Many of us hate hearing the word “No.” And many of us don’t like saying it either. You might be especially uncomfortable with saying no to your partner. Often people think that going along with their partner’s requests will be good for their relationship.
Less disagreement equals less conflict, they assume. Some people don’t even get that far. They just have a hard time voicing their opinions or needs altogether.
But saying yes all the time when you don’t really mean it can actually backfire and damage your relationship. For instance, it can build resentment, according to Andrew Wald, LCSW-C, a psychotherapist who works with couples and co-author of Togetherness: Creating and Deepening Sustainable Love. You also may become enmeshed as a couple and less of your own person, he said.
By saying no, you’re creating a boundary. And boundaries are essential for any healthy relationship. Unfortunately, boundaries tend to get a bad rap, Wald said, because they’re viewed as keeping partners away from each other.
But it’s just the opposite. Boundaries help you better understand your partner, know their needs and respond to them – thereby bringing you that much closer.
The reality is that everyone’s needs are different. Wald shared an example from his own 39-year marriage. When they were just newlyweds, Wald’s wife fell off her bike coming around a corner. He jumped off his bike and raced over to her. But before he could help, she put her hand up and told him to stay away. Wald was taken aback and felt rejected.
When they talked about it later that night, his wife explained that she was used to and preferred comforting herself. What Wald thought was a kind gesture felt like an intrusion to his wife. Wald’s wife also prefers being left alone when she’s sick, while he prefers attention and affection. Both of them do their best to honor each other’s different needs.
Remember that you deserve to have your own — and different — opinion and to voice it, Wald said. Articulating a different point of view doesn’t mean you’re asserting that you’re better than your partner; it means you’re not less, he said.
Also, keep in mind that setting a boundary isn’t the same as saying no to your relationship. Rather you’re saying no to a specific idea or event, he said. Speak up when something negatively affects your well-being or sense of self, he said.
Take the example of a husband who wanted to have sex every night. His wife felt horrible about herself, and finally talked about it with her husband. If she hadn’t, she’d continue to feel bad, which would chip away at her self-esteem, Wald said.
It also could be as simple as needing some alone time when you get home from work. Rather than your partner thinking that you’re avoiding them, let them know that you just need 20 minutes to unwind, Wald said.
Saying no is a way of nurturing and empowering yourself, he said. And it encourages your partner to do the same, he said. This also creates good will, he added. Neither partner feels taken advantage of. Also, both partners can focus on practicing good self-care.
It’s important to talk about your boundaries with “love, care and empathy,” Wald said. And only have discussions when you’re both calm. If your conversation is escalating, he suggested taking a time-out and considering how you can improve your talk.
Saying no might seem like taking a negative stance. But it’s actually a good thing for you, your partner and your relationship.