Have you ever heard that marriage requires compromise and sacrifice? I have. Every time I do, it sends me screaming from the room. They are two of the three words I never use when talking about marriage. (Work is the third one and that’s a topic for another day.) The reason that sacrifice and compromise are inappropriate is because both require you to give up something. It is this very giving up that is the problem. Marriage is about adding to, not taking away from.
Now, I’m a big believer in saying yes to your partner as often as you can but sometimes it is necessary to say no. The key to doing this successfully is to be clear why you are doing it. If it’s just to be stubborn, get back at them, or make them feel bad, don’t. If it is to protect your integrity, then forge ahead.
Where most people get stuck is, they know it isn’t what their partner wants. Saying “no” means disappointing someone you love and care about. While this isn’t the main purpose, it is definitely a consequence. Many times, your partner’s negative reaction is the very thing you hope to avoid. So, you “give in” and compromise parts of yourself—this is where the adage that men need to just say, “Yes, dear” leads. This ultimately results in you feeling resentful and manipulated.
The antidote to this is healthy self-esteem. This means recognizing that you are worthy, and your wants and desires are equal to everyone else’s, including your spouse’s. Healthy self-esteem means you matter, simply because you exist. You don’t need to earn it by sacrificing bits and pieces of yourself. It is yours for the claiming. Unfortunately, this is harder than it sounds.
Marriage is a unique relationship. It is the only intimate relationship we enter into as equals. Unlike in our families, there is no hierarchy. No one is in charge. But you developed patterns of believing and behaving based on those hierarchies while you were growing up and you bring those to your marriage. If you weren’t heard or had your needs acknowledged in your family, it may be a struggle to take a stand for them now. But a strong marriage requires that you do. Saying “no” to things that don’t feel right is an essential part of that.
Honoring your own wishes is as critical a part of honoring your relationship as honoring your partner’s wishes. It isn’t an either/or but a both/and. Each of you learning to deal with your disappointment when the other says “no” is an integral part of a healthy marriage. It will allow you to grow together instead of growing apart.
Setting boundaries is something you do for yourself, not to someone else. It’s taking a stand for what matters most to you. Yes, marriage requires negotiation. However, the solution must honor the needs and desires of both partners. This means you need to not only know your bottom line but be willing and able to hold to it. It isn’t about being stubborn but about being clear. Creating healthy boundaries lets others know what you stand for. It engenders respect.
And when someone loves you, they not only want you to do this. They need you to. They won’t know you’re compromising away or sacrificing integral parts of yourself until the damage is done. And then it might be too late for you, your partner, and your marriage.
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A version of this post was previously published on TheHeroHusbandProject and is republished here with permission from the author.
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