How to Say No to Family: Positive, Guilt-Free Approaches

Published June 18, 2021
family having a serious discussion

Many people find it hard to say no to others when the "others" are people in their family. Human beings are programmed to believe they have to step in and assist family in need at all costs. While this sentiment seems noble and compassionate at first glance, some family members are more takers than givers. Others are well-intentioned but difficult to please, regardless of what is done for them. It helps to know when it is time to say no to people you're related to, and how to say no to family without creating familial strife.

Why People Might Say No to Family

Actively denying your assistance to someone you're related to is a hard thing to do. People are forced to tell family members "no" for varying reasons, and these are a few common ones that force people to use those two letters with those they love.

Yes Becomes Enabling

You want to help them, really you do. You can see that they need your help, and it frightens you to think about how things might go sideways if you don't swoop in and say yes to their requests. Think about what your "yes" is providing your family members. Is it helping them or enabling them? Is your yes preventing them from stepping up and solving their own problems? If so, a no is probably needed.

Saying Yes Becomes Draining

Perhaps you constantly say yes to a family member. There doesn't seem to be a week that goes by where they're not calling you up and asking something of you. If the "yes" becomes a consistent financial or emotional drain, you must consider saying no to family on occasion.

Is the Relationship One-Sided?

You might ask a family member for help on occasion, but you try only to ask when you really need it, and you try not to go to the same person for every need you have. On the flip side, you have a few particular family members who go to you for everything. They know you won't say no to them; hence you become the fall guy. This is a one-sided relationship. One person gets more out of it than the other, and one-sided relationships are NOT healthy.

Nothing Is Ever Good Enough

You often extend a helping hand to a difficult family member, only to hear negative feedback from them. If you are being a helpful family member to someone who never seems to be satisfied, consider saying no to their request next time. Just because someone is related to you doesn't mean that they aren't toxic.

How to Say No to Family When You Need To

So, you have considered the impact of saying yes and the impact of saying no, and ultimately decided that saying no will be the healthiest choice. Saying no is uncomfortable for many people, especially when it involves people we hold dear, so knowing HOW to say no without causing family rifts is important.

Father and son talking

Start the Conversation Positively

Here you are, having to say no to family and feeling bad about it, and nervous over how they might react. Start the conversation on a positivite note. If good things have happened in their life recently, ask about what's going well. Let them tell you all of their great news. If you share common memories or inside jokes, break the ice with those. Starting this type of conversation with positive verbiage will ease the tension that stems from asking for favors that are declined.

Don't Draw It Out

The more you muse and ramble, the more likely you are to back-pedal and retract your no, replacing it with a reluctant yes. When saying no to family, make your speech short and sweet. Start positively and then tell them you can not fulfill their request.

Give Them Credit

It isn't always easy to ask for help, and while you might think that this particular family member has no qualms about coming to you for assistance, it might be hard for them to ask you for things. Be empathetic to how they might feel when asking for help, and try to step into their shoes if you know that they are down and out.

Find an Alternative to Yes

A flat-out no is going to go over like a lead balloon compared to a constructive no. Say no, but help brainstorm alternatives to their demands. Maybe you have a few people in mind who have a more flexible schedule than you do, or people who have skills in the area in which your family needs help. Examples of offering alternatives are:

  • Unfortunately, I have to work that day, but I think maybe Sally and Jim have weekends off. Maybe they could help out?
  • I would love to give you a hand, but I know nothing about building a deck. Let's think of someone who might be more useful than I?
  • I can't babysit this weekend. I have plans that can't be reconfigured. Maybe next month, when things lighten up for me, I could take the kids on a dinner date and give you some free time.

Be Honest

Honesty truly is the best policy. Sometimes you have to tell family exactly why you are not giving them a yes. You can't help them move because you have a bad back. You can't take the kids on Fridays because that's the only day you have to run a week's worth of errands, or you can't come for Christmas because you committed to seeing other family members. It is what it is, and if your family loves and respects you, they will understand that you aren't made of magic, and sometimes you have to take care of you.

Don't Commit on the Spot

When people spring a question on you asking for something, saying yes is a natural reaction. You say yes, and then later you realize that you really jumped the gun and should have said no. When someone spontaneously asks something of you, let them know you have to look at your calendar and see if you can commit. Then go home and think about the pros and cons of saying yes or no and get back to them when you feel confident that you are making the right call.

Keep It Face to Face When You Can

A text saying "sorry, I can't," isn't going to go over as well as a phone call or a conversation had in person. Face-to-face conversations are always best because they leave little room for misinterpretation. A phone call would be the next best means of letting a family member know your answer is no, and a text message or email should be the last resort.

Tips For the No Speech

You know it's coming. You will have to face the music and tell your family member that you can't help this time, and your answer is no. If you are anxious over the encounter, understand that emotion is completely normal. These tips will make your conversation run more smoothly and might alleviate feelings of worry before your confrontation.

Bounce Ideas Off a Trusted Friend

Find someone in your corner that is not a mutual friend of you and the family member you are about to say no to. Tell them the situation, your thoughts, and what you are thinking of saying. Often, someone outside of the situation can offer a perspective that those involved can not see. They might bring up some points of ponder that you have yet to consider.

Practice What You Are Going to Say

Practice makes perfect! If you know you will say no, rehearse the speech you have come up with before you confront a family member to let them know you are out this time. You will feel more confident and stick to your answer if you practice what you want to say.

Saying No Doesn't Make You a Bad Person

You are human, not a magical genie in a bottle. It is not your job to grant the wishes of those around you. Do not confuse support with being a doormat. Say yes when it is an emergency or when it works with your life and schedule, but realize that saying no does not make you a bad person. While you will want to support your family and help them in all things, know when a "no" is needed, and be at peace with your decision.

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How to Say No to Family: Positive, Guilt-Free Approaches