“No” is one of the most important words in our vocabulary.
It implies willfulness, power, thoughtfulness, and separateness from another person. When you say “no,” you are asserting your individuality, your “otherness” from others. When “no” is used effectively, it establishes a healthy psychological boundary between your wants/desires/preferences/values and the wants and desires of others in your life. The message, “No, I’d like you to also compromise some on this issue, I’ve done all of the compromising and it needs to be a give and take” is a healthy use of “no.”
“No” can also take on less healthy features.
It can become a weapon of withholding from those you love and care about (“No, I won’t give her what she wants because I’m angry with her, let her squirm a little”), a way of saying, “I’ve got what you want [love, support, information, etc] and you can’t have it.” Withholding (rather than opening and effectively communicating your needs and frustrations) can lead to numerous marital/relationship problems.
For some of us, “no” is our default setting—our automated response to almost any request or discussion. This is usually a sign of an underlying anxiety about the unknown, an anti-openness stance that we use as a protective shield to keep us in our comfort zone. The message is clear from this narrowed stance: “If it isn’t familiar or comfortable, no! is the way to go.” This shuts out others and ultimately keeps you stuck rather than moving forward.
And then there are those of us who cannot say “no.” This default position (the “yes” default) is also born out of anxiety: “If I say ‘no,’ she will be mad at me”; “I have to say ‘yes’ to stay in this relationship…to make him happy.” When “no” isn’t seen as an option, you continuously sacrifice yourself for the other person. In this case, there is no separateness—you exist as an extension of someone else’s whims and quirks. There is always a negative backlash to this position.
Relationship Help: Self-Reflection Action Step
How is “no” used in your marriage or relationship?
Are your “nos” born out of thoughtfulness, compromise and mutual consideration? Or do they arise out of one of the unhealthy default positions described above?
Here’s to “no-ing” your way to a healthy marriage/relationship!
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D.