Do you feel like you’re always putting your needs on the back burner in romantic partnerships? If so, then it might be time for you to start practicing self-advocacy in relationships.
Self-advocacy requires specific communication skills that you can learn, and it’s essential for having healthy and fulfilling relationships.
In this blog post, I’ll share the key steps to being more confident, open, and self-aware in order to communicate one’s own needs effectively in romantic relationships.
What Is Self-advocacy?
Self-advocacy is the ability to effectively communicate one’s own needs, boundaries, desires, and expectations confidently and openly.
Self-advocacy is valuable in many different aspects of life. But it can be tough to do this effectively in romantic relationships, especially if you tend to feel a lot of pressure to “get it right” or anxiety around “messing things up.” This pressure might influence you to keep your thoughts, issues, or concerns closer to your chest in hopes of avoiding any conflict.
However, becoming a better self-advocate is crucial if you want healthy, satisfying, and growth-oriented relationships.
Why Is Self-advocacy in Relationships Important?
In a relationship, it can be tempting to try and act “chill” — as in sweeping your concerns under the rug, keeping your cards to your chest, and acting like everything is perfect.
There are times in which you might have something on your mind that you want to share, such as:
- your partner said something that irked you
- you feel awkward or uncomfortable about something that happened
- you would like to spend more uninterrupted time together
- you would like something else about the relationship to be different
But you refrain from sharing because you don’t want to be a “nag” or worry about how your partner will react. You might also feel like it’s “risky” to bring up because you don’t want to cause a fight.
The Dangers of “Being Chill”
However, too often, when we have this “chill” mentality, we end up putting our own needs last; or worse, we stop recognizing what our true needs even are.
This pattern can lead to frustration, confusion, resentment, and a lot of unhappiness in our relationships — on both ends. You might feel frustrated because the relationship feels imbalanced, and your partner might feel frustrated because you’re not letting them in emotionally and they don’t know what you want.
This is why effective and consistent self-advocacy in relationships is so impactful.
At the end of the day, individual self-advocacy helps the relationship as a whole, and each partner should take responsibility for understanding and requesting their genuine thoughts, concerns, needs, and desires.
Here’s a general guide on how to get started on strengthening your self-advocacy muscle.
1) Take Time To Understand Your Wants and Needs
The first step is comprehensively understanding what you want, need, or would like to communicate.
This step is especially crucial if the topic you’d like to address is more sensitive. Not understanding what you really want to say can lead to miscommunication, and miscommunication is what leads to misunderstandings, arguments, and fights.
Accept and Explore Your Emotions
If you are feeling off — be it anxious, awkward, irritated, etc. — around or about your partner, but you don’t exactly know why you’re feeling that way, try spending some time with yourself to reflect on the specific reasons these feelings might be coming up for you.
Be Honest With Your “Why”
On the other hand, you may know exactly how your partner rubbed you the wrong way or caused you to feel or think a certain way. Even then, it’s best to take a step back, process anything else you might need to process, and evaluate the “why” behind it.
- For example, if you saw your partner liking sexy posts on Instagram, which made you feel icky, you could immediately say, “Hey, I don’t like when you double-tap posts where people are half naked. That makes me uncomfortable.”
However, you can take the time to ask yourself precisely what you feel – jealous? Insecure? Disrespected? Unwanted?
Then, you can be honest with yourself about why you feel that way – Do you think it’s rude? Do you care what others might think? Do you feel you wouldn’t do the same thing? Are you feeling insecure about your looks?
Once you get to the bottom of the what and why, you will be able to have a more comprehensive, conscious, and productive conversation overall.
2) Start Communication with Clear Intention
Now that you know what you feel and why you feel that way, it’s time to communicate it! This step is arguably the most important step towards self-advocacy in relationships.
Everyone always talks about communication, communication, and more communication. We all have been beaten down with the idea that “communication is key” in relationships. And it is!
But good communication is not just saying whatever you want, whenever and however you want.
Consider Emotional Boundaries
For communication to be effective, it has to be conscious, considerate, and respectful of all parties’ boundaries.
That said, it’s helpful to start by explicitly asking your partner if you can talk about how you feel regarding a situation or concern. You may also want to ask if now is an appropriate time to talk about it, and if not, when would be a better time for a discussion.
These questions demonstrate that you respect your partner’s time and emotional boundaries, which is vital if you expect that same respect back. It also sets the tone for being taken seriously about whatever you would like to say.
Be Explicit About What Type of Response You’d Like From Them
Once they agree and you are ready to have the conversation, explain further what you want to discuss and — crucially — what you would like from them afterwards, which could be:
- “I want to know why you did that.”
- “I simply want to share how I feel, but I don’t want a specific response.”
- “I would like some reassurance.”
- “I would like your understanding.”
Clearly outlining what you want to talk about and what you want to get out of the conversation will not only be helpful for your partner but also increase your confidence as you continue to share.
3) Be Assertive in Voicing Your Opinions, Desires, and Boundaries
At this stage, you now have:
- Understood what you would like to say.
- Gotten your partner to agree to hear it with their space and time in mind.
- Outlined what you’d like to get out of the conversation.
Thus, you’ve already done so much to increase your confidence before mentioning any thoughts, opinions, desires, boundaries, or emotions you have.
These steps will make being assertive when voicing those thoughts so much easier, but it’s so crucial to be assertive that I’ve kept it as its own step!
Being assertive isn’t so much about your partner taking you seriously — if they care about you at all, they should take you seriously anyways! — but it’s about:
1) Taking yourself seriously as well, which can be challenging if you have issues with self-confidence or self-doubt.
2) Making your words clear as day so that nothing gets confused or misconstrued.
Also, keep in mind that being assertive doesn’t mean being rude, aggressive, loud, or cold. It just means clear, confident, and steady.
Again, this step will be made easier by the fact that you are already self-aware about what you feel, why you think that way, and your objective for bringing it up — all thanks to the previous steps.
4) Stand Up for Yourself Despite Potential Disagreements
The next step towards self-advocacy in relationships is to prepare for disagreement. Just because you are clear, confident, and respectful in how you communicate doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly or that your partner will agree with you.
And that’s okay! Disagreements and conflicts are totally normal and healthy in relationships. They provide an opportunity to learn more about each other and uncover how to best communicate and connect.
It does not help you or your partner to hide something to prevent a disagreement because regardless of whether that disagreement is in the dark or in the light, it still exists. It’s better if it’s in the light so it can be addressed and fully understood.
Enforce Your Boundaries
What’s not okay, however, is being treated poorly or disrespectfully during a disagreement or argument.
A disagreement is not the same as a fight (here’s the difference), and this type of behavior can turn a simple dispute into a fight. If that happens, it’s important to call it out and put a stop to it. This is where assertiveness comes in handy yet again.
This is also why it’s helpful to state what you want out of the conversation and why you’re opening up in the first place.
- For example, if you mentioned at the start that you’re looking to share your feelings, and your partner starts to get defensive, you can go back to that statement:
- “As I said, I’m not looking to have a debate and argument; I just wanted to share my emotions around this. You can set up a separate discussion if you want to debate the topic. But right now, I just want to be heard.”
- Your partner may have a different perspective on the situation, but they can’t disagree with how you feel, so focusing on that can avoid a debate if you do not desire to have one at that moment.
If you continue to feel disrespected after clearly stating what you want and your boundaries, that’s a red flag. Feel free to end the conversation until they are ready and willing to actually listen respectfully.
Is he even worth it? Take this quiz to find out.
5) Respect Your Partner’s Autonomy as Well as Their Feelings and Opinions
Self-advocacy is not the same as self-centeredness.
Just because you are standing up for your needs does not mean you are doing so at the expense of your partner. In fact, the overall purpose of self-advocacy is quite the opposite!
You are both individuals with your unique thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and it is so important to respect that about each other. Just because you don’t agree with your partner or they don’t see things the way you do, doesn’t mean that their thoughts, feelings, or opinions are invalid.
If you want your partner to respect your autonomy, then you must also respect theirs. This may cause friction at first, especially if you’re used to seeing things from only your perspective, but it’s so essential for a healthy and balanced relationship.
There will be times when you need to compromise, of course, but it should never be at the complete expense of — or 100% sacrifice of — your partner’s thoughts, feelings, or opinions.
But didn’t you say that I could share without requesting direct feedback?
Yes — if you’re looking to solely share how you feel and would not like a response at that moment, you have the right to request that.
However, that still does not mean that your partner must agree with you on the matter at hand or that they won’t want to bring it up on their own later. And if they do, you should respect their desire to advocate for their needs, perspective, and objective as much as you want them to respect yours.
Pro Tip for Self-Advocacy in Relationships: Seek Outside Support if Needed
As you can see, self-advocacy isn’t as simple as saying what you want whenever you want and expecting everyone to agree with you no matter what (oh, wouldn’t that be easy!).
Self-advocacy in relationships requires a lot of thought, reflection, and consideration for yourself as well as your partner (or any partner you may have in the future).
If you find that you’re struggling with self-advocacy — or any aspect under the umbrella of self-advocacy, such as improving self-esteem, decreasing anxiety, understanding your boundaries, raising your standards, etc. — outside support can be valuable.
Here are some forms of outside support for improving your level of self-advocacy:
- Clinical Therapy — Healing traumas, coping with anxiety, addressing mental roadblocks, shifting perspectives to change unhelpful habits, etc.
- Personal Connections — Meeting with friends and family who share similar challenges to share, learn, and grow from each other.
- Support groups — Finding community and fellowship with others who may be struggling with similar issues.
- Personal Coaching — Addressing mental roadblocks, redefining your boundaries and standards, shifting perspectives, setting goals to change unhelpful habits, etc.
No matter what form of outside support you choose, the most important thing is that you feel safe, seen, and heard.
Self-advocacy in relationships is vital for a healthy relationship with yourself as well as your current or future partner.
It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.
I hope this article was helpful in sparking some thoughts on self-advocacy in relationships. If you need additional support or guidance when it comes to self-advocacy, let’s connect to discuss a more tailored approach for your specific patterns and/or concerns.