Speaking Up in a Relationship


It happens to all of us.

We hold on to our thoughts and don’t say them because we are afraid of hurting the other person’s feelings. We stuff them down inside and just stay silent.

We may grouse about them later with someone else, but most of the time we don’t ever say what we intended to the person who we wanted to say it to.

Inability to Speak Up Can Undermine Your Relationships

If this sounds like you, you are not alone. This is one of the most common themes I come across while helping people in counseling. Most people know they do this, but they don’t know how to change. They’ve just always put their feelings away and taken care of the other person first.

This isn’t a bad way to be, unless your silence prevents your needs from being met. Resentment may build up because others don’t realize you haven’t had your say. Being stuck in this position may even make you feel angry at others’ lack of understanding.

If this is you, we have some work to do, and you can do it in three steps.

Be Mindful About When and Whether You Hold Back

Step one: notice when you’re not saying things when you feel them. I know there’s a real fear of something or you would already be speaking your mind. We will get to that later.

Once you can understand that you do this often we can move on to changing the underlying dynamic. But to really get this you need to be in a situation where you almost don’t speak your mind, but then say something. Maybe it will sound like, “Wow, I almost didn’t say anything, but I think…”

Next, identify what’s preventing you from speaking. It’s usually a fear of something, often something in your past. Your upbringing may have discouraged sharing thoughts and feelings. Maybe you had people in your life that yelled at you if you spoke your mind. You may even never have learned to speak up about your needs and wants. Whatever the reason, you became an expert at holding it in.

Think Through What Might Happen When You Speak

Step two: develop an understanding of what will happen if you speak your mind.

As an adult you might now worry how other people will react to you if you speak out. What do you anticipate? Will people leave, hit, or yell? Think about what you’re worried about. Imagine the worst reaction and then consider whether you can handle it. If the answer is yes we move on to step three.

Be Brave and Speak

Step three: Speak up!

Next time you feel and think something, instead of stuffing it you are going to take a risk, try a new behavior and just SAY IT! You will survive the person’s reaction because you have already considered it.

That’s how we get rid of fear and make changes.

No one said it would be easy. I know it’s hard because you haven’t done it before. I also know it’s worth it. You will feel heard, perhaps for the first time, and that’s a new feeling you can’t afford not to experience.


Help Things Get Better with Effective Communication

Read a Book About Making Relationships Work

'Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship.' A book by Linda Nusbaum.

Learn more about how to communicate with your spouse by reading Linda’s book, Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship. It has conflict resolution strategies, tips for feeling heard, and suggestions on how to express your love and celebrate your relationship. Give it a read.

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Come in for couples counseling. Couples counseling can help you and your loved one get the most out of your relationship. It'll equip you with coping strategies and tools for communication that can help you argue less and love more.

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