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How Saying No Can Save Your Relationship

Saying no gets a bad rap.

If you refuse a request, you’re afraid you’ll sound selfish or upset another person. Maybe a co-worker wants a favor or a family member asks for a loan. You say yes because sometimes, it’s easier to “be nice” and keep the peace. You act like everything is fine hoping to avoid confrontation. But over time, being nice and keeping the peace creates more problems.

Something has to change, but you’re not sure where to start. This article explains how sometimes saying no actually improves the closeness of your relationships.

Why Not Saying No Hurts

Sometimes, you have to say “no.” We all have a limited amount of time, energy and patience to give. When you avoid setting limits, you avoid speaking your truth. This actually hurts your relationships because when you can’t be honest, relationships become less intimate. It’s not possible to feel close to someone when you can’t be completely open about what you need. Intimacy stems from authenticity, not pretending.

Also, when you give too much, your needs get put on the back burner. You start to feel invisible, like your needs don’t matter. And when others don’t reciprocate, you are left more frustrated than ever. Those resentments fester until they turn into is an unspoken tension. If nothing changes, you might not want to be around the person who takes so much time and energy from you. The relationship starts to suffer.

Saying No Is Self-Care — Not Selfish

Saying “no” to a request is not selfish or inconsiderate when you are taking care of yourself. When self-care becomes a struggle, stress increases. These feelings should never be ignored because they take a toll on your body. Some common physical signs of stress are headaches, stomach pains, and digestive issues. It’s normal and healthy to have needs. Those preferences are what makes you unique!

Address the Fear

When you avoid saying no, there is something you’re afraid of. Addressing your fear helps you move past it. 12-step programs have a great acronym FEAR that stands for: False Evidence Appearing Real. Basically, it means that what we fear rarely happens.

When you think about these fears, ask what your worst fear is about saying no? For example, do you think they’ll get mad and leave you?

Once you can name that fear, ask yourself: how likely is it that going to happen? And if it did happen, what does that say about the person you’re involved with? Speaking up about your needs shouldn’t be a negative thing.

Some people may not like your saying “no,” but they will likely respect you for it. If they can’t accept your saying “no,” it may be time to reconsider the relationship. By not setting healthy boundaries, we teach people how to treat us. Without boundaries, relationships become inauthentic. When one person gives more than the other, those relationships become obligations, not intimate connections.

Change Your Self-talk!

One important tip for changing this imbalance is to consider how you talk to yourself. If your “self-talk” is telling yourself that others will be mad if you say no, you stay in fear. This kind of thinking assumes the worst proves to be false. It’s called catastrophizing. Instead, change that “self-talk” into more realistic, hopeful messages. Things like, “You can do this,” or “It’s okay to have needs.”

Practice with Your Tribe

Without healthy boundaries, anyone can become a doormat. Boundaries help you enjoy each other as equals. Start by practicing with the person you feel safest with, like a best friend. Say “no” to something small like going to a particular restaurant or movie, when you don’t want to go. Another option: delay going somewhere by 15 minutes to make it more convenient for you. Starting with the little things that don’t matter that much will be less scary and help to build your confidence.

The Benefits of Saying No

The people who really care about you will support you in taking care of yourself. If they don’t, pay close attention. If someone else’s needs frequently overshadow yours, that’s a major red flag. Healthy relationships should benefit both people, not just one person. When others continue to disregard your saying “no,” then it may be time to lower your expectations or even to reconsider the depth of the relationship.

Final Thoughts

Saying no doesn’t have to hurt your relationships. Practicing this new behavior will feel uncomfortable at first but with time setting healthy boundaries can become the new normal. Always start small so you can experience some wins. The most surprising lesson you’ll learn about saying no is that most people will accept it. They WANT you to take care of yourself!

Prioritizing what you need becomes the template for creating healthier relationships. No longer will you be attracting people who can’t give back. Saying no gives you the chance to be yourself without apology and that is priceless.

How Saying No Can Save Your Relationship

Michelle Farris, LMFT

Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping people with codependency and anger management. She shows others how to be more authentic in relationships by setting healthy boundaries and improving self-care. In her early twenties, she fell in love with the process of personal growth. She is a therapist who “walks her talk” and loves supporting others towards positive change. She writes a blog called Relationship Rehab that offers helpful tools to create healthy and happy relationships. Michelle also offers online classes on anger and codependency for additional support. Signup for her FREE 5 day email course on anger.

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APA Reference
Farris, M. (2018). How Saying No Can Save Your Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Oct 2018 (Originally: 4 Oct 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.