Sex & Relationships

What he really means when he says no

It's just one word and two letters, but packs a much bigger message: "No." What does it mean when your partner says it, and how can you get them to come around?

relationship advice

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I have to admit: I love doing housework, well, cleaning that is. (I loathe ironing so, clearly, love my drycleaners.) It’s my stress relief, plus the instant gratification is fantastic. And to be fair, my husband is great at pitching in. But there’s a catch: he’ll only scrub the toilet or wash the dishes or clean the oven on his own terms. Should I ask him to help out? I’m guaranteed to hear a resolute “no.”

Toronto-based psychotherapist Hina Khan says that many men say no out of sheer habit. (I’d blame my mother-in-law for this auto-pilot behaviour if I didn’t adore her.) For others, their refusal is a defensive way of fending off a perceived attack, real or not. For some still, the monosyllabic and oh-so-powerful two-letter word may just be his starting point for negotiations. So how can you tell? Look for patterns, advises Khan.

“If you ask your partner if he can take a day off work and he quickly says ‘no,’ then later tells you that he can get the day off, his ‘no’ may mean: ‘I will look into it,’” explains Khan. “He just wants to figure it out on his own.” If this behaviour is seemingly a knee-jerk reaction, then bingo! You’ve got a pattern.

Here are three ways to turn his negative response into a positive experience for you, even if he’s still getting the last word.

1. Drop the subject
No, this does not mean pick up the slack and do all of the vacuuming yourself. It means stop asking and drop the subject. Walk away if you have to. “Let it go and see if he comes around on his own,” affirms Khan. Chances are he will.

2. Self reflect

While you don’t have to go and look at yourself in the mirror, unless it helps of course, you should “examine the way you ask for things,” says Khan. Ask yourself: are you being a barking Barbara, a demanding Debbie or a nagging Nellie? Remember, no one wants to be the Peg to their Al Bundy.

3. Take Baby Steps
Okay, so he doesn’t want to go to see SJP in I Don’t Know How She Does It with you and your six besties. Fine. Why not try: “asking him to agree to a small request,” instead, suggests Khan. Helping with the grocery bags or putting fresh towels in the bathroom may be easier chores for him to swallow.

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