Are you looking for a New Year’s resolution? I have a powerful one for you.
All it involves is saying a single two-letter word. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. At least not at first. Here it is:
Say NO. A lot.
The very idea of making “no” a bigger part of your vocabulary might unsettle you. I’ve seen that many women tend to feel very uncomfortable around this one little word. For some of us, saying no feels almost like an act of aggression.
Here’s the thing, though. None of us — no matter how capable and generous we are — can say yes all the time. Every time you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to something else at the same time. Yes and no are like flip sides of the same coin.
So you have to get very deliberate. What are the important things in your life that you always want to say yes to? Maybe it’s having weekends free for your family, or enough time for the yoga classes that make your body and spirit strong. When you know what your yeses are, it gets easier to say no to other things.
It’s wise to start small when you’re learning to say no. You don’t have to leap right into a face-to-face announcement to your mom that you’re not spending Christmas Day at her house like you usually do. Pick a request that’s a little less emotionally loaded first — like turning down a telemarketer that wants just a few minutes of your time to make a pitch (“Thank you so much, but I’m not interested. Goodbye.”) And give yourself permission to take the easy way out. Say no by text. Or just don’t speak up first at a meeting when volunteers are being recruited.
Even then, you might feel guilty about saying no.This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Sometimes guilt is helpful, but sometimes it’s just a sign that part of you is uncomfortable and resisting change.If you can, just keep taking small steps, and you will find this kind of guilt tends to dissolve over time.
Saying no more frequently eventually opens up a sense of freedom. You can free yourself from time-wasting, meaningless activities, and use your time to do what you love with the people you love. You can free up space to take better care of yourself, whether that means sleeping and exercising more or delving back into a long-neglected hobby.
“No” might not feel natural for you at first. But it’s an essential word to master. So what will you say no to in 2017?
I’ll be upfront with you: One of the best gifts you can give yourself and your husband this time of year is being direct.
Kind directness keeps the lines of communication open in your marriage. It keeps resentments from taking root. It helps make sure you’re both operating from the same set of expectations.
Yet being direct is hard for many women. Why is that? Why are we so uncomfortable asking for what we need or telling others what’s going on with us?
A lot of it has to do with how women have been raised in our culture. You may have been taught to anticipate everyone else’s needs — your husband’s, your kids’, your boss’s. And I bet you’re very good at it. You probably know the subtle signs that your husband is ready to leave a party, or that your daughter could use some extra encouragement before her semester exams.
Because we’re so adept at reading others and knowing what they need, I think we feel a little disappointed when we have to come out and say the things that we think others, especially our husbands, should have figured out on their own. I’ve heard a version of this sentiment from women many times: “I don’t want to have to tell him. He should just know.” It’s as if getting what they want has less value if their husbands don’t intuit it.
Some of us have also been taught that it’s somehow rude to communicate directly. Maybe, for example, you’ve gone on at length about how busy you are at work in hopes that your husband will offer to take on more gift shopping or holiday travel prep. Dropping hints might work with other people who are fluent in indirect communication. But it may just go right over your husband’s head.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to ask? Most husbands relish the chance to make their wives happy. And they’d appreciate more information on how to do that. He doesn’t care about you any less just because you have to come right out and tell him the gifts you’d like or that you’d rather stay home more this holiday season instead of traveling. In fact, he’d be thrilled to know.
This holiday season, look for opportunities to be more direct. See how it feels and how others react. If you’re still a little uncomfortable, that’s OK. You’re learning something new. Keep practicing. It really does get easier.
Uh-oh. It’s happened. Your husband has crossed one of the non-negotiable lines with you. He’s shown disrespect in a way you just won’t tolerate, whether that’s cursing at you, raising his voice in public, or another boundary-pushing behavior.
What do you do now?
Your first instinct when your husband crosses the line might be to strike back or run off. If you can, don’t do either one of these things. Try a more measured approach that is actually more effective in the moment and better for your relationship in the long term:
Express your boundary calmly and clearly.
Let him know you expect him to do better.
Before you do anything, take a deep breath and see if you can get calm and clear headed. Otherwise, your message won’t be as powerful.
When you’re ready, look your husband in the eye and let him know that the behavior he’s engaging in is one you absolutely will not tolerate: “Cursing at me under any circumstances is completely unacceptable. I would never do that to you.” Things will probably be a little intense during this initial confrontation because you are drawing a crystal clear boundary. Be calm, firm, and clear.
Next, set a positive expectation. Tell your husband that you expect better from him. You may want to say something like “I know you are better than that” or “That wasn’t the guy I married.” Choose words that work for your situation and your relationship, but hold open the possibility that he can be more respectful.
Then, move on, and give him some space. You want to be short, sweet, and to the point. Lengthy explanations usually just confuse the issue.
With a little time and space to reflect, most men will eventually feel sorry for crossing the line. If your husband sincerely apologizes, forgive him, but keep a watchful eye until you’re convinced he will not cross the boundary again.
If your husband shows no remorse about crossing the line, or worse, acts self-righteous about it, you may have a bigger problem on your hands. Although we are talking here about actions that go beyond everyday slip-ups, more dire and complex behaviors like addiction and physical or emotional abuse are good reasons for seeking professional assistance.
If you tend to fear conflict, all of this can be a little scary to undertake — even though you know in your gut that it’s the right thing to do. It may help to remember that taking a stand is ultimately the best thing for your relationship and for establishing the baseline for respect. Disrespect is something that simply cannot take root in your relationship if you want it to remain healthy. Research clearly shows that contempt is the No. 1 predictor of divorce.
A firm, clear and quick response can help keep problems from escalating when your husband crosses a line. You can learn more about constructive ways to argue or deal with trouble spots in your relationship in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
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