How To Stop Letting People Walk All Over You In Relationships

Photo: Jihan Nafiaa Zahri / Shutterstock
woman deciding not to let anyone walk all over her anymore

If there’s one thing the past 17 years of my life have taught me, it’s that being assertive is the easiest way to command respect.

I used to be a major doormat and people walked all over me until I had gotten fed up with the way I was treated. Then, I got aggressive, which scared away everyone I wanted to attract. (I still get somewhat aggressive at times, so it’s still a work in progress.)

Though it took a while, learning how to be more assertive in a relationship ended up changing my social life and dating life for the better.

The thing about being assertive, especially as someone who was born female, is that it’s often discussed as a shameful thing. There’s this overwhelming idea that girls should be as accommodating and placating as possible and that they should put everyone else’s needs before their own.

Unfortunately, that often-held belief is a great recipe for unhealthy relationships and, as I learned, self-esteem issues. As someone looking for love, or even just looking for respect, you need to learn how to be more assertive in a relationship so you can stop guys from walking all over you.

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Here are some of the easiest ways to get more assertive and improve the way you are treated in relationships.

How to Not Let People Walk All Over You in Relationships

1. Don’t be afraid to people you get bad vibes from.

This may not seem assertive to you, but if you think about it, it’s establishing a boundary. A lot of women have died because they went on dates with men who they felt uneasy around and sometimes, it’s best to trust your gut and ghost.

There’s a lot of psychos there and it’s better to be safe than to say “no” and get hurt.

2. Learn to say no.

“No” is a scary word for many women, but it’s a cornerstone of being assertive. You need to learn how to say it, and once you start, you’ll never want to stop.

I learned to ramp up my “no's” by starting with soft "no's" and finally having the courage to say the actual word itself. I learned to say no by telling people that I’d “talk later” about whatever they were pressing me to do. If they kept pushing boundaries, I’d tell them, “This is making me feel uncomfortable. Now is not the time to discuss things.”

Sometimes, I’d actually blame other things when people would tell me to do things I didn’t want to do. For example, if I was being pressured to give someone money, I’d tell them, “I can’t, because my rent is due next month.” If I was being pressured to agree with a certain topic, I’d say, “It’s better to agree to disagree, but I value your input.”

Eventually, I realized that people typically abide by the boundaries you set. That’s when I realized “no” was a full sentence and I stopped justifying my “no’s.” You can’t control peoples’ reactions to you saying no. They may tantrum or hiss, but at the end of the day, you’re not in a deep hole trying to bend over backwards for people who want to control you more than they want you comfortable.

3. Embrace anger when appropriate.

A lot of girls tend to feel they did something wrong when guys throw fits about not getting a date with them. I ought to know; I was one of those.

Then something snapped in me. I realized that they were being abusive and that they legitimately didn’t care about what I wanted. They didn’t care that they were hurting me with those words, either. So, I embraced my anger and learned to either use that anger to brush them off or use it to confront people who wronged me.

If you have been wronged, walked all over, or are on the receiving end of verbal abuse, it’s okay to get angry. It’s absolutely okay to stick up for yourself and to cold shoulder that person in the future.

Anger is an evolutionary trait that’s supposed to help us survive, so learn how to use it wisely and appropriately. If people have the nerve to judge you for getting angry when you are in the right, then they shouldn’t be in your circle.

4. Realize that you are responsible for your own success and happiness — and no one else’s.

The problem with being a doormat and letting guys walk all over you is that we often feel a need to be a superhero and save everyone. You need to realize that certain people just can’t be helped and that you need to save yourself to save others. There’s nothing wrong with offering a helping hand if you can afford it, but it’s not your responsibility to be Superman to everyone.

If they hurt themselves, it’s not your fault. If they regularly show ingratitude, at that point, you have to learn to cut your losses, since nothing you will do will “fix” them.

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5. Do a regular “health check” of your relationships and ties.

During a health check, I sort people into three categories: red, yellow, and green. I regularly go through my contacts and delete people I feel are not good for me or people who have been taking advantage of my kindness and walking all over me. And then, I make a mental note not to talk to them IRL. These are “red alert” toxic people who end up hurting me more than helping.

I also look at connections who I think are great in small doses, and make an effort to keep those doses acceptable. I keep in touch with them and generally try to meet up with them at least once a year, if not more. If I feel they get too clingy, I distance myself more because some people are good only in small doses. Those are “yellow” toxicity — as in, they may have toxic traits but are generally good people.

The people who treat me well, I then make a point to do something nice for them and strengthen those ties. These are “green” healthy people, and they’re the ones you can rely on during hard times.

If you have never done this, do it. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel with less toxic muck in your life, and how much free time you’ll have.

6. Know your non-negotiable boundaries.

Everyone has certain things they just can’t tolerate in a relationship if they want to feel comfortable and happy. These boundaries include things like hitting you, insulting you, embarrassing you, borrowing money and not paying it back, ingratitude, cheating, or similar actions are your non-negotiables.

7. Put anyone who does any of the boundary-crossing actions on your non-negotiables list on your red list.

Part of being assertive is learning to cut ties with people when they repeatedly cross boundaries. The problem is that a lot of toxic people minimize what they do to victims, which can make it hard to leave. This is where causality and sticking to your guns helps a lot.

An easy way to establish boundaries with people who don’t respect yours is to use what I call the Babysitter Method.

I first saw someone use the Babysitter Method while they were babysitting a kid in my presence. The kid kept wanting a toy in the store, and she started to tantrum when she heard no. She asked why not. My friend, who is amazing with kids, had this conversation:

“You are crying and behaving badly. I already told you no, and I already warned you not to behave this way in front of our friend. I know you want the toy, but unfortunately, you lost privileges the minute you decided to act out. In the future, you should think about your actions and how they affect others.”

The kid tantrumed, asked why again, and said, “It’s just a toy.” My friend repeated what she said. Within a matter of minutes, the kid realized that the toy was off limits and that he messed up. He straightened up and didn’t say anything other than “Sorry.”

It was genius and I’ve found that using similar methods on adults works wonders too. So, if someone is badgering you, set boundaries, pretend you’re the toy, and limit access with a curt explanation if they aren’t getting the hint.

8. Stop trying to “kill them with kindness.”

I was regularly told being nice to people will earn friends — and to a point, this is true. However, a lot of people see niceness as weakness and will harm you. A common mistake people do is to treat others who bully you nicely, hoping they’ll finally like you and come around. THIS DOES NOT WORK.

Trying to appease a bully or “butter up” a bully so they’ll treat you nicely is a lot like explaining to a hungry tiger why it shouldn’t eat you because you’re vegan. Niceness and generosity are lost on a lot of people. If you notice unacceptable behavior, don’t bend to them. Rather, take away any privileges they had dealing with you, and you’ll be more likely to see an improvement.

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9. Stop thinking people are psychic.

Assertiveness is all about communicating your needs and establishing boundaries. If you want something, you need to learn to ask for it. Otherwise, people will either know you want it and not give it to you – or will be totally shocked to find out that you even cared about that little thing.

Waiting around for a person and hoping they’ll magically “get it” is a dumb way to go about life... unless you’re looking to get Nice Guy Syndrome. Tell them what you need in a way people will understand, crystal clear.

For example, at a job offer, tell them, “Listen, I need something stable and I need to make a certain amount right off the bat for this to be feasible for me. Can this be arranged?”

10. Use “I” sentences rather than “You” sentences if you need to stand up for yourself.

Many people either knowingly or unwittingly step on our toes every day. Most women are socialized to just “bear and grin” it and that’s not doing you any favors.

If you aren’t liking something about a particular relationship, you will need to confront that person quickly before it becomes the status quo. “I” statements allow you to convey how you feel, what you need, and what’s upsetting you about their behavior in a non-aggressive manner.

For example, if a guy is not getting the hint about a date, say, “I’m feeling very uncomfortable about these advances, and you’re being really aggressive. I need you to be a gentleman and respect my boundaries.”

If you have an overbearing mother-in-law who verbally abuses you, you may need to explain to your partner, “I don’t like the way she’s treating me. I understand she’s your family, but I need you to stick up for me if this relationship will work. While I love you, I will not tolerate a partner allowing someone to abuse me.”

11. Play around with asking people for things, just to get used to both “yes” and “no.”

Being told “no” is a part of life, and the funny thing is that we can get pretty desensitized to it. This is the power of learning to roll with rejection and failure; it makes us stronger.

When you get desensitized to rejection and hearing “no,” you get a lot bolder about asking for things you need. Why? Because you didn’t die the last 100 times someone told you “no,” either. When you do get a yes, be it a free drink or even a discount at the barber, you get a reward for making your needs known.

12. Understand that, at the end of the day, what other people think of your lifestyle won’t matter.

I get judged daily for living a childfree lifestyle. I get judged for dating outside my race. I get judged for the clothes I wear, the religion I have, and my nonbinary status. But at the end of the day, I realized that the people who judge me don’t have my best interests in mind.

If I were to live the way others wanted me to live, I’d have gained their acceptance (possibly), but at what cost? My life would be miserable and a sham. Living according to what society says may work for some, but not for all. And considering the double standards our society has, there will always be some critique they can throw.

Ask yourself who the person who’s criticizing your decisions will get from you bending to their will. They will not be the ones living with the consequences of you dropping your lifestyle goals — you will.

13. Always protect your rights, have a backup plan, and educate yourself.

The problem with being a part of this society, regardless of gender, is that there will always be people who will try to take away your rights if you let them. They may use legal means, shame, or actual physical retaliation as a way of doing it. It’s not even always a political thing, either. Abusive relationships will do this, too.

The best way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim is to learn, preemptively, how to guard your interests and your safety. Find friends and organizations who will support you if you have been victimized. Research facts that seem misleading or that seem like they may be told to you as a way to browbeat you.

Money is power, so make a point to save up enough cash to be able to walk away from jobs or bad lovers if need be. Knowledge is also power, so knowing how and when you can press charges, defend yourself if attack, or behave in court is a smart move.

The more safety, knowledge, and support you have, the easier it is to stand up for yourself and make an exit if things get bad. The cool part of empowering yourself is that it doesn’t just make you more assertive — it also makes you more confident, attractive, and awesome for anyone who dates you.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart is a Jack-of-all-trades writer based out of Red Bank, New Jersey.