Most of us equate happy relationships with harmony: getting along, agreeing, and not disappointing one another. In the extreme, however, always striving to keep things rosy with a spouse or partner can be draining…and has the potential to strain the bond. There’s much more to relationship contentment than avoiding fights.

In order to keep your partnership free of conflict and calm you likely say yes to most things your partner asks or expects: always going along with his or her plans when you’d rather do something else, or taking on multiple tasks or chores to avoid an argument. Much easier you think than “rocking the relationship boat.”

Balance is key

Granted, it can be daunting to refuse the person you love — and whom you want to support. When you’re in love, a going-along approach seems wise or, at least, you believe it is. However, in over-striving for relationship contentment, you push your own needs to the backburner. In the extreme, you end up unhappy, largely because being stuck in a pattern of agreement can lead to frustrating feelings of powerlessness.

Partners who are endlessly agreeable for long periods feel as if they are being taken for granted and their resentment builds and the relationship suffers. Being unable to refuse your partner is the one mistake that gets repeated over and over in relationships…and it is the one thing you can change.

It is possible to make your relationship more equitable by standing up for what you want. By doing so, you will feel more like expressing your love and affection and make your bond stronger.

3 pointers for voicing your needs

1. Examine your yes-patterns…and find fair and gentle ways to make changes. Say that you’ve fallen into the habit of doing a chore — one you dislike — when really, your spouse could easily share the load. Could be that you’re always the one who does the laundry, or prepares breakfast everyday. Because these chores pop up regularly, you may feel as if your only option is to comply. If this is a pattern you dislike, break it. Instead of jumping to extremes and having your spouse do the laundry or make breakfast daily, propose splitting the task. You wash; your spouse folds and puts away. Similarly, you only prepare breakfasts on less-hectic weekends. When you say no to being responsible for most household duties and present fair solutions, the changes are more likely to stick.

2. Expressing disagreement or discontent isn’t a deal breaker. On the contrary, imagine you keep your lips zipped but are secretly angry. That can exacerbate tensions that will surely grow. Remember people are rarely mind readers. If your knee-jerk reaction to a request, favor, or announcement is dread or stress, speak up. This is particularly the case if your partner breaches your personal boundaries or tests your patience. For example, if your spouse asks if it’s all right if the in-laws stay a week longer than you’d realistically be able to tolerate, try saying, “That’s not going to work for me. We need another plan.” Also, in other instances, you might want to adopt the statement, “This is what I’m doing.” Make it clear you’re not looking for permission or approval.

3. Put your foot down when it comes to screen time. Most of us tend to be too glued to our smartphones, TVs and other devices. When your partner’s screen habits interfere with your time together (e.g., dates, meals), say something. Face-to-face communication is crucial for healthy relationships. Try saying, “Let’s both switch off our phones and focus on us.” Or, “I don’t want to sit here, ignored, and have a conversation with my spaghetti.” You can also propose a rule to keep smartphones in a basket during dinner or when you have company. There are multiple studies with evidence to back you up.

Embracing the word “no” or its equivalent in your relationship is something you can do. Standing up for yourself helps pave way for more positive changes: You will begin to feel more like complimenting and supporting each other. You will feel more connected.

When you’re in love, partnership is a two-way street. Your needs and fairness are just as important as keeping the peace. Saying no — changing the status quo — goes a long way in building and maintaining relationship contentment.

The Book of NoAdapted from The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It—And Stop People-Pleasing Forever.

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