervous), and spontaneity.

Distance/Physical Contact.  Distance from another person has a considerable effect upon communication. Standing or sitting very closely, or touching, suggests intimacy in a relationship, unless the people happen to be in a crowd or very cramped quarters. The typical discomfort of elevator passengers is a classic example of the difficulty we have in dealing with closeness! Coming too close may offend the other person, make him/her defensive, or open the door to greater intimacy. It can be worthwhile to check out verbally how the other person feels about your closeness. While this element varies a good deal among cultures, don’t overlook it as you consider how to communicate more effectively.

Facial Expression.  Let your face say the same thing your words are saying!  Your expression should agree with your message. Ever see someone try to express anger while smiling or laughing? It just doesn’t come across. An angry message is clearest when delivered with a straight, non‑smiling countenance. A friendly communication should come with a smile. Get to know how your facial muscles feel in various expressions—relaxed, smiling, angry, questioning. Try making faces at yourself in the mirror and note how you look—and how you feel—when you express those emotions. As you gain control of your facial expression, you can make it match what you are thinking, feeling, or saying.

Voice Tone, Inflection, Volume.  Again, it’s all about how you say it. The same words spoken through clenched teeth in anger offer an entirely different message than when they are shouted with joy or whispered in fear. A level, well modulated, conversational statement is convincing without being intimidating. A whispered monotone will seldom convince another person that you mean business, while a shouted epithet will likely bring on defensiveness. Listen to your tone (is it raspy, whiny, seductively soft, angry?), your inflection (do you emphasize certain syllables, as in a question, or speak in a monotone, or with “sing‑song” effect?), and your volume (do you try to gain attention with a whisper, or overpower others with loudness?). Learn to control and use your voice effectively; it’s a powerful tool in self‑expression.

Fluency.   A smooth flow of speech is a valuable asset to get your point across in any type of conversation. It isn’t necessary to talk rapidly for a long period; but if your speech is interrupted with long periods of hesitation, your listeners may get bored, and will probably recognize you are very unsure of yourself. Clear and slow comments are more easily understood and more powerful than rapid speech filled with long pauses and stammering. Record yourself talking on a familiar subject for thirty seconds. Then listen for—and work to correct—pauses and space fillers such as “uhhh…” and “you know….”

Timing.  Spontaneous assertion will help keep your life clear, and will help you to focus accurately on the feelings you have at the time. But it’s never “too late” to be assertive. Even though the ideal moment has passed, you will usually find it worthwhile to go to the person at a later time and express your feelings. At times it’s necessary to choose an occasion to discuss a strong feeling. It is not a good idea to confront someone in front of others, for example; defensiveness is sure to be present. A private time and place are almost always best.

Listening.  Assertiveness includes respect for the rights and feelings of others. That means assertive receiving—sensitivity to others—as well as assertive sending. Listening is not simply the physical response of hearing sounds—hearing-impaired persons may be excellent “listeners.” Effective listening may involve giving feedback to the other person, so it’s clear that you understood what was said. Assertive listening requires tuning in to the other person (stop other activities, turn off the TV, ignore other distractions, focus your energy in his or her direction); paying attention to the message (make eye contact, nod to show that you hear); and actively attempting to understand before responding (attend to the feelings behind the words—rather than trying to interpret or come up with an answer). Good listening will make all of your assertions more effective, and will contribute hugely to the quality of your relationships.

Thoughts.  Do you agree that it’s a good idea in general for people to be assertive? What about speaking out yourself when the situation calls for assertive action? Some people, for instance, think it’s not a good idea for anybody to express himself or herself. And some say it’s okay for others, but not for me. If either of these beliefs rings a bell with you, it’s time to reconsider your attitude about thinking and behaving assertively.

Persistence.  Actor Alan Alda gave this advice to his daughter: “Be fair with others, and keep after them until they’re fair with you.”  Persistence means not giving up. Not saying, “Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it.” You’re worth it, and there very likely is something you can do about it—if you keep at it. When it matters to you—that pothole in the street, a problem with your car that just won’t get fixed, an unfair policy at your child’s school, the VA’s  treatment of returning combat vets—it’s time to act. You have to choose your battles. But when you’ve decided it’s worth it, go after it “until they’re fair with you.”

Content.  Of course what you say is important. Just remember that how you say it is at least half of the message.

There is no magic bullet that will make all relationships perfect, whether intimate, close, cordial, or distant. And “assertiveness” is not defined simply by a few memorized phrases or by standing up straight. Nevertheless, you can make a difference in the way others treat you by expressing yourself effectively. Working on the nonverbal components of your communication is one effective way to do that.

Speak Up! Change Begins With You

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Leslie Vernick

Some of you have recognized that your relationships are not so healthy and want to know what steps you can take to turn things around.

First it’s important to recognize that change always begins with you.

Anna thought she had a good friendship with a woman at church but over time Anna began feeling smothered and irritated with her friend. Anna asked, “How do I keep her as a friend and still have my own life? She calls me all the time and gets offended if I don’t return her call or I’m too busy or have other plans.”

In order for Anna to change things in this relationship, Anna must speak up. If she doesn’t, eventually her feelings will reach a boiling point where she will blow up at her friend vomiting out her angry emotions and/or distance herself from her friend entirely.

Therefore, when you want to change relationship patterns that have already been established in an unhealthy way, I recommend several steps to make this difficult conversation more likely to result in a positive outcome. And, that’s the goal, isn’t it? This is not the time to dump your negative feelings on your friend (or spouse) but rather, to invite him or her to hear what you have to say so that the relationship can change and become healthier.

Here are five (5) steps you should take before having this important conversation.

1.  Pray:  Ask God for a humble heart and a gentle spirit. Ask him for the right words to share what’s been upsetting you without blaming or judging the other person.

2.  Prepare:  Difficult conversations require time to think about what you want to say and how to say it wisely. Hard words need not be harsh words. Write it out. Wait 24 hours then reread it. Is it what you want to communicate?

Begin your conversation with the positives about the person and why you value this relationship. Confess your own unhealthiness before you ask for a change. For example, Anna could say to her friend,

I love being with you. You’re funny and creative and I have never laughed harder with a friend in my life. But I need to share something with you. I haven’t been totally honest about something and I need to do so now. I’m starting to feel anxious whenever you call because I know you’re going to feel disappointed or offended if I don’t have the time to talk right then. It’s not that I don’t care about you or our friendship, but I need more space without you feeling like I don’t care about you. I have other things I have to do or other people I enjoy hanging out with too. That doesn’t mean I think less of you, but there is only one of me.”

3.  Practice: Rehearse what you’ve written at least 20 times. This is an awkward conversation and you want to make sure you say what you want to say without forgetting something. You only get one shot at this kind of conversation, do everything you can do to say it well (Psalm 141:5).

4.  Plan the time and place:  You want to have this conversation at a time and place that you are most likely to be heard. Don’t wait until late at night or try saying this when someone is preoccupied or rushed. When Queen Esther needed to talk with the king about Haman, she realized the first dinner wasn’t the right time so she invited him to come a different night ( Esther 5 and 7).

5.  Place the outcome in God’s hands:  You can’t control another person’s feelings or reaction, but you can control your words and your voice tone to make a positive outcome more likely. However, the scriptures remind us, “As much as it is up to you, be at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). There are times we do all of the steps and yet our friend is unable or unwilling to hear what we have to say. This is not the time to return to your own unhealthy ways just to keep the peace or preserve the relationship. You must persevere in your own growth yet show patience with your friend, asking God to help them see.

Understand this. Whenever we try to change the status quo of a relationship─better known as rocking the boat─we will face resistance (a little or a lot). It’s important to press through this awkward and uncomfortable stage until a new pattern is established that you both can live with.

Sometimes that never happens. However, the longer we tolerate what is intolerable, the more difficult it will be to alter the relationship.

Do You Know How To Ask For What You Want?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Many misunderstandings and conflicts arise because we never tell someone how we truly feel or ask for what we want.  We assume the other person knows or should know those things without us having to say them. But trust me, they don’t.

Women are taught to communicate indirectly and, most of the time, people in our lives–especially men–don’t get it. For example, when taking a long trip, I used to say to my husband, “Are you hungry yet?” What I really meant by that question is “I’m hungry. Let’s find a place to eat.” But that felt too bold, too direct and too selfish, so instead I asked him if he was hungry. Unfortunately, he often answered, “Nope, not yet.” And then I sat and starved, waiting until he decided he was hungry enough to stop.

When I wanted to enlist his help on the weekend, I said, “What are you doing this weekend?” He always had plenty he wanted to do, so then I wouldn’t ask him to help me. Now I’ve learned to say, “There is a lot of yard work that needs to be done; I’d like you to be available to help on Saturday.” There are times when he says, “That’s fine” and other times when he says, “I can’t. I planned something else.” But at least I’ve asked and he’s responded. That’s a good starting place to begin negotiation and/or compromise.

Another problem I see when I encourage women to be more direct in asking for what they want, is that they feel it’s selfish to ask.  Asking directly for what we want or need is not being selfish; it’s being honest.

The Bible tells us that we are to “look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). It never says we are not to look out for our own interests. Asking for what you want or desire, or expressing how you feel, is not selfish. Demanding that everyone always give you what you want is selfish. No one always gets everything he or she wants, but it is not selfish to have legitimate desires or want something God says is good for us to want.  We are, however, also to be considerate and thoughtful in regard to what someone else wants. That allows loving communication and compromise to occur.

If you never ask for what you want or never share how you feel, but find yourself resenting not getting what you want or growing tired of being in a lopsided relationship, then you must start to take responsibility for your own passivity. When we start to make a change and speak up, a conflict may occur because what we want is not what someone else wants.

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