As I’ve learned to become more authentic and especially an Authentic Wife, there have been so many moments when I knew that my body was saying no to something but not saying yes just felt terrible. I’d feel kind of disassociated from my body, start to get quiet, feel like I needed to cry, and want to just run away from the situation. I was ashamed of not just doing the thing, of hurting my husband’s feelings, or feeling guilty when I did say no and he was upset. Deep down, I was worried about it possibly affecting my survival — of him leaving or finding someone else.
And with my kids, especially with my son, having to say no or that something didn’t work for me really pummeled my heart. Especially if he’d cry. Even when I knew I held the boundary as lovingly as I possibly could, I’d feel guilty and like a horrible person, so afraid about what it might mean for his future. Did I mess up our attachment? Is he going to have low self-esteem now? Even when I knew that allowing my little guy to bite or punch me was actually setting him up to be unsuccessful as an adult, the doubt wants to remain.
So Why Do Women Struggle to Say No to Men or Boys?
There could be several reasons… let’s look at five.
It triggers our own unresolved pain
If we still have a thorny story around someone holding a boundary with us or another similar situation, it’s likely that we prefer to avoid feeling that pain, and anything that triggers it will feel uncomfortable. Our own inability to sit with our pain causes us to avoid it at all costs and carefully manage who and what’s around us so that nothing touches one of our thorns. If you have thorny stories around shame, especially inauthentic shame, you’ll want to sit with those and heal from them so that you can develop a better relationship with healthy shame.
We’re in fear about our survival
Ironically, we often NEED to say no to survive, but for many reasons, we operate under the illusion that we’re safer keeping men happy. When we were unsafe as children around angry people, it conditions us to tread carefully so as never to anger anyone else. Whether our husband has ever given us a reason to fear him or not, we often find ourselves saying no to keep the peace. More likely, we’re afraid that he’ll find someone else or leave us. Men protect and provide so we know that we’ll lose that, even though we can also protect and provide. And if we have children, of course we want an intact family with a loving father.
We’re afraid to let others feel healthy shame or guilt
Healthy shame is the emotion we feel when we must make something right. It’s a powerful motivator but it’s rare that we do something that actually causes us to feel this emotion. Most of the time, what we’re feeling is the misalignment between what’s really happening and our thoughts or beliefs about what’s happening. Healthy guilt is what we feel when we’ve hurt someone and need to make it right. These two emotions can be painful but not nearly as painful as inauthentic shame or guilt, which was projected onto us by our parents as children when we didn’t do anything wrong but they made us feel like we did.
“Shame arises when your boundaries have been broken from the inside – by something you’ve done wrong, or have been convinced is wrong.” – Karla McLaren, 2013
As a trauma response, we try to avoid these emotions at all costs, even if they’re not ours, and even if they’re real. We’re empaths without energetic boundaries and feel what everyone else is feeling, so their pain feels like our pain.
In reality, healthy shame and guilt are necessary for behavior modification. The problem is that women are historically not great at setting expectations and holding boundaries, so when the men around us didn’t know our expectations to begin with, then they do feel bad and wrong when we inform them that there’s a limit they’ve crossed and not to do it again. Course correcting on our previous lack of boundaries can be a challenging time in a relationship, but it’s wholly necessary. The more you can verbalize your new expectations, the better everyone feels. Don’t be afraid to share these.
We know that we’re responsible for our feelings, so we second-guess our reaction
Women, especially evolving, conscious moms, know that everyone is responsible for what they’re feeling. We all have different feelings based on our histories and experiences. What I say to you might trigger one person but make you feel perfectly happy. This consciousness or awareness of personal responsibility for our feelings can send us into a tailspin when we aren’t sure if what the other person is doing is ok or not.
For example, a man could approach you in a dark parking garage at night, offering to help you with your bags. Your first reaction might be hell no, but then your consciousness might kick in and go why are you so afraid? He’s just trying to help. This second-guessing of our initial fear CAN be good in situations with our families and people we know we can trust, but in this instance, we need to TRUST OUR FEAR. We can’t be afraid to say no to this guy. Thousands of years of evolution helped us get to this point where we have an instant reaction to a situation that threatens our survival.
Worst case, you hurt some nice guy’s feelings, he feels shame, and then realizes that approaching a woman at night is not a good idea. Best case, you saved your life from a creep that was ready to push you into your trunk and drive away. For more on this, please read The Gift of Fear. It’s critical that you process stored emotions so that you can trust your emotions in the present and use them to act. True fear is mean to be listened to.
We overestimate our power
Since one of the biggest things you’ll feel bad about saying no to is sex, let’s talk about it. Men have a totally different relationship with sex than we do. It’s a primal urge and on top of that, they get that nice hit of the love and bonding hormone oxytocin AFTER sex. We can all agree that their biology keeps them motivated to have sex much of the time. However, there is a difference between evolutionary necessity and sex addiction. There’s also a vast difference between guys who watch porn all the time and think that’s sex, and men who want a spiritual physical connection with their soul mate. Men with sex addiction can often have a complicated relationship with their mother and have unprocessed emotions from that. I love Gary Zukav’s work on sex addiction in his book, The Seat of The Soul.
“It has its roots in the emotional absence of the father in the life of the mother and child. Enmeshment occurs when the mother, due to the absence of a partner to fulfill her emotional needs, relies heavily on her children to step in and fill that need for her. This often involves presenting herself as the victim, while making the other parent out to be the villain. In order to get their way, these mothers may resort to shaming their children. It must be noted that this also occurs in nuclear families where the father, although physically present, is emotionally unavailable to his family.” – Charlene Lewis, LCSW, CSAT, CAP, AASECT, 2014
Men who feel manipulated, rejected, controlled, or any other description of a victim when they’re told no are not in a healthy place. That’s an egoic, dramatic reaction. That is a wounded part of them speaking, as much as women who feel resentment because they do everything or don’t feel appreciated are speaking from a wounded place. It’s the man seeing a mirror, or the consequences of his own actions, and not liking it. These men are more than likely not making their wives feel worthy and loved outside of the bedroom, and don’t like being reminded of it at night. Or, they aren’t showing their wives how to love them and are feeling the consequences of their own lack of boundaries. Like all of our healing work, theirs is complicated too.
The place you will most often trigger your husband, allow him to feel uncomfortable, and therefore do the work or leave, is the bedroom. And it has nothing to do with control, denial, or anything victim-mindset men make it out to be: it’s you staying aligned to what’s authentic for you. If right now your body is a no then not trusting your no is inauthentic. Who wants to have sex with someone who’s literally doing it against their will? In my book, that’s called rape, but it’s not the man raping the woman, it’s the woman raping herself. She’s dishonoring her own body and wishes for the sake of someone else.
You do not have the power to make your husband feel all of these things. Just like he doesn’t have the power to make you feel the way you do. You do that to yourself. Our personal responsibility is to heal our wounds, be authentic, and show others how we want to be loved by having clear and consistent boundaries.
“Our feelings, whether good or bad, are our property. They fall within our boundaries. Our feelings are our responsibility; others’ feelings are their responsibility. If other people feel sad, it is their sadness. This does not mean that they do not need someone else to be with them in their sadness and to empathize with them. It does mean the person who is feeling sad must take responsibility for that feeling.” – Dr. Henry Cloud, 2021
A no right now doesn’t mean that you don’t love your husband. It doesn’t mean that you don’t find him attractive, handsome, or aren’t turned on by him. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to have sex with him. It means right now, you aren’t aroused enough to have sex. Maybe something else is going on, maybe you don’t feel well, maybe you haven’t cleared your mind enough to enjoy it. If the only intention is a fear-based one (such as “Just do it so he won’t leave me”), then that’s not good enough. Do what you need to do first to shift into love so you can come back to your husband with a loving intention, and actually enjoy being in your body with a physical connection that you can only experience while in human form. Get to a place where you’re ready to receive his love and it doesn’t feel like you’re just giving up yours.
To read more about having a conscious marriage and what to do instead of divorce, click here. You may also like my online class on boundaries: