How Saying ‘No’ to Others Can Mean Saying ‘Yes’ to You and Your Relationship

How Saying ‘No’ to Others Can Mean Saying ‘Yes’ to You and Your Relationship Your boss asks – or rather pressures – you to work this weekend.  A deadline is quickly approaching and your contribution is crucial. But, you already had plans with your family.  You feel stuck choosing between your job and your family.

Your parents or in-laws seem to make plans for you most weekends. It’s either some social function, asking you to help them at their house or just expecting your company. You wonder why your time has come to be determined by other people.

It can be hard to say ‘no’. Life presents many requests and demands on our time: career, household, parents, kids, in-laws, committees, groups – the list goes on and on. When you say ‘yes’ but really wanted to say ‘no’, you often end up feeling guilty, defeated and resentful. Sometimes even signing up for the fun things we WANT to do can leave us feeling overwhelmed!

So, how do you say ‘no’?

First, you (and your spouse if you’re married) must create time to reflect on what is truly important to you. Before you can live the life you long to have, first you have to create it in your minds. Then, write it down. Once you have this mission statement in writing, it will serve as a guide for making everyday decisions.

  • What do you value?
  • Where do you want to invest your time and energy?
  • What brings you joy and meaning?

Second, notice your initial, gut reaction when someone makes a request of you.  Your very first feeling can be very telling.

  • Does your heart sink?
  • Do you feel inspired and excited?
  • Do you dread telling your spouse?
  • Are you eager to tell you spouse?

Third, learn the ‘YES, NO, YES’ response. Use this when want to say ‘no’ but are finding it difficult. The first ‘YES’ is about being true to what you (and your spouse) really value. When you are asked to do something, go back to your mission statement.  If your boss is asking you to work this weekend but you have plans with your family, see what’s in your mission statement about this.  Does it say, “We spend time together as a family doing what we all enjoy”?  That’s what you’d be saying the first ‘yes’ to. ‘Yes’ to yourself, ‘yes’ to your relationship and ‘yes’ to your family.

The ‘NO’ is declining a request. This is hard for many people. It takes courage. Often, when it’s difficult, we acquiesce and then feel resentful or angry.  Sometimes, we get verbally aggressive because we believe it’s the only way people will listen to us. However, it is possible to say ‘no’ calmly and respect the other person when it’s sandwiched between two “YES’s”.

The last ‘YES’ is a ‘yes’ to the other person. Although this isn’t your obligation or responsibility, it’s a gesture of caring. It’s a way for you to maintain your boundaries while offering another option.  For example, suppose your in-laws expect you to cut their lawn because it’s getting harder for them to do it themselves, but you and your partner want to veg out at home after a long work-week.  In this case, your last ‘yes’ could be offering to call a lawn maintenance company for them.

It IS possible to say ‘no’ to the things you really don’t want to be doing. Actually, this is a crucial skill: to know ourselves and what’s truly important and then to lead our lives in accordance with those values.  The ‘YES, NO, YES’ response will help you and your partner to accomplish this.

To find out more, schedule an appointment here at Couples Therapy Center. Call 908-246-3074, email

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