Boundaries Psychology Relationships

The Vital Importance Of The “Free No”

We all long to know whether we are truly loved and accepted by those we care about. We will never know how people genuinely feel about us, however, unless they feel free to say no to us. Taking no for an answer is hard, painful and difficult, but it is vital to healthy relationships.

Many years ago, a psychologist friend of mine introduced me to the concept of the “free no.” The idea being that you can never trust that a yes is genuine unless people know they have the freedom to say no to you without penalty. 

That without penalty part is very important.

It is natural to assume the people we care about know they can say no to us – and theoretically, they can. The question, however, is what happens when they do? How do we respond?

We nag.

We whine.

We give them the silent treatment.

We wait for just the right moment for “paybacks.”

That is not a “free no.

When we punish people for saying no to us, we are not actually giving them the right to say no.
Photo courtesy of Sasint @ Pixabay


Any time we say yes to one thing, we inherently have to say no to something else. We all have a certain number of resources that are finite. These include time, money and energy – which includes emotional energy. While we can always get more eventually, once what we currently have is gone, it is gone. 

When someone wants my money, my time or my energy and will not take no for an answer, they are essentially manipulating me into doing something I don’t really want to do. In other words, they are taking away my free will and basically holding me hostage to their own. 

When we demand a yes, we rarely stop to consider is what it is costing the other person to say yes to us.

For instance, say I want to go out at night, but my spouse is tired. They want to spend the time they have remaining in that day recharging their batteries so that they can start the next day refreshed and recharged. 

So, let’s say they say no, they don’t want to go out. That leaves me with several options in regards to how to respond.

* I can whine, beg, pout threaten, manipulate or guilt them into going out with me.

* I can stay there with them and pout, stomp around, slam doors and let them know in every way possible how angry I am at them for saying no to me.

* I can stay there with them but demand they amuse me or entertain me since they wouldn’t go out with me – even further exhausting their batteries in the process. 

Or, I can graciously take their no for an answer. I can go out on my own or stay in with them without demanding that they amuse, entertain or in other ways expend even more energy on me. I can leave them in peace to recharge. 

Being around someone who is angry with you is exhausting, as is having to amuse or entertain someone. If I choose to respond in one of these ways, I simply exhaust them even more. They may end up even more tired than if they had just gone out. 

On some level we know this, which is maybe why we do it – so next time they won’t fight us, they will just do what we want. Over time, this establishes a pattern in which they either just give in and give us what we want or we make their life a living hell. That is called a no-win situation. We may get away with it for a while but over time they will grow to resent us and start fighting back in a million small ways. Ultimately, this just turns our relationships into war zones.

Photo Courtesy of Geralt @ Pixabay


Have you ever wondered if someone really likes or loves you or not? Usually, we know how people feel about us by what they do for us, not just by what they say. But if no one can ever say no to you, how do you know what it actually means when they say yes? Are they saying yes because they love you and genuinely want to say yes, or because they are afraid of the consequences of saying no? That’s not love. 

You will never never know if a yes is genuine unless you know the other person feels the freedom to say no to you. 

Allowing someone to say no to you without punishing them for it is painful and difficult. We all want what we want. Letting someone say no to you is a form of losing.  It is not getting what you want. 

When we want something, we generally want it for a reason. Sometimes we may even feel we need it, so when someone denies us that thing it can actually cause us pain. No one wants to be in pain, so we work hard to get what we want.

What we don’t think about, however, is that sometimes, getting what we want causes the other person pain. Sometimes when it comes to pain in a relationship, its either us or them. Not getting what we want will cause us pain, but giving us what we want will cause them pain – so we choose us. Sometimes, that’s okay, but not every time. That’s where we have to be careful. 

You can’t claim to love someone that you are always forcing to do things for you through some type of emotional manipulation. That’s not healthy for you and it’s not healthy for them.

Can you let someone just say no to you today?

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