As a society, we’ve finally started to embrace not going out on Saturday nights and forgoing dinner dates for Netflix and chill. Instead of feeling compelled to agree to every social gathering offered to us, people are feeling more empowered than ever to set their boundaries, stay in, and focus on themselves and what their minds, bodies, and souls really need. Saying no can be hard—but we know it’s an absolutely vital part of self-care. These boundaries allow us to keep our sense of self while navigating our relationships with our loved ones, making sure that we’re still taking care of ourselves and establishing our own identities.
Yes, it’s difficult saying no to the people we love. Naturally, we want to make them happy—but at the same time, we also need to honor ourselves. There will be days that we can say yes, when it’ll be heartfelt and lead to a beautiful time with friends and family. However, when we force our “yes,” it can actually be even more damaging to the relationships than just being honest from the get-go and opting out.
Importantly, that doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice all our friendships in the process of learning to take care of ourselves. There are many ways to say no while still showing love to others and keeping those relationships strong. Let’s get into a few of the ways to navigate this tricky territory with love, communication, and empathy.
1. Communicate your boundaries.
Setting boundaries is easiest right in the beginning of a relationship because it sets up foundational expectations for how you like to socialize with others. So for example, let’s say your new friends ask if you’d be interested in going out for 10 p.m. drinks on Tuesday night. If your idea of the best Tuesday night is soaking in a bubble bath and reading a self-help book, then you can say no while also communicating your self-care needs and lifestyle preferences at the same time. You can let your new friends know that you strongly prefer drinks on a Friday or Saturday night because you value having those after-work evenings to yourself to recharge.
Making those boundaries known right at the beginning will ensure that your friends know what to expect from you moving forward, and it also signals to them that you passing on their invitations (both now and in the future) isn’t reflective of them or your feelings about them whatsoever.
Communication is one of the most fundamental and crucial parts of any relationship because it allows for honesty and trust to be built. In turn, we get much richer and stronger bonds. Communicating boundaries, in particular, allows us to make sure we’re bringing our most authentic selves and building a relationship that can grow within those boundaries.
2. Don’t compromise.
There’s strength in realizing when it’s a no to begin with. For example, when your friend offers to go out on a Sunday, and you know that day is usually your self-care day, it’s time for you to be realistic. Is this something that you can even say yes to in the first place?
If it’s an immediate no, we owe it to ourselves and our relationships to make it clear that it is a no before making any commitment. It is more damaging to commit and then to cancel later (or show up in a bad mood) than it is to just immediately say no. When we make it clear from the beginning that the suggested plan isn’t realistic, it’ll be far healthier for our relationships in the long run.
3. Don’t say, “Sorry.” Try “thank you” instead.
Apologizing or making an excuse when saying no shines a negative light on both people. When we say we’re sorry, we are taking on guilt. Apologies are given when we have hurt or failed someone and make us seem like the bad guy. But saying no has nothing to do with the recipient and shouldn’t be interpreted as an offense or failing. Meanwhile, when we add an excuse, we’re making our time and attention into some kind of contest that the person who invited you just lost. Citing other plans as part of our “no” can make them feel as if they’re not as important as whatever else we have going on in our lives.
There’s a better alternative: saying “thank you.”
Expressing gratitude for your friend’s regard for your needs feels better for both parties. It allows your friend to feel like they’ve done you a kindness and helps them understand your needs better, such that they don’t feel slighted or rejected. Gratitude transforms a possible moment of tension or neglect into a moment of tenderness and connection. This way, you both feel way better about the no.
4. Offer another alternative that meets both parties’ needs.
Saying no doesn’t have to be the end of it. Offering a “next time” is also an awesome option because it expresses interest in meeting with the friend in the future. When it comes to my self-care days, my go-to line is simply saying, “I cannot commit to that day, but perhaps we can make another day work.”
You can make an offer to meet at another mutually convenient date, which puts it back into the hands of the person who invited you and makes a more comfortable situation moving forward. It allows them to feel recognized and wanted.
Lastly, just remember: Our self-care is also reliant on our ability to sometimes say yes.
In our stronger dedication to self-care, our relationships still play a huge role. The people we love uplift us, encourage us to move forward, and make us feel loved in our darkest times. Having these supportive relationships is absolutely necessary for maintaining our long-term happiness, meaning saying yes when we can is also a vital part of our self-care. Our wonderful relationships contribute as much to our lives as we ourselves do, and they’re worth celebrating and honoring with our time and energy.
With that in mind, it’s important for us to reframe the way we view time spent with others such that we don’t see it as an obstacle to accomplishing our own personal needs. When you’re with a friend or considering whether to agree to a suggested plan, think about how that relationship has played a role in your life and reflect on how that person has been instrumental in your growth. That gratitude is a guaranteed way to gear our mindset toward knowing that our loved one is worth each and every moment of our time. Being grateful for our relationships makes it that much easier to give a heartfelt yes to the plans that nurture both our bonds and ourselves.
Healthy relationships can be born out of our boundaries, but we still have to contribute to them as well.