Far too often I work with people that feel like they get walked on in their dating life. They’re unsure if the person they like reciprocates those feelings back. Most of these people struggle in their dating lives because they choose not to assert themselves in fear of being rejected, or being deemed high-maintenance or unattractive for seeming needy. Sometimes they lack the ability to recognize their emotions in a healthy way.
I can relate. I used to date girls that would make me feel insecure. Instead of telling them directly what made me feel insecure, I acted in manipulative ways to get my needs met. This is also known as Protest Behavior. This is unhealthy and leads to further dysfunction in a relationship. The biggest issue in most relationships is communication and how we choose to get our needs met. Let’s start off by sharing some stories about two people.
After a few dates with Kara, Jon felt very confused. The very first date was at a local dive bar where they sung karaoke and made friends with some of the elderly folks, who asked if they were married.
They spent a few hours chatting and singing until Kara abruptly said she had to leave. She said good-bye and vanished out the door. He didn’t know what went wrong. Surprisingly, she texted him a few hours later saying, “I had a wonderful time tonight, let’s do it again.”
On the second date they grabbed some drinks at a bar next door to a large dance room that was hosting Salsa night. They had a few drinks, shared childhood stories and then spent two hours learning how to dance. Again, at the end of the night, she bolted out the door.
No hug. No kiss. Just “Talk to you soon!”
This pattern repeated itself a few more times. Jon, who has an anxious attachment style, believed that Kara wasn’t into him. He kept wondering why was she still texting him asking for future plans. What was he doing wrong?
Frustrated, Jon talked about this with his close friend over drinks. His friend convinced him to stop wondering about the reasons behind her behavior and just ask her. This behavior is typically hard for Jon because he is always scared of the response and potential rejection, but he told himself that at the age of 28, that he had no more time to waste on the wrong girl.
He asked Kara to meet him for coffee and a walk around a nearby lake. He was beating around the bush at first, but finally spoke up.
“I’m looking for a relationship. What are you looking for?”
Kara told him that she found him attractive and expressed her desire for being in relationship. Jon proceeded to ask her about the no-touch rule he felt she was enforcing. She kept beating around the bush, but she never answered the question.
Jon decided that he wasn’t going to put up with this and he called it off.
Jon moved on. He no longer had to worry about all the theories he had about her behavior. A few months later, Jon found out through a friend that Kara had been going through a divorce and was still hooking up with her ex.
The mystery behind her behavior wasn’t so mysterious after all – it was clear that despite wanting a relationship, Kara really wanted a companion while she figured out what was happening in her divorce. Jon was glad he expressed his concerns early on, saving months of false hope and foreseeable rejection.
It’s incredibly powerful to express your expectations and needs in a direct way to the person you care for. Both men and women with secure attachment styles naturally speak up, while people with anxious or avoidant attachment styles tend to struggle with getting their needs met.
If Jon wouldn’t have spoken up, he would not get his needs met because Kara was satisfied having him as an emotionally attached friend. By asserting himself, Jon was able to help himself and avoid getting dragged along by someone else’s agenda.
I’m sure I know what most of the anxious people out there are thinking. But if I speak up, then I’ll still be alone. This is not true.
Sarah and Julia were watching a movie for their fourth date. Sarah sat down first, near the middle. When Julia sat down she placed herself farther away, close to the armrest. To Sarah, it felt like she had placed that large gap between them for a reason.
At first she believed that she just didn’t like her, but she decided to challenge her limiting belief and assert her desires.
In a flirtatious way, Sarah asked, “May I have a kiss?” Julia’s eyes instantly lit up and a smile grew across her face. She looked at her and nodded. Sarah leaned over and kissed her.
Immediately after, she snuggled under her arm and she would occasionally kiss her cheek during the rest of the movie. From that moment on, her shyness was never an issue in the relationship, even two years later.
By Sarah expressing her needs, she closed the gap she felt between them. Her directness brought the relationship closer, not only physically, but emotionally as well.
A response to assertive effective communication is always very telling. It can bring your relationship closer, or it can help you avoid deadbeat relationships.
Why You Must Speak Up
All of us – all genders and ages – have specific needs. These needs vary from person to person and are determined by our attachment style and emotional blueprint. They aren’t good or bad; they’re simply what you need to have a healthy relationship and a healthy life.
I relate to the anxious attachment styles. This style has a strong need for being close and includes a frequent requirement to be reminded they are loved and respected. The avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, needs space – either emotionally or physically.
In order for us to have happy and fulfilling relationships, we need to assert our needs effectively without resorting to attacks or defensiveness.
What someone says has everything to do with them and very little to do with you.
Asserting effectively achieves three major goals:
- Helps find the right partner. Asserting yourself and communicating effectively is the fastest and most direct way to recognize whether your prospective partner will be able to meet your needs. Your date’s response to your communication reveals more in five minutes than you will learn in five months without this kind of direct approach. If the other person shows a sincere wish to understand and make your needs a priority in the relationship, then you two have a promising future. If they make you feel inadequate, foolish or pathetic, they don’t have your best interest in mind and you are probably incompatible. Move on.
- Ensures your needs are met in the relationship, whether it is new or a long one. By being vulnerable about your needs, you are making it easier for your partner to meet them. They no longer have to guess how you feel about something or what something means to you. You are 100% responsible for sharing your inside world with the outside.
- Provides a role model for your partner. By speaking up about your needs, you set the tone for the relationship as one in which you can both be vulnerable, honest, and each has a responsibility to look out for the other’s well-being. The point here is asserting your needs to your partner allows you to get your needs met in a healthy way. Once your partner sees you can be open, they will follow suit.
Asserting yourself effectively allows you to turn a weakness into an asset. Typically, it is socially unacceptable to sound needy, but if you need to be reassured a lot that your partner loves you and is attracted to you, that’s okay.
Asserting your needs actually attracts people. Instead of coming off like someone who is needy, you come off sounding like you understand yourself, like you are confident and assertive.
The key to effective communication is to do so inoffensively. Instead of putting your partner on the spot in the blame game, encourage them to be open with you without feeling attacked or blamed.
Asserting yourself authentically and being vulnerable about your needs despite the status quo is the cornerstone of this site. Whether it is in a relationship or approaching someone and telling them you find them attractive, asserting yourself not only helps you get your needs met, but it also leads to building confidence and self-esteem.
- Describe a time when you did not assert yourself with a significant other or someone you were dating. Did you constantly wonder how the other person felt? How did it make you feel?
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