The “Boring” Skills that your Relationship Depends On

Assertiveness and active listening. Zzzzzzzzz.

We know. These words don’t exactly sound very exciting, which is unfortunate because they are so important! At Prepare/Enrich, we consider them foundational skills – what all other skills are built on. Without assertiveness and active listening, working through conflict becomes impossible, talking about money is an exercise in frustration, and growing as a couple is, frankly, unlikely.

Having trouble remembering what an assertive statement is or what active listening sounds like? Here’s a quick refresh:

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings and ask for what you want.

“I want to go to on a long beach vacation this summer with just you, but I know you already identified that you’d like us to spend time with your extended family. I’m feeling torn about the decision because I’m not sure we will be able to make both happen.”

Active listening is the ability to let your partner know you understand by restating their message accurately and acknowledging their feelings.

“If I’m understanding correctly, you are feeling torn with where we should spend our free time because you want to spend time at the beach with just me, but you know I want us to spend time with my extended family, and you’re unsure if we’re able to do both. Is this correct?”

Seems straightforward enough, right? And yet when it comes down to it, so many of us struggle with carrying out these components of effective communication. What gets in the way? Let’s take a closer look.

Assertiveness gets a bad rap. It can have connotations of being demanding or aggressive, when by definition, it is neither of these. Cultural norms can also dictate how assertiveness is interpreted and accepted. However, the ability to respectfully express your feelings and ask for what you need and want is underappreciated, both in its difficulty and importance. Being assertive on our own behalf can feel too strong or even selfish for some people. But who else knows exactly how you feel or what you need better than yourself?

Sometimes we might hold back from asking for what we need or sharing how we truly feel for fear of our partner’s reaction. Will they be hurt? Angry? Annoyed? Judgmental? The thing is, when we aren’t assertive, we aren’t giving our partner a fair chance to step up to the plate. It is scary to put yourself out there in vulnerable way, but giving them the chance to meet you there creates an amazing opportunity to grow closer as a couple.  

Active listening can feel a little silly or even robotic when you’re restating what your partner said, but it’s really a concrete way to ensure that you understand the meaning behind their words. Do you know someone (besides your partner) who makes you feel like the most interesting person in the world when you talk to them? They give you their full attention, ask all the right questions, and seem to really want to understand you. Chances are, this person excels at active listening. What factors prevent us from listening to our partner in this way?

Maybe it’s because they know us on a deeper level (and vice versa), and we get defensive. We get sidetracked preparing a reply or rebuttal instead of lowering our guard and opening our ears and hearts to truly hear what our partner is telling us. It’s understandable – we’re human. But the ability to put aside your own insecurities in order to better understand your partner is what can take your communication from frustrating to transformative.  

If you and your partner are struggling lately, take a minute to reflect on how well you’re carrying out these fundamentals of communication. Are you telling each other what you need and sharing your feelings respectfully? Are you listening to each other without judgment and truly hearing each other? Over time, we tend to make more assumptions while being less mindful of these foundational skills. That’s why relationships are always a work in progress, and why revisiting the basics can give you the perspective you need.  

11 thoughts to “The “Boring” Skills that your Relationship Depends On”

  1. Great foundational tools to learn! In biblical conflict resolution, we often think about motivations behind assertiveness. If assertiveness includes even a measure of good will and mutual respect, then active listening becomes an opportunity for healing. It will either prevent conflict or lead to resolution. However, if assertiveness includes any measure of power and control, the boundary between assertiveness and assault is breached and the conversation can feel unsafe.

  2. This is so timely for me. I’ve been praying about a conversation I NEED to have with my husband and this post was part of the answer. I know what I need to say, but I was seeking God’s timing. Timing is critical, but how to say it is paramount. Thank you for the “how”.

  3. “You wonder whether we have the time and money to not only do what I mentioned, that is the family gathering, but also what you would consider the ideal vacation…me and you on the beach by ourselves. You want to talk about it.”

  4. Who knows better what we need than ourselves?
    Over assertiveness can lead to trust in our own understanding, which is not biblical, in fact the opposite is true.
    And although feelings are INDICATORS, they can be misguided and misleading which is why scripture says the heart is deceitful above all things..
    We must be careful not to make them abstinence truth nor even guide ourselves by them. That is dangerous. And a game of being tossed around.

  5. Great blog and what a wonderful reminder of some basic components of a harmonious relationship. Please keep these blogs coming…I also share them with our marriage group at our Parish.

  6. But what should be the correct response if when one has been assertive and the other gets angry, becomes judgmental, which means they don’t validate your desires, opinions, concerns or request etc. I tend to shut down and not be assertive.

    1. Thanks for the content. I agree assertiveness can be looked upon negatively. Without it, we would be very passive and possibly allow people to run over you. The basics are very helpful. I appreciate the reminder.

    2. Hi Suzanne,
      It would be a good idea to talk with your partner about your their reaction when you are being assertive and expressing yourself and needs. Tell him how that made you feel and that you would like him to listen in a more understanding and compassionate way.
      Shutting down won’t help your relationship it will make you accumulate hurt and frustration which isn’t healthy on the long run.
      It will take time for both of your to master the new way of communication but its worth it 🙂

  7. What do you do if your husband will not speak his mind ( be assertive) because in the past I, the wife, am sensitive and have either gotten my feelings hurt or gotten mad. I feel like I have gotten better but he’s reluctant to share because of past experience.

  8. Hey Kim, for what it’s worth you may need to explain the “new you” that is willing to listen. It’s not easy but just telling him what you’ve written here may go a long ways towards mending the misunderstandings.

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