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Is ‘No Problem’ a Problem?

Relationship MaintenanceMany people seem to have replaced the gracious phrase “you’re welcome” with the expressions “no problem” or “no worries.” Sales clerks, food servers, resort personnel, and others say these phrases in response to being thanked for doing their job or a kind act.

What’s wrong with this?

The unconscious does not recognize a negative.

To prove this point, try this experiment: Imagine yourself being told right now, “Don’t think of a pink elephant.” Immediately, what do you think of? A pink elephant, of course. The unconscious does not recognize a negative, which in this case is the word, “don’t.” You hear, “Think of a pink elephant.”

When someone I thank responds, “no problem” or “no worries,” the words, “problem” and “worries” jump out at me. I sense I’ve been viewed as mildly annoying, at best. Yet, if my “thank you” elicits a “You’re welcome,” or “My pleasure,” I’m likely to feel good about our pleasant exchange.

So why is a marriage maven writing about pink elephants and seemingly innocuous phrases?

These currently popular phrases are heard subconsciously as negative messages. Because many spouses unknowingly communicate with each other less than positively, they create distance in their relationship.

How to Communicate Positively

In the best marriages, partners communicate positively. Not everyone knows how to do this well, even when they think they are getting it right. A wife might intend to express gratitude by telling her husband, “I appreciate you for not bothering me when I wanted to read quietly last night.” A more positive message would be, “I appreciate you for respecting my wish to read quietly last night.”

The first of the above two sentences contains a metaphorical pink elephant. The husband is going to hear, loud and clear, the word “bothering.” The message left swimming in his subconscious could well be: “I’m a bother; she finds me annoying.” His wife’s attempt to compliment him backfired because it contained a subliminal negative component. In fact, her message may actually result in him bothering her more often because we are more likely to repeat behaviors for which we are given attention, even negative attention.

The second sentence, “I appreciate you for respecting my wish to read quietly last night,” is totally positive. The listening husband (not an oxymoron!) hears, “I’m respectful and considerate. She likes this about me.” This kind of positive attention will probably result in other more considerate behaviors on his part, and consequently more connection and harmony in the couple’s relationship.

Turn a Complaint into a Request

Positive communicators have learned how to turn a complaint into a request. Instead of saying what they do not want their partner to do, they say what they want.

A wife who resents having to plan all their dates might feel tempted to blurt out to her husband, “Why do I always have to be the one who has to come up with ideas for our dates?” Feeling criticized, the husband might react by begrudgingly planning a lackluster date.

What if the wife would say instead, “I’d love it if you would plan some of our dates”? The husband would hear the word, “love” and probably want to please her by honoring her request in a heartfelt way.

To review, a clearly positive message, such as “You’re welcome,” is preferable to phrases that may create distance, such as “no problem” and “no worries,” because the unconscious doesn’t recognize a negative. Similarly, by reframing a complaint into a request, we give a message that the listener is more likely to hear as constructive; a communication that fosters connection.

Follow a Complaint with a Request

Being human, we’re all likely to complain now and then, to say what we don’t want or don’t like. A husband might tell his wife, “I didn’t like it when you told our friends about my brother’s medical condition. I wasn’t ready to share this.” He can soften his rebuke by adding a request, such as, “I would appreciate it if from now on you’ll keep this private, until I’m ready to share it with others.” His wife hears “appreciate” and will probably respond warmly by saying she will certainly honor his wish.

When he then thanks her, she’ll say, “You’re welcome!”

Is ‘No Problem’ a Problem?


Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.


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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). Is ‘No Problem’ a Problem?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 9, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/is-no-problem-a-problem/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 21 Feb 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.