It never fails. My couples come to my office. I (Vincent) talk about assertiveness. They attest that they understand what it is. They proclaim they exercise it in their relationship. But when we begin to process a conflict, their body betrays them.
I had one husband sit forward on the couch with his hands outstretched and his eyes penetrating say, “I’m not aggressive.” His words declared that he was calm, relaxed, and gentle, but his body language told a much different story.
You wouldn’t believe how often this happens…
Oftentimes, clients think they are being assertive when they are really being aggressive. While I have a couple working on these communication skills, I stop the client(s) during their conversation. We process their body language the few minutes or seconds beforehand. Not until then do they realize how aggressive they have been.
In session, I give a chart that breaks down what passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive are. We examine in depth the behaviors, the non-verbals, the beliefs, the emotions, and the goals of each.
I explain that assertive is expressing your needs, wants, and feelings directly and honestly while not assuming that you are correct or that others may hold different opinions. The body is relaxed and calm. Movements are casual. The voice is a regular tone and volume, not mousy or loud.
So What Is the Bible’s Take On This…
In the Bible, the apostle Paul calls it “speaking the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4) I explain that aggressiveness can be very subtle. Many aggressive people say, “I just tell it like it is.” They believe they are being assertive, but all they are doing is speaking the truth – their truth. They leave the love part out.
On the opposite end, many Christians only do the love part. They feel that they are being obedient to scripture because Paul said in Corinthians, “love is patient.” So they are patient. They do not express their needs, wants, or feelings. They keep silent or they talk a lot without getting to their truth. They are really just being passive.
Jesus was neither aggressive nor passive. John 1:18 says, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Jesus came speaking in grace and truth. Crowds were amazed by his assertiveness. Truth spoken with love is very powerful.
Jesus’s brother James also gave some good advice on conflict. Check out my article entitled: “SLOW DOWN! Practical Ways To Handle Conflict.”
Unfortunately, I have some couples tell me that it hard for them to think of someone who is assertive. They do not have persons in their lives that communicate in that manner. As Christians, we need to do a better job of developing this skill. In our fast paced world, it is difficult to be self-aware of our communication, especially when it is with loved ones. How is your communication? (Read more about marriage counseling.)