When “Sacred Space” Goes Wrong: Assertiveness Revisited

When they don’t follow the rules…

After I posted my latest iteration of the “Sacred Space Rules of Communication” Rebecca of The Secret Life of a Low T Wife asked me what happens when one member of the pair refuses to follow the rules of good communication by cursing, yelling, swearing… or using the totem as a melee weapon.

Gods, I love redheads!

In all seriousness though, when couples are learning to communicate effectively, having tools like Sacred Space in place is a great way to help them build the habits that they need. But when temperatures are running high, it is easy to forget the rules. At which point it is useful to be armed with some basic theory.

The core concept of Assertiveness is a simple set of rights that we hold all persons to possess:

  • To state our needs.
  • To set priorities based on our needs.
  • To be treated with respect.
  • To be respected as an equal human being.
  • To express our feelings.
  • To express our values and opinions.
  • To say “yes” or “no” for ourselves.
  • To make mistakes.
  • To change our minds.
  • To say “I don’t understand.”
  • To ask for what we want.
  • To decline responsibility for the problems of others.
  • To interact with other people without needing their approval.

These rights are a two-edged sword. If you want them to be respected for you, then you need to respect them for others. That means bullying or shutting others up (which is Aggressive communication) or ignoring them (Passive communication) is a failure to respect both their rights and yours. There are only two ways you can deal with a problem in an Assertive manner:

Call them out on their behaviour, or walking away.

When you call someone out, you do so by describing their behaviour to them from your perspective, and then asking for a change. In the case of the bad behaviour in the Sacred Space the simple answer would be to stop talking for a moment, and then say:

“I think we need to stop and check ourselves. I feel that your behaviour has broken the rules that we both agreed to and put in place for a good reason. I want to finish this conversation according to the rules of Sacred Space. If we can’t do that, then I don’t want to finish it at all. Would you agree to taking a few moments so we can cool down, and then try again?”

When that fails, you are not obliged to carry out any conversation that you don’t want to. Part of these rights include not taking on other people’s problems, to be treated as an equal, and to be treated with respect. If your partner cannot respect those rights, then you have no reason to carry on the conversation You are free to state as much:

“Right now I feel very disrespected by your behaviour. I don’t feel like I am being respected. I don’t want to continue this conversation. Please don’t speak to me again until you can do so with respect.”

After that, walk away. The Sacred Space has been breached anyway, and you are being mistreated, so you can wait on the hug for later.

I would recommend asking for an apology after you have both had time to relax and find your centre again. It might also help to ask your partner whether they are committed to using the Sacred Space rules or if you need to find a different tool. Be certain to let them know that given that your conversations are still getting too heated that you are not ready to communicate without a set of rules yet.

One thought on “When “Sacred Space” Goes Wrong: Assertiveness Revisited

  1. Brian, what about people who actually don’t accept the core concepts of assertiveness? I’ve seen this especially in the form that they don’t accept you have a right to state your opinions, make mistakes and (particularly) ask for what you want. You back out (withdraw from the conversation) but they don’t change their viewpoint. And next time it doesn’t change. Is the only answer to withdraw so nothing changes, or fight fire with fire and burn everything down aroundboth of you?

    Surely there must be a better way with people like this?

Comments are closed.