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When Saying “No” Means Saying “Yes” To a Healthy Relationship

“What is a boundary? A boundary is a limit. By the limits you set, you protect the integrity of your day, your energy and spirit, the health of your relationships, the pursuits of your heart. Each day is shaped by your choices. When you violate your own boundaries or let another violate them, stuffing spills out of your life.”

– Anne Katherine, Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day

NO. No. NO! It’s a simple, easily-pronounceable word. There are tons of fun, creative ways to say it (like “Nope”, “Nah”, or “Nuh-uh” for example). And it’s the same across several languages. Yet, at one time or other, almost every woman I know has struggled to say no, much to her own detriment and the detriment of her healthy relationships. Is it possible that you fit this description? Read on; there’s a few things you need to know about saying no!

Saying no and following through with the word’s consequences are the clearest ways that a person can manifest their personal boundaries in a relationship. As two people set boundaries in their relationship, they develop a basic framework for communication and conflict resolution that often sets the tone for all of their interactions going forward. When you fail to set limits, you essentially communicate to your partner that anything goes and that you have few needs, expectations, or sore spots. However, as human beings, that just isn’t possible! Boundaries teach others how to treat you; when you don’t set them, you tell your partner that you don’t care how you are treated. By boycotting the word no, you suppress your needs and eliminate your partner’s ability to meet them: a quick way to poison any healthy relationship.

You might be asking yourself, if the word no is so fundamental to healthy relationships, why do I avoid saying it in my own? Many women hold the mistaken belief that keeping quiet when their guy violates a boundary will prove their love to him and strengthen the connection. In reality, when you avoid telling your partner that he has reached one of your personal limits, you give him a free pass to mistreat you. The more boundaries you allow your lover to breach, the weaker your relationship will inevitably become. Why? Ignoring your own needs reduces or destroys your ability to meet your partner’s needs, while simultaneously increasing your feelings of irritability and volatility, which provokes conflict instead of preventing it.

Plenty of women I know harbor the misconception that by saying no (and really meaning it) they will come off as cold or contrary and drive men away. The truth is, setting limits in your life will only drive away men who refuse to respect boundaries: men who like to set lots of their own limits yet never lift a finger to abide by even one of yours. For the remaining men, saying no commands respect and sends a clear message that you know, and are ready to enforce, what you will and will not accept. Quite the opposite as in boundary-free relationships, when two people establish limits in their exchanges with one another, they cultivate an atmosphere of care, respect, and communication. I tell every single one of my female clients this little known secret that will make them irresistible to men; women with boundaries are strong and sexy, not cold and contrary.

I’ll be back with more on learning the language of no in the near future. Until then, do me a favor and commit to playing with this word in your relationship. This means identifying situations where your partner nears or passes one of your personal limits, communicating it to him with that trusty two letter word, and backing it up with consequences. Remember, when you set limits, you choose love. Don’t forget to write about your experiences because I want to hear all about them.

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As Featured In Elle Magazine