The Right to “No”


An individual “no” isn’t a problem; the cumulative effect of “no” after “no” after “no” is a problem.

Once I got the hang of not refusing, I was on a roll. No more “no” for me!

In some ways, it was easy—and got easier with time.  Many of the reasons I used to have for refusing had evaporated. As I met my husband’s emotional needs through sexual attention, it became easier for him to give me the emotional attention that I needed—and that made it easier for me to be sexual with him.

“No” was out of my vocabulary, and as our relationship healed, I didn’t miss it at all.

No Refusal Since . . .

About 2 ½ years into my changes, I hit a few rough spots when I found myself wanting to rebuild my emotional walls. I was distressed that I’d felt the urge to say no. I worried that my efforts didn’t “take.” I wondered if I was backsliding. I was briefly concerned that we were experiencing relationship problems.

I was certain that saying no was a sign of trouble ahead.

I asked for support and prayers from a few friends, and things seemed to smooth over. With deep relief, I made it past the occasional urge to say no.

At some point, I was able to settle into deep contentment that I hadn’t refused Big Guy since 2010. I was definitely on a roll! No refusing for one year . . . two . . . three . . . four years. I hadn’t refused my husband in four years, and I felt great about that.

I should get a sign, I would think. Just like a factory might have a sign that said “No accidents for 367 days,” I could get a sign for the wall above our bed: “No NO since 2010.”

It had been hard work, but I’d done it. I could rest on my laurels, wearing my sash that said “Mrs. `No’ No More.”

When I Said No

Just a few weeks ago, it finally happened.

On a morning when I really needed to sleep in, there was Big Guy waking me up, clearly indicating his interest in me.

“No. Go away. I’m sleeping,” I mumbled.

He kissed me gently, covered me up, and said he was going downstairs to make me coffee. After he left the room, I closed my eyes to go back to sleep . . . and then realized what I had done.

I was horrified. How can I say no? I’m such a bad wife. I wondered. I threw some clothes on and bolted downstairs to apologize to Big Guy.

He was confused. “There’s nothing to apologize for,” he said. “It was thoughtless of me to not let you sleep. I’d forgotten you hadn’t been sleeping well. We’ll do something later.”

He wasn’t upset at all by my “no.” I was. There goes my record, I thought.

At that moment, I realized that I was more concerned with maintaining my record than I was about whether I was hurting our relationship. As I thought back on a few other instances, I realized that there had been times I would say yes simply so I could continue saying I didn’t refuse anymore.

I was more upset about having broken my non-refusing streak and being labeled a bad wife than I was about the effect on our relationship. And I hadn’t hurt our relationship at all!

Is Marriage Consent?

I often see online discussions about whether marriage is consent. Some writers say that marriage grants automatic sexual consent. Once you’re married, if one spouse wants sex, it needs to be provided almost immediately. Some writers go so far as to say there is no such thing as marital rape. If she says no, he has a right to take.

Some wives believe they can never say no—to the point where they tolerate pain or discomfort, feel degraded, or think that sex really isn’t for women, too. They believe that Biblical submission equals sexual servitude, that a husband’s needs are more important than a wife’s needs, or that saying no makes them bad wives.  Or maybe they view it as a matter of pride to keep “no” out of their vocabulary altogether.

At the other extreme are those who say that not only does a woman have the right to say no whenever she wants, for no reason at all, a husband has no right to feel sad or rejected when that happens. (See the comments on this post.) She doesn’t have to give, and he doesn’t have a right to want.

Here you will find wives who think it is okay to say no frequently, with little care for their husbands’ needs. They have a “no” that can damage their marriages. This was the “no” I wielded for many years. It was a “no” that rejected, ridiculed, reviled, and restricted. It was a “no” that said “not now and maybe not even for a few weeks.” It was this “no” that I feared so much a couple weeks ago.

But here’s the thing about “no”: “no” in one context is not equal to a “no” in another context.

Not Every “No” Is the Same

“No” means “no”—but not every “no” is the same.

The “no” I gave my husband on a recent morning when I needed more sleep was not a “no” of rejection. It was neither intended nor received that way. It was simply a “not right now, sweetie.” He knew that it didn’t mean I didn’t love him. He knew he would likely be able to have sex later in the day. Instead of worrying that he wouldn’t get another chance for weeks, he was secure enough in our relationship and in my love for him that he went to make coffee for me instead.

A “no” in the marriage we have now is completely different than the “no” we used to have.

The problem comes not in the “no” but in the expectation of “no.” If a wife says no so often that her husband expects that as the default response most of the time, her “no” is hurting her marriage.

An individual “no” isn’t a problem; the cumulative effect of “no” after “no” after “no” is a problem.

“No” does mean “no.” It should always be honored. Not doing so can cause great damage to the relationship.

We are all going to have times when we are tired, don’t feel well, or just want a little more sleep or zoning out in front of the TV. We might be all touched out or preoccupied, and sometimes that means we’d just as soon sex did not happen.

That really should be okay—and in the context of a sexually healthy marriage, it is okay.

Declining my husband’s advances a few weeks ago was not a problem because it was no longer a pattern.

Rights vs. Relationship

I shouldn’t have been concerned with my non-refusing record. The right thing to do was to think about whether “no” would affect our relationship. My relationship with Big Guy is in a pretty good place, so a “no” now and then doesn’t rattle it. My husband hears an enthusiastic “yes” so often that my “no” now means only “not right now, but definitely later.”

My refusal to say no at the risk of ruining my non-refusing streak was just as extreme as my constant refusal had been for so much of our marriage.

It’s easy to focus on rights: Do we have a right to expect sex? Do we have a right to say no? Do we have a right to want what the other person doesn’t want to give? Where do one person’s rights collide with another person’s rights?

I spent so many years concerned about rights—both Big Guy’s and mine.

The more I focused on rights, the less I was seeing relationship. I was evaluating my “no” through the wrong set of lenses.

Our relationship matters far more than our rights—and because it does, saying no a couple weeks ago is barely a blip on our radar.

I’m sure I’ll say no again in the future.

It’s right for me to be able to say no—and as long as I think less about my rights and more about the relationship, our relationship will be just fine.

Is your marriage relationship healthy enough to handle a “no”?

 ~ ~ ~ ~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Be sure to read these posts from J at Hot, Holy & Humorous on the same subject: 

Should You Refuse: Wanda vs. Nina
Should You Refuse: Wanda vs. Nina Cont’d
Rain Check Sex

An individual “no” isn’t a problem; the cumulative effect of “no” after “no” after “no” is a problem.

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14 Comments on “The Right to “No””

  1. I think that your post really captured some of the feelings of many husbands who follow your posts. No one expects their wife to be “ready to go” 100% of the time, and perhaps, if she were, that might not be a good thing. However, the problem comes when “no” is the default answer, when it is what is the norm and what is expected. The feelings of insecurity, hurt and rejection that come from that state of mind can be devastating to a husband and, ultimately, the marital relationship. I have felt this hurt, but my wife is slowly on a path to restoration. Trust me, a husband can and should be able to handle a “no” every now and then. It is when we hear the “no” before our proposition is halfway complete, or that it seems there is more often than not a reason that it cannot happen, or that tomorrow would be better, or ____ (fill in the blank) that the real hurt begins. Any wife who takes pride in the thought that she has “conditioned” her husband in such a way should take no comfort in that, and she certainly is not living out a Christian marriage.

    1. A default “no”is definitely a problem, just as it is a problem when “no” isn’t ever an option. Without the possibility of “no,” the value of “yes” is diminished.

  2. Well put. I think this goes to the idea of not depriving each other (1 Corinthians 7:5). Depriving is a pattern. It’s like putting off a meal doesn’t equal starvation.

    I have written about the two extremes of this as well, and secure marital intimacy can handle some not-right-nows. If your spouse knows that he/she gets a rain check, it’s just a matter of putting things off for a bit…and then getting to enjoy them even more when you’re both really into it.

    Thanks for this post!

    1. Thanks, J. As I stepped away from a focus on my rights, I was able to grow toward a healthy sense of mutuality. When my husband expressed his puzzlement about why I was apologizing, it really hit me that we are in a secure marriage with healthy intimacy. It’s a lovely place to be.

  3. This was an excellent post with a message that is truly needed to be heard — it is okay to say ‘no’ as long as it is not the default answer every single time.

    I’m on the other side of things being a higher drive wife. No is his default answer to me. I never ever say no and it hurts beyond anything when I don’t feel I can go to him with my desires because I know without a doubt nothing will happen until he is ready. If I knew when the next time would be or that it wouldn’t be a week in between I could handle it better, but always wondering if now is the right time to ask, trying to plan it out carefully so I know he’s in the mood becomes so exhausting.
    I just want to be able to grab him and tell him I want him and not be rejected.

    Now don’t get me wrong — my husband is a wonderful, loving, caring man who always, always, always makes sure I’m pleasured and taken care of. He just does not have as high a desire for lovemaking as I do, although when we first married he did.

    I believe each spouse should always be able to say no, just not to the extent of it causing the other person to become obsessed in a way with the sexual aspect of the marriage. We should keep each other sexually content within reason of course.

    1. Once a spouse starts to question whether to even ask because of the expectation of “no,” it’s a problem. We should definitely be keeping each other sexually content. I’m praying for an improvement for you, Amy.

  4. Thanks for a provocative post. I am also quite proud of my record. I remember when in the last marking period of 8th grade, I earned a B+ in physical education. Every other grade for the entire year was an A. I was devastated.

    With my behavior change, my marriage has grown and improved. I should be celebrating that instead of my record.

    1. I was the same way about my grades. It’s a bad combination of pride and perfectionism. In some ways, it was kind of a relief to say no. I was able to learn that I was in control of the “no” instead of the “no” being in control of me. An improved marriage is definitely worth celebrating. Yay for you!

      1. “I was able to learn that I was in control of the “no” instead of the “no” being in control of me.” When we are in the pattern of refusal, the “no” DOES control us. I had not thought of this before, but it is true!

        And as you mentioned, when we can safely say “no”, our “yes” means much more.

  5. Great post Chris! While I’m not a big fan of Dr. Phil, one quote of his really resonated with me. ” Sex is like air, it’s not that important to you until you’re not getting any”. And definitely an occasional no does make the default yes much sweeter!

  6. Excellent post, Chris. You are right, when you have broken the pattern of rejection, an occasional delay does not hurt at all. Congratulations!

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