By Doniel Frank

There is a rule in marriage to “never say no”!

What does that mean? If we can’t come through with a request, what else is there to say other than “no”?

Besides, why can’t we say “no”? Don’t we have a right to our needs and our reality? Just because our spouse asks us for a favor, does it mean that we have to do it?! If it doesn’t work for us, why can’t we say no?

Sometimes we make problems when we take things too literally. But in our case, it’s the opposite. “Never say no” is meant to be taken literally—not to say the word “no.” We have the option to take the position that we can’t come through. We just can’t take it with the word “no.”

That’s because “no” is harsh. It spells rejection and can make other people feel like you’ve slammed a door on them and their needs. They’re likely to interpret it as though their request has had no impact, and that it ultimately proves that they really aren’t that important to us.

It’s shocking what one little word can do. And it’s usually way beyond our intentions. But that’s how it can come across.

What’s the alternative?

Well, the complete rule is, “Say yes whenever you can… but when you can’t say yes, don’t say no.”

In other words, it’s great if we can say yes—even if it’s a stretch. In fact, relationships are built on stretches. But “when we can’t say yes, we don’t say no.” We have to find some way to phrase our position so that the other party knows we’re acknowledging their need and that it bothers us that we can’t come through.

So here’s a scenario. Your spouse calls to ask you to pick up the kids from school in twenty minutes. She—or he—must have forgotten that you’re an hour away in a very important meeting. What do you say?

Well, you’d like to say yes, but you really can’t. But you also can’t say no.

Instead, we can try something like this:

“Oh, boy. I wish I could help you. The problem is that I’m an hour away in an important meeting and there’s no way I can get there in time.” And… for some bonus points: “Is there any other way I can help you get them there?”

As with so many of our relationship challenges, the key lies less in our position and more with how we express it. In our case, success is when we are able to flood our spouse with “yes” while keeping our marriages a no “no” zone.

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