No matter how long you’ve been with your partner, you’ll never be able to read their mind, and they’ll never be able to read yours. You may be able to pick up on each other’s feelings based on tone of voice and body language, but you won’t fully understand each other’s needs unless you tell one another. That’s why assertiveness is a key part of effective communication in a relationship.

People are often reluctant to be assertive with their partner—or with anyone else in their life—because they confuse assertiveness with aggression. However, assertiveness and aggression are two very different things. Someone is aggressive when they fight to get their way without thinking about how their partner feels. Someone is assertive when they express their needs and feelings calmly, always respecting their partner even if they don’t always agree.

Tips for Becoming More Assertive from the Houston Marriage Therapist

Assertiveness doesn’t always feel natural, especially to people who were raised to believe they should work to please other people, even if that means compromising their own needs. The good news is that you can learn to become more assertive; the important thing is to keep practicing until you become more comfortable. Try these tips to get started.

Practice saying “no”. Remind yourself that saying “no” to something you really don’t want to do isn’t going to harm your relationship, as long as you do so in a respectful way and clearly explain why you feel the way that you do.

Think about how you communicate. If you find yourself holding back your thoughts because you don’t think your partner will agree, it’s time to re-evaluate your communication style. Remember that it’s okay to disagree or sometimes want different things than your partner, as long as you state your position respectfully. Start by letting your partner explain their view, validate their opinion, then clearly and calmly explain how you feel differently.

Think about assertive body language and tone. Stand or sit up instead of slouching, make eye contact, and talk in a level voice, without yelling or raising your inflection so statements sound like questions.

Suggest compromises. Rather than just trying to impose your will on your partner, take their feelings into account and offer a suggestion that allows you to meet in the middle (e.g. “I know cooking stresses you out, so let’s come up with a system where I cook 5 nights and you cook 2, but you do the dishes when I cook”). Being assertive isn’t about “winning”, it’s about making your needs and your partner’s needs more transparent so the two of you can find a compromise that works for both of you.

Want to learn more about how to be assertive? Click here to watch a video from one of my dearest Imago colleagues, Dr. Nedra Fetterman, about the courage, challenges, and benefits associated with healthy assertiveness.