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dating and relationships

How to stand up for yourself in a relationship

If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything, even in your romantic relationships. Here’s how to stand up for yourself in a relationship.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

Refusing to stand up for yourself is like handing your autonomy over to someone else. You’d be better off telling them they can do whatever they want with you.

For some, asserting yourself with friends is easy. When it comes to romantic relationships, however, it’s an entirely different story.

The reasons for this are varied but they stem from how you value yourself and how you learned to manage conflict in interpersonal relationships.

Not asserting yourself because you’re a self-identified people pleaser ultimately undermines your self-respect and risks you becoming a doormat for someone else’s emotions.

Now, most people, especially in romantic relationships aren’t actively trying to trample your autonomy. Even in healthy relationships, you’ll meet occasions where it’s necessary to be stubborn about your boundaries. I would even say it’s a necessary foundation for any couple.

So when is it time to stand up for yourself?

It’s time to stand up for yourself when you aren’t able to express yourself or make progress without encountering resistance. More specifically, you’ll know it when that resistance or repressive force has no sound reason for opposing you.

I’ve already written extensively on how to avoid being a pushover.

This article will go deeper into standing up for yourself in your relationship.

Paint won’t fix a broken-down car

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you choose well. All the relationship advice in the world won’t help you if you’re in a toxic relationship. Read my post on understanding toxic relationships to discover if you’re in one and how to escape.

Relationship conflict is unavoidable. But toxic relationships are going to cause more stress than any normal relationship and make life unnecessarily hard. The quality of your relationship depends on how well you manage your differences.

Finding the right partner requires that you know your self-worth and what kind of relationship you want.

This baseline of intention helps you know when you should stand up for yourself and when it’s okay to let some things go. While standing up for yourself can come off as aggressive, especially if you feel immediately triggered, it’s not aggression at all.

The difference is that standing up for yourself is assertive and effective assertiveness doesn’t come with the threat of violence that aggressiveness does.

Value the relationship over the individual

Something I heard a while back that changed the way I approached relationships was to value the commitment more than the individual.

When you value commitment, you do what’s best for your relationship as opposed to just trying to make your partner happy in the moment. The underlying principle being, solely focusing on momentary happiness might not be what’s best for the relationship in the long term.

This is where setting the intention for the type of relationship you want comes in. When you know what your ideal of a healthy relationship looks like then you know when you are making decisions for momentary happiness. You also avoid behavior that undermines having a fulfilling relationship.

Warning: this goes against the popular ‘happy wife, happy life’, or ‘just keep the peace’ mentalities. Colloquialisms like these were made before it was popular to talk about mental health. Telling someone what they want to hear to make them happy in the moment will prevent you from having your own sense of fulfillment in life.

Have tough conversation

Standing up for yourself requires persistence, reiterating your boundaries, and giving tough love. Tough love is saying things that may hurt in the present but are necessary to enact a positive change.

But there’s an art to it that many people miss. I’ve gone more into depth on how to give tough love in the past but here is a brief rundown:

The intention is always to do good

You don’t want to hide behind using the truth to hurt someone disguised as “I’m just being honest.” Approaching tough love in this manner can do irreparable damage to your relationship and make you less trustworthy.

Holding back the truth is just as damaging

Refusing to have these tough conversations enables bad behavior and is quite honestly passive-aggressive. This leads to resentment and unnecessary blow-ups making it harder to get to the core of the issue.

When done effectively, difficult conversations will bring you closer together and establish an environment for honesty.

Risk making her angry or risk walking on eggshells the rest of your life

Often I see men avoiding difficult conversations because they’re afraid of making their partner angry. Typically, men think that an upset woman is one of the worst things they can experience. They think it spells the end of the relationship and their sex life. Of course, this isn’t true, but men walk on eggshells around women for this very reason.

Try this if it’s hard for you to have difficult conversations:

  • Ask a friend in a good relationship for some advice
  • If things get heated, take a break and come back to it
  • Arrange a time where you can talk privately without distractions

Check your passive-aggressiveness

When someone steps on a sore spot or ignores your boundaries it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction. However, some people stuff this anger down where it seeps out in small, passive-aggressive ways.

The following are a few examples of passive-aggressiveness in relationships:

  • Refusing to comply with a request for no good reason, usually due out of resentment
  • Overt cynicism or hostility
  • Disguising hostility as jokes
  • Intentionally trying to make someone insecure
  • Avoiding taking responsibility

The fastest way to be thought of as a pushover is to make a habit of not saying what you mean. In practice, this only compounds your internal resentment making you more passive until you finally explode. Expecting your partner to read your mind or “just know” how you feel is, at best, an exercise in futility.

Learn to stand up for yourself in a way that is natural to you but still assertive enough to get the job done.

Developing confidence in yourself and knowing what you want in a relationship is the first step to becoming more assertive. Being an assertive person doesn’t mean being the loudest or most stubborn person in the room, it’s simply taking responsibility and asking for what you need.

Don’t belittle or criticize

Belittling is criticism from a place of superiority.

Over the long term, it ruins your mental health and your overall sense of well-being. Next to becoming overly emotional, it’s also an attempt to control or manipulate the conversation when other tactics have failed. Giving in to this behavior is the worst thing that you can do if you want to establish a healthy relationship.

Instead, try to see the other person’s point of view. Chances are, they feel just as strongly as you do about your opinion. Because humans have what is called a self-serving bias it’s natural to become defensive when things don’t go your way.

A self-serving bias1 is the tendency to attribute positive things to ourselves and our own effort. However, when something negative happens we’ll then attribute that to outside factors, alleviating ourselves of the responsibility for the wrongdoing.

The kind of defensiveness that leads to criticism and belittling can stem from childhood experiences or past relationships. But it could also come from a breakdown in communication where each of you is fighting simply to be right.

Know thyself

Social media offers plenty of relationship advice from people whose longest relationships are with their smartphones. You should never simply parrot what everyone else is doing because everyone else is telling you to.

What I’ve been getting at is that to properly stand up for yourself, you have to know yourself. Often poor judgment in partners and accepting bad behavior stems from a lack of knowing what you want and being unable to ask for it.

The only way to know how to manage this is with experience and…

  • Having interests, like these, outside of your partner
  • Defining your personal goals
  • Determining what you want out of life

The result is that you build your self-confidence and make yourself a more likable person to be around. When I learned to be more likable I met more people and made more friends. Healthy relationships require novelty or newness2 to keep them exciting and fresh. When you develop your own interests, you are constantly evolving into a new and fresher version of yourself.

Follow the third agreement

In his book and life philosophy, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz identifies the third agreement as never making assumptions.

Don’t assume that your partner is intentionally seeking to hurt you if they haven’t shown otherwise. This belief undermines your relationship and it makes it harder to establish trust. At best you make your life harder and at worse, you become more resentful for something that in reality may not even be happening.

Behavior that you deem as being treated like a doormat or a pushover might not be viewed that way by your partner. If you read my article on how often couples fight you know that most misunderstandings or arguments stem from fundamental cognitive differences. And how you manage those differences determine how happy you can be together.

How do you solve conflict, for instance?

Are you a planner or a doer?

This simple difference can cause friction if you are on opposite sides of this cognitive spectrum.

When is it time to walk?

Despite your best intentions, you can’t force relationships to work. Staying in a bad relationship can diminish your well-being and ruin your physical health.3 If you find yourself in a predicament where you feel like your own needs aren’t being met or you’re constantly bending to the other person’s emotions, it might be time to walk away.

Here are a few other warning signs:

  • The relationship is no longer adding to your life or is actively restrictive
  • You feel obligated to stay in the relationship
  • You no longer like each other
  • Working on your relationship feels like an uphill battle for longer than a year
  • You don’t feel valued and you don’t want to fix it

Wrapping Up

A good romantic relationship has the effect of making your other relationships better. The first step is standing up for yourself.

Here’s how:

  • Choose well
  • Eat a regular diet of tough conversations
  • Don’t be passive-aggressive
  • Don’t belittle or criticize
  • Know what you want
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Know when it’s time to leave

Get Your Life Together With The Essays of Power

I don’t know you, but I know you.

I know that you’re tired of feeling weak, being a victim, and having no control over the direction of your life.

I know you because I was once you.

I used to be stuck on the hedonistic treadmill of mediocrity. Always drunk, always broke, and always looking for the next piece of cheap entertainment and distraction.

Then one day, I changed my entire life around.

I took responsibility for my personal development and started living the best life I possibly could. I learned how to:

  • Live with purpose
  • Think with clarity
  • Face the my demons
  • Fix my finances

Unlike a lot of other motivational gurus, I’ve been to the bottom and I clawed my way back out. It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t sure if I’d just become another statistic along the way, but I think I have made tremendous progress.

I learned the hard way, but I can break it down so you can learn it the easy way…

Get The Mind And Fist Essays Of Power


  1. Herndon J. MS, MPH, MFA, Medically reviewed by Legg T. J. Ph.D. CRNP Healthline: What is a Self-Serving Bias and What are Some Examples of It? Updated May 30, 2018. (accessed Nov. 2021) 

  2. Dean, Nicole. Brain World: The Importance of Novelty Sep. 5. 2019, (accessed Nov.2021) 

  3. Stibich, Mark Ph.D. Medically reviewed by Snyder, Carly MD. VerywellMind: How Bad Relationships Affect Your Health. Oct. 21, 2020. (accessed Nov. 2021) 

Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

Follow me on Twitter.