Being Unable to Say ‘No’ Can Damage Our Relationships

By Melissa King Created: April 4, 2009 Last Updated: April 5, 2009
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Unable to say no? Learn to say what you mean. (

Unable to say no? Learn to say what you mean. (

Not being able to say "No" and be comfortable saying "No" may cause us to lose meaningful relationships.
Why? Doesn't saying "Yes" keep people pleased and happy?
Well, sometimes, but not always. And most importantly, it eventually becomes a burden for the person who feels they always have to say "Yes," whether that "Yes" comes in the form of actions or words.

Dealing With Expectations

People who have difficulty saying "No" often perceive that they are expected to say "Yes." And deep down, if that person really wishes they could say "No," but repeatedly does not, they may end up bailing out of relationships all together, leaving the other person confused or unaware of why the relationship ended. This is often baffling for the other person, especially since the "people pleaser" usually comes across as such a “nice person.”
This can happen in relationships with people or in relationships with a system. Just so we are on the same page, let me define what I mean when I refer to a person or a system. A person can be anyone from a sibling to a friend to a romantic partner to a co-worker to a supervisor. A system might be a family, a church, a religion, an employer, or an organization, etc.


Boundaries are an essential part of having great relationships and maintaining integrity with our identity and our internal thoughts and feelings. Boundaries are necessary for true intimacy. A main component of having boundaries is being able to say "yes" or "no" with conviction—and in most cases, to be able to communicate it lovingly.
When we want or need to say "No" but don’t, we can become resentful of the other person or of the system that is requesting something of us. We can become overused and begin to take on more responsibility than is healthy. We might judge others as being "bad" for not recognizing that we are overworked or for not recognizing our "non-verbal" social cues (those unclear cues we use to try and get the other person to realize that we want to say “No”). We then become irritated and accuse the other person of being needy, of taking advantage, of being a jerk, etc. However, when we don't clearly communicate what we want or need, the only person to blame is ourselves.

Abandoning Relationships

Many of us leave relationships and systems because we can’t say “No.” We leave before we fight. Instead of expressing how we feel and waiting to see if the person or system will accept us with our “no” or if we can reach a compromise, we put a wall up. We become cowards.

Healthy Relationships

In order to achieve healthy relationships, we must learn to be able to say "No" while remaining in the relationship. We must be able to live with the possibility of another being disappointed with our "No." We all get disappointed at times, and we survive. Sometimes we will disagree and sometimes we will argue. That is all part of it.
You will find that your richest experiences will be with those people or systems that you are able to remain in while maintaining and expressing the truth about who you are, what you want (or don't want), and what you need.
Of course, some relationships must end, or distance must be created. Sometimes it's just not a good fit, and being in the relationship compromises our values. In that case, it may be unhealthier to stay.

Is It Worth Fighting For?

Or, it may be worth making an assessment about whether we have been fully honest and communicative and whether the relationship is worth fighting for.
Here's something for you to think about this week: Do you shut people or systems out of your life because something is wrong with that person or system or is it because you don't have boundaries with that person or system? How can you communicate better boundaries?

Melissa King is a Life and Wellness Coach in NYC. Her website is Contact her at


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