Apr 242018 3 Responses

Does Your Spouse Have the Right to Say No?

No. It’s a powerful word. Without it, we lose our sense of self-worth and self-control. While it can be frustrating to continually hear it from a maturing two-year-old, the “no stage” for a child is an important one. It’s not until we learn to properly use the word no that we can distinguish ourselves from others, take responsibility for ourselves, and begin the process of designing the lives we desire. If a child never learns to say no, their emotional and relational health will forever be stunted. The same is true for couples.

In a healthy and vibrant relationship, husband and wife both have the ability to say and receive the word no without fear of consequence. While it might not be the answer we desire, we can respect our spouse for saying it and give them liberty to make their own decisions. Even though it might be difficult for us to say, we can create a culture in which we truly have the freedom to give the answer and feel no pressure to capitulate our beliefs or ideas to the other. (See: Are You Being Used or Loved?)

Healthy couples say no. Unhealthy couples do not. As a sign of dysfunction, they lack the ability, fear the consequences, or don’t feel as though they have the right to honestly reject the request of a spouse. Whether it be a request for assistance with a chore, a bid for attention, or even a desire for sex, unhealthy couples create a climate where the word no is a direct sign of rejection and therefore is not acceptable in their marriage.

Reasons Your Spouse Can’t Say No

Where no isn’t present, a marriage is unhealthy. Yet the reason for the unhealthiness differs in each relationship. Couples can’t say no for a variety of reasons:

Entitlement. For some, marriage is an entitlement. Believing that saying “I do” means that a spouse has to do everything we desire, couples write the wrong story that they are entitled to total submission. While marriage has many privileges, our spouses are not forced to agree with or submit to everything we desire.

Enmeshment. Other couples build strong bonds with one another, but sadly lose their sense of self in the process. When we can no longer distinguish ourselves from our spouse, we lose the ability to say no. Yet love doesn’t mean the loss of self. When two people are in a healthy marriage, they create a strong sense of togetherness, but they also maintain their sense of self. This empowers them to make their own choices and not feel confused when differences arise. (See: Don’t Let Them Define You)

Inequality. For some couples, no is an option, but it’s only an option for one party. Where an imbalance of power is present, one spouse is allowed to say no, but they can’t receive it. And the other spouse is expected to receive the word no, but they can’t say it. This is a tragic state. Marriage is the connection between two equals. Only when contempt is present, does the power move from one of equality to that of inequality. If both spouses can’t say no, something is wrong.

Expectations. Some have the wrong expectations about marriage where they assume a couple should always be on the same page. Based on ignorance of the reality of marriage, they over-romanticize the union and any disagreement is a sign that love hasn’t fully flourished. This viewpoint is foolish. The ability to say no isn’t a sign that love is absent; it’s a sign that it is present.

The Power of Saying No

No is a beautiful word. When it can be freely and fairly said between couples without resulting in hurt feelings, a fight, or tension, it’s a sign the relationship is healthy. Obviously, it isn’t always easy to receive or say, but healthy couples learn to distinguish between the word no and actual rejection. They find the right balance between using the word and finding a way to compromise with their spouse. They build such a deep level of trust that the word isn’t viewed as an attack.

The power of being able to say no in a relationship is that it proves the relationship has the potential of being real. When we are not able to say no, we are not able to be ourselves. We have to pretend to be something we are not. Only when the word no is allowed, and at times expected, are we actually bringing our true selves to one another.

The Only Way No Works

While many couples fail to create a climate where no can be said, a few have an overdependence on the word. They use the word so freely that they never submit to their spouse, never bend their own will, and refuse to find ways to compromise. This is equally unhealthy.

No only has power when it is said in the context of a “yes” relationship. When my wife is confident that I am for her, that I believe in her, when she has seen the amount of work I put in the relationship, when I consistently put her before me, and communicate my love is both words and actions, only then is the word no useful and effective. It’s within the context of a loving, committed relationship filled with trust and equality that no has impact. But when those things are present, the word no is an important aspect of a healthy relationship.

Can you tell your spouse no without fear of tension or a backlash?

Can your spouse tell you no without it hurting your feelings or making you feel rejected?

3 Responses to Does Your Spouse Have the Right to Say No?
  1. Mi Reply

    Thank you. Its a very important artikel. I am glad to read this. Wtitten by yours. Deeply agreed.

    Sometimes ask my self..
    I am monogaam.. how about you…
    If not, how do you think about

  2. Bonny Logsdon Burns Reply

    This is excellent, Kevin! “No only has power when it is said in the context of a “yes” relationship.” This statement is the crux of a healthy marriage. This kind of health can be built, we just have to put aside our defensiveness and hear our spouse without taking everything so personally. Thank you for such great insight. It reminds me of Eph. 5:21, “Submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.”

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