How many times a week do you say, “Yes,” when someone asks you for a favor, a listening ear, or an insignificant loan? How many times a week do you say, “No,” to those same requests? If you had to self-diagnose, would you say you struggle with saying No to people and “opportunities”?
If your mouth does not allow you to form the simple word No, you are in good company. I am a recovering Yes-woman; and though I used to think of myself as kind and giving, I realized along the way that my reasons for saying Yes often had more to do with me and my desires and less to do with others’ and their needs. For example: I wanted likeability. I wanted others to see me in a positive light. I cared about other people – and it felt good to help them. Sometimes, I was lonely or bored and enjoyed spreading my time around in the form of ministry opportunities.
After a while, however, this lifestyle of saying Yes took its toll on me. Not only was I struggling to say No to seemingly good activities, but I was also saying Yes to unhealthy relationships, toxic friendships, and inappropriate “counseling” sessions.
My best friend’s mom noticed my tendency to take on the world’s emotional problems and to give in to requests, even when I desperately wanted to decline. She said, “Heather, you need No therapy. I am going to send you into Walmart and have you walk up to random strangers and say, “No!” She was mostly joking, but her point was valid. She knew I needed to become comfortable with saying No or I was going to encounter scores of unnecessary struggles.
Well… I never made it to Walmart for my No therapy, but God did me one better: He sent me Eric. Eric has no trouble – and I mean zero trouble – saying No. My propensity to say Yes out of guilt or fear (and my habit of saying No to truly excellent activities) has caused us friction over the years. When I want to help someone and everything within me is screaming, “Let me do this!” Eric stands his ground and does not give in if he believes the favor might cause harm long term – harm to the relationship, harm to the person (i.e., enabling), or harm to us. My default is to help now and ask questions later. Eric’s is to gather information and make a rational decision.
“But, Eric, rational decisions might upset people!”
Such an argument does not concern him in the least; and, though I still feel the need to say Yes when I want to say No, Eric helps me evaluate each situation with more clarity. He even assists me when he is not present. I just think, “How would Eric evaluate this?” (I call it channeling my inner-Eric. ~smile~) I have discovered that declining others’ requests does not cause the sky to cave in – and, when done tactfully, does not ruin relationships – at least, healthy relationships.
A Business Proposition
A couple of years ago, a dear friend approached me with a business proposition. She had a need in her life and she asked me if I would be willing to help her out weekly in exchange for a sum of money. When she mentioned her proposal, my initial reaction was, “Yes, I will be happy to do that!” So, I responded with, “I think that should be fine, but let me mention it to Eric.”
As the days progressed, however, I started to grow nervous. The details of this commitment started to swirl around in my head. Before long, I was in a full-blown panic and I feared if I agreed to her request, it could damage our friendship. (As a general rule of thumb, I avoid engaging in work for money with friends.) But, I was concerned that if I declined, especially after I seemed so accommodating, she might be offended.
After weighing the pros and cons, I wrote her an email explaining my concerns and declining, and she could not have been nicer about it. I was freaking out for nothing. She understood and our friendship did not suffer. However, it might have suffered had I said Yes out of fear or guilt – and it would have been my fault.
Fellow Yes people, I am here to encourage you. You are not alone and you can make progress towards a more balanced life. If you are single, your tendency to give in may be exhausting or frustrating you; however, once you are in a serious relationship, your frequent yeses may cause significant damage.
- Saying Yes to everyone else forces us, by default, to say No to our loved ones. There are only so many hours in the day and when we agree to every request which comes down the pike, we have to say No to something else in our lives (by default) – and often, it is our families. When my dad agreed to pull chains for local high school football games, he said No to being at home. He did not do this often, however, and his occasional absence did not negatively affect my life. However, had he pulled chains one night per week, helped my uncle with a home repair another night per week, volunteered at church a different night per week, and agreed to join a Thursday night bowling league, I would have missed him tremendously and would have felt unloved (my love language is Quality Time).
- A lack of healthy boundaries keeps us constantly busy and drains our energy away from the people we should be prioritizing. Some people keep busy because they cannot sit still; whereas, others run around from one engagement to another simply because they feel obligated. When I was seventeen, I agreed to be in a play in our local downtown theater. I did not truly want to be a part of it, but someone in my chorus class was seeking out volunteers, and I felt like I should (so, I gave my Yes). It was a long month… with endless rehearsals. It was not an all-around bad experience, but my heart was not in it. A representative also contacted my best friend about joining the cast, but she was able to say No (and without remorse, I might add). Oh, how I admired (and still admire) her ability to prioritize her life! My life came to a screeching halt while this production was going on; but, had I joined the cast for the right reasons, I might have considered it an exhilarating experience!
- Helping is very different than enabling. Sometimes we think we are helping by giving countless hours and large sums of money to those in need; but, how often are we truly helping and how often are we allowing otherwise capable people to remain in a rut?
- Saying Yes out of guilt rather than joy often leads to frustration and bitterness. In my younger, more naïve years, I was easy to manipulate – and some people I knew, knew it all too well. In particular, a friend of mine was a master at getting me to do her bidding. Though she probably did not realize she was playing on my sympathies and guilt issues, she did – and it worked. Sadly, her high demands on my time put significant negative pressure on another of my friendships. There were times I went along with her “suggestions,” but not joyfully. I did not stand up for myself – and even when I did finally say No, I would allow her to pressure me into changing my No to a Yes. This relationship was a significant life lesson about learning to say what I mean and mean what I say. Choosing to say No may feel like a friendship-damaging decision in the moment, but it is often a friendship-saving Once bitterness grows in your heart towards another person, it takes significant effort to remove it and rebuild the relationship.
- There are only so many hours in the day, and if we do not guard them, they will slip away. To quote the band Switchfoot, “Life is short, I want to live it well.” If we do not prepare, make goals, and treat our time as finite, we will look back one day and wonder what happened to all of our years. Sacrificial giving is not bad, but we can give too much in the wrong areas and not be good stewards of our time. Much of our life needs to be set aside for God, family, and self-preservation. If we spread ourselves too thin, we will not be any help to anyone.
On occasion, Eric has expressed frustration with my propensity to say Yes too quickly. Not only does it go against his logic completely, but my commitments also affect him. If I overcommit, that is less time for us to have and work together. If I agree to take care of others’ kids or pets, I thrust him into my world. In relationships, it is important to think about how your Yes will impact your sweetheart.
Will your Yes cause you to break a date? Will your Yes put a hardship on his or her time? Will your Yes drain you until you have nothing left to give?
Get used to considering your significant other’s needs while you are still dating. Then, once you are married, taking your spouse’s needs into account will already be a habit.
Questions to ask (and answer) before saying Yes:
- What is my motivation for fulfilling this request? Am I afraid to say No? Am I concerned that this person will not like me or gossip about me if I say No? Do I feel guilty because I have the time and “should” help out? Am I excited to fulfill this request? Am I giving joyfully?
- What, if anything, will I have to sacrifice to fulfill this request? If I do this favor for my buddy, will it keep me from getting my homework done? Will it keep me from having an important discussion with my roommate? Will I get enough sleep tonight if I take time to help him?
- Will agreeing to this request put a hardship on my relationship with God, my family, or my most significant friendships? “Hey, let’s work out together from 6am to 7am every morning before work! I could use the accountability.” This friendly request from a co-worker might be an excellent opportunity to get in shape and foster a friendship… or, it might be a tax on your morning prayer Is this ultimately a blessing to my life, my relationship with God, and my family? If so, great! If not, it is okay to say, “I appreciate the invite, but I will have to pass.” If anyone tries to manipulate you into giving in, then smile to yourself and know you dodged a bullet by saying No. Manipulation has no place in healthy relationships and adult interactions.
- Do I have the energy or time? It is okay to admit, “I need some time to rest.” If you are so inclined, you can suggest other people who might be able and willing to help, but saying No does not require you to look for your replacement.
- Will engaging in this activity lead me towards joy or bitterness? Helping an elderly lady run a few errands will probably lead me towards joy (if my heart is in the right place). Helping my able-bodied neighbor landscape his yard – again – when he is fully capable of hiring a company will likely lead me towards frustration (and feeling used).
Sometimes, saying Yes to activities, favors, or even overtime at work means saying No to those we love. Occasionally, of course, we need to make sacrifices. Moms need a night out with friends. Overtime helps us get through a financially difficult season. Our children need to see us giving to good causes. However, we must remain vigilant and use our time wisely. Not every giving opportunity is good for you to take on (even if the cause is good). Our best time belongs to the Lord and then to our families – biological and church. When we properly schedule our calendars, we do not have to run the risk of giving our time away frivolously.
If you are a fellow person who gives your Yes too easily, I feel your pain! I know your struggle! Start noticing how often you agree to favors before you consider the consequences. Plan some of your time in advance so you can be sure to meet the needs of your most important relationships first. Take note of how you feel and do not be afraid to say No if you need to recharge. It is not selfish to read a book, take a nap, or watch a show. In our culture, we go too hard and too fast. Take some time to just breathe.
How is your schedule now? Are you overly extended? Is there something you can say no to that will help free up your life?
Are your Yeses causing problems for your relationship?