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Why it's important to be able to say 'no' to your partner

In many couples there is one person, or sometimes both, who find it difficult to say ‘no’ to their partner. In heterosexual couples this may often, but not always, be the woman. This difficulty in saying no could apply to various situations, including having sex, what kind of house to buy, what holiday to go on, which social event to attend etc.

The partner who finds it hard to say no may do so because they feel guilty at disappointing the other person, or because they want to avoid an argument. They may be so used to going along with the other person’s wishes that they don’t even realise they are over-riding their own desires.

This kind of person may have grown up in a family where they were disapproved of if they were not accommodating to other people’s desires; or they may have witnessed parents who argued over everything. However, the problem for the partner who struggles to say no is that they end up agreeing to things that, deep down, they may not want to do. While it may keep the peace, it can lead to a gradual build-up of resentment. This resentment is then likely to leak out in indirect or covert ways, such as low-level criticism of the other partner, emotional withdrawal or complaining about the things one has agreed to. The other partner also suffers in this kind of relationship. Even though they may be getting their own way most of the time, they will be aware of something missing in the relationship,  such as a lack of passion.

Things can begin to change if the accommodating partner is willing to take the risk of standing up for what he or she wants, instead of trying to keep the other person happy all the time. Making this kind of change is difficult because it raises the risk of conflict in the relationship, and in some cases couple therapy may be needed; however, if both partners can be helped to see the benefits, such as increased passion and connection, change is possible. They may also be helped to see that the existing way of relating just pushes conflict underground, where it becomes more toxic and harder to deal with.

Paradoxically, when the accommodating partner starts to be able to truly say ‘no’, it actually makes his or her ‘yes’ more meaningful and this can enrich the relationship.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Patrick McCurry - psychotherapist working with individuals and couples

Are you experiencing relationship, intimacy or family problems? If so, I can help. I am still accepting new clients and am offering phone and video sessions during the Coronavirus restrictions.
I work with individuals and couples. I also specialise in helping people who are struggling with anger, anxiety, depression, sexual problems or a lack of meaning.
I don't offer a quick fix but… Read more

Written by Patrick McCurry - psychotherapist working with individuals and couples

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