By using both assertive communication and boundary setting in our interpersonal relationships, we have a powerful method of relating to others in a way that is respectful to others as well as our selves, and that gets our needs met. 

Skills for better relationships with others are especially important during the summer holidays when we are spending lots of time with our family and extended family. Often we can swing between feeling not heard by others and demanding that others pay attention to us. This can result in aggressive language or behaviour, or in the first case, passive communication that damages relationships. 

The general principle of assertive communication is that it is the desirable mode of communication: it respects the speaker and the listener through the use of neutral language and tone, use of “I” sentences (I want, I need, I dislike) and informing others about your opinion. Aggressive communication uses “you” sentences (such as “you are always…” or “you should”) and verbally aggressive tone and language, and it is disrespectful to the listener. 

Passive communication is often seen as much less damaging than aggressive communication – but this is not completely true. Not informing others about how you think or feel, or what your needs are, leaves others around you feeling confused, uncertain and unstable, which are unsettling emotions for the listener. Being passive is not the ideal; furthermore it can lead to situation where your own boundaries are crossed. Below is a summary of the three communication styles and their impact on the person receiving these types of communication.

Boundary setting is where you set clear boundaries (of time, energy, money, effort, physical closeness, etc… ) between yourself and other people. Many boundaries are very natural (we don’t shake hands with every person we see on the street), but some boundaries are more blurred. In what situation can you say “No” to a request? How do you know if you are setting boundaries, or being too selfish?

In rough terms, the rules of boundary setting are: 

– it is your job to make YOU happy, and not your job to anticipate the needs of others (unless they are children or other vulnerable people you are looking after)

– It is okay to say “no” , it is okay if nobody agrees with you and it is okay if others get angry

– It is not your job to “fix” others

– You have a right to your own feelings and you are enough

So in simple terms, you need to figure out what you want, communicate it assertively and then set boundaries. An example of this would be saying to your partner something like: “I feel like I am the one doing most of the cooking during our summer holiday. I end up feeling worn out and grumpy each day. I would like you to cook food every second meal so that we can share the workload”. 

Perhaps your partner does not agree with you (see the 2nd rule above!), which is okay, but you have done your job and communicated how you felt. An added bonus is that by expressing your needs as soon as possible, you reduce the likelihood of feeling angry later on.