Can you say NO to your partner?
Can you tolerate hearing NO?
In a relationship, the freedom to say NO may be one of the most important dynamics your share. If there is no space for NO, there really is no space for an authentic relationship. Partners believe in the “ I do” because it is a choice of Yes over NO.
While it is a crucial dynamic most of us have problems with NO.
• There are times when we feel we just can’t say NO for fear our partner will feel unloved. We comply, but may secretly resent it.
• There are times when we can’t tolerate his/her NO and won’t let it go until we force compliance.
• There are other times when we have clearly said, “NO” but the other person persists trying to force us to comply. These are the times we are looking for that T-shirt that says, “What part of NO don’t you understand?”
Why Is Saying NO and Hearing NO So Difficult?
• The capacity to say NO implies separation, difference, and independence. There is a reason that in Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stage of autonomy vs. shame, the toddler’s favorite word is NO!
• Psychologically, the capacity to hear a NO reflects acceptance of a theory of mind that recognizes that another person is separate with his/her own mind and is likely to see things differently. It is the ability to recognize that your opinion and perspective is not the only one or the correct one all the time.
Marriage theorists suggest that one of the shocks that we all face in relationships is that the other is different.
• In the infatuation of the early days of courtship and marriage the brains of men and women are more similar in their activation and chemistry than any other time and we actually believe we have found someone who thinks and feels exactly as we do.
• Then somewhere in the course of day-to-day life–some say after 18 months, some say after the first child–we realize this is not true. Who is this person?
• Christine Meinecke describes this as the realization that “ Everybody Marries the Wrong Person!”
This translates with time into the recognition that:
• People can love each other and actually be different.
• Most people would not want to be married to clones of themselves. (Can you imagine that nightmare?)
• Differences can be points of information and expansion.
• There are ways to deal with NO that don’t compromise connection.
Some Important Considerations For Dealing With “NO” In Your Relationship
• Consider HOW you are saying NO or responding to NO
Does a dismissive or angry NO disqualify discussion of the issue being considered?
• Consider WHY you are saying NO or reacting to NO
Understanding why you are saying NO or why your are reacting or overreacting to a NO gives you a pause button and balances reactivity with rationale– ” Why don’t I want to go?”
• Consider letting your partner KNOW the reason for your reaction in a way that doesn’t negate, dismiss, or reject.
Verbal clarification invites understanding, empathy and less feelings of rejection or resistance in face of a NO–” Let me explain why this is so difficult for me.”
• Consider whether you say NO much more than you ever say YES.
If saying NO becomes knee-jerk, one wonders how you can be happy in face of your partner’s possible unhappiness or continued disappointment–how would this build love and mutual giving?
• Consider if saying NO or hearing NO ends the connection for everything else that follows.
If a NO is punished with silence, retaliation or loss of connection, there really are no options to say or hear NO. It is not a point of difference; it is a point of control and relationship loss.
• Consider if saying NO is important to your sense of self and your personal happiness.
If you are saying yes to keep the peace at the cost of real happiness such that your partner does not know who you are or what you really need, neither you or your partner can reach your potentials.
• Consider if you can say or hear NO in a way that does not imply NEVER.
Particularly in matters of intimacy, NO is well received when it does not dismiss or disqualify love; but rather affirms interest and desire in the future.
“NO” in a relationship should not be a common state of contention and resentment; but rather an acceptable stop along the path. Maybe you are sure the turn is right and your partner is sure it is left. Regardless of which way you go, if you believe in your connection and tolerate human imperfections, you will find your way together and perhaps some unexpected gifts along the way.