“I was never allowed to have boundaries as a kid,” said Jen, “so as an adult, I didn’t recognize someone was violating them.
“Once when I was about five, my parents had a friend over to the house. They wanted me to sit in his lap, but I didn’t want to. For some reason, he seemed creepy. I got a huge scolding and was taught that my behavior was rude. That day I learned that I had no authority over my body. It was wrong to protest an invasion of my personal space. Good girls didn’t say no. That belief grew up with me.
“When I started dating, I didn’t know how to oppose unwanted sexual advances. I’d never learned how to say no. Instead, I just sucked it up.
“Even after I was an adult my mother interrogated me, and I felt obligated to defend my decisions. I didn’t know that there was another way. I thought in order to justify my choices, it was necessary to give full disclosure for everything I did.”
This brings up my first tip about stopping manipulation. You don’t have to defend, justify, or explain yourself. Even Jesus spoke this truth when he said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
When you’re used to giving explanations for your choices, however, just saying no can seem foreign. Your brain is trained to explain.
That’s why it’s helpful to craft gentle but wise responses ahead of time so you won’t cave under the pressure of the moment or react out of anger. Remember, you’re doing this to preserve your peace so that you don’t wind up aggravated and bitter because you’re doing something you wish you had said no to. Resist the urge to explain or defend yourself. The more you explain, the more ammunition you’ll give him to protest. A simple no will do. No apology. And don’t make up an excuse. That will just beg other questions that will bait you right back into defending and explaining.
One of the easiest ways to prevent protests is to redirect the conversation right after you say no. If you don’t, you’ve just given him the ball, so to speak, and he’ll throw the conversation right back to you with more baiting questions. So take charge of the dialogue. Take a look at the following example to see what I mean.
Let’s say that your spouse calls you at work at 4:45 and says, “I know I said I’d pick up the kids from daycare, but the guys want to meet for a game of basketball. Can you pick them up again tonight?”
You don’t want to. You’d planned to come home and relax for a bit. It’s his turn, and he has a habit of calling at the last minute.
If your answer is, “No, I can’t,” it will beg him to ask, “Why not?” Then you’ll put yourself in a position where you have to defend your decision. Instead, be direct. A better response would be, “Oh, that’s too bad, but I plan to go straight home.” Then immediately redirect the conversation with something like, “What sounds good for dinner?”
If he interrupts you and says, “Please, just this once?” Remember to stay on track. Just ignore his question and continue along with the question you asked. “I was thinking about chicken and mashed potatoes. Does that sound good?”
Do you see where I’m going with this? You are taking charge of the conversation by steering it in a different direction. In the process, you’re refusing to take his bait to get you to explain yourself, get into a disagreement, or reconsider his request because he’s worn you down again.
Don’t complain. Pointing out the fact that he frequently tries to avoid his responsibilities at the last minute will only make you sound like a whiner and open the door for a conflict. Overlook the opportunity to engage. If you don’t, your conversation will merge into a debate and he’ll never take your no seriously. There is a time for that discussion, but this isn’t it. Right now, you’re staying focused.
Don’t apologize. Don’t say, “No, honey, I’m sorry, I can’t.” You’re not sorry, so there’s no need for an apology. You already had an agreement, so you don’t owe him an excuse. If it will make you angry that he manipulated the situation again, a yes will lead to bitterness and relationship discord. It’s your job to say no.
If this seems too hard to do with your partner, practice this tactic with friends or co-workers who try to take advantage of you. It’s easier to say no to people with whom you don’t have a strong emotional connection. When you practice saying no to casual acquaintances or co-workers, it will become easier to stand up for yourself in romantic or intimate relationships.
When we’re strangled by the fear of telling others no, we pile frustration on ourselves and our relationships. We pay a price when we base our own worth on pleasing others. Fear of man proves to be a snare, but in the end, we gain more favor when we don’t back down (Proverbs 28:23).
No one says your partner has to agree with all of your decisions. If you find your worth by always trying to make him happy, you’ll end up as a doormat. You can be assertive without being aggressive. You’ll obtain more respect from him and create more personal peace with yourself when you learn how to say no and stick to it.
This was an exert from Free Looks Good on You: Healing the Soul Wounds of Toxic Love.
Want to read more? Get your copy now on Amazon.
PONDER AND PRACTICE
1. Think of a situation in which you wanted to say no or stand up for yourself but didn’t. Maybe you were put on the spot, caught off guard, or pressured into doing something you didn’t want to do. What were the circumstances?
2. How would you imagine a strong and confident woman would handle a similar situation?
3. How could you handle a similar situation next time?
4. Now, take some time to imagine how you want the dialogue to go next time someone makes a request you want to say no to. Write out your responses to the protests you imagine. Preparation and practice are the best ways to develop healthy habits and will prevent you from being caught off guard again.