Q: In my previous marriage I
never spoke up or let my needs be known. I am trying to learn to express myself better with men but am having a
terrible time of it. In spite of my good
intentions, it seems I either put my foot in my mouth or my new man friend
misreads me. This is not easy. Any ideas?
is not uncommon for people to find it less anxiety producing to be assertive
with strangers or friends than in intimate relationships. There typically are greater perceived risks
when dealing with an intimate partner such as fear of rejection physically,
emotionally, or both. As you have
mentioned, not speaking up in your previous marriage did not help the
relationship to flourish. Direct honest
and spontaneous communication in intimate relationships is essential and
learning how to express ourselves assertively is a learned skill. Communication breakdown usually can occur at
any one of three places.
1. If your intention is to throw a low
blow and get back at your partner, this will come through, no matter how
skillful you are at selecting the words and delivery. By the same token, if your intention is to
clear the air and build a bridge with your partner, this will also come
through. The feeling level permeates the
communication, so be sure what you are really feeling before starting.
2. The sending of the message may be
another area there things break down. If
your intentions are positive, but you start your communication with, “You
always come home too late,” instead of “I missed you and would really
appreciate your being home by 6 p.m. for dinner,” “You” messages generally
evoke an angry or defensive response. “I” messages keep things clear and are not as likely to be perceived as
an attack, but rather a statement of your feelings or wishes.
3. The receiving of the message is the
third area of potential problems. If
your intentions are positive and your delivery has been an “I” message, but
your partner responds as if he has been criticized, hurt or angered, stop. Ask him what he heard you say. You would be surprised at the power of
selective listening. After he has
repeated what he thought you said, if you were not
heard as you intended, try it again. Once again, ask what your partner heard. Be sure you are being heard as you intended before going on.