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The Most Powerful Word

Girl with lightning

I would like to make a bold claim. Ready?  I have the secret to the most powerful word in the English Language.  What do you think?  Would you at least be willing to take a guess as to what it could be?  Okay, let me give you a couple hints:

  • It is a word that can scare people, both to say it and to hear it.
  • It is a word that can be particularly difficult for men in relationships to say to their partner.

Care to venture a guess?

At this point I am assuming that you may have considered the word LOVE.  While that is a GREAT guess, and love is a beautiful word, that’s not today’s power word.

Here are a few more hints.

  • It is a word that is small in stature, but mighty in its execution.
  • It is a helper word that actually empowers other words.
  • He is not nearly as popular as his sister word, which people find far easier to say and hear.
  • Today’s word can take courage to say, particularly when you are the type of person that feels it’s her job to make everyone happy.
  • It is often one of the first words a child learns to say after mamma, or dadda.

How about it? Do you think you have it?  Ready? This powerful word is …


Surprised?  Here are a few more thoughts on this small, but mighty word.

His sister, YES, is way more popular, especially for those of us who tend to be people pleasers. If you want someone to like you, you really need to say YES as often as possible, whether you really want to or not. At least that’s what we think.

OR perhaps you are a fan of his COUSIN, MAYBE. This word seems to roll much more easily off the tongue. MAYBE can be a stall word when you really want to say NO and you are afraid of letting someone down. NO. YES. MAYBE. Of all 3 words, MAYBE is the weakest.  A MAYBE keeps you both on the hook. A TRUE YES or a TRUE NO is much more powerful than a MAYBE.

NO is really a power word. It lets someone know where they end and where you begin. Boundaries. NO is the boundary setter. NO protects you from things that don’t serve you well. When you finally gain the courage to tell someone, “No. Don’t treat me that way.” Or “No. I’m leaving,” you set the standard for how you want to be treated.  Here are a few additional thoughts on the word NO:

  • No is the smallest word that can be a complete sentence. No period. No additional information is really needed. No excuses. Just “No”.
  • No is the way we set boundaries with others. And perhaps even more importantly, no is the way we set boundaries with ourselves. “No, I’m not having that second drink.” “No, I’m not going to hit the snooze button one more time and potentially be late for my workout.”
  • No requires discipline.

No can be tough to say and tough to hear. Quite often a NO can come out much more harshly then intended. But, in the long run, people respect you more, and you respect yourself more when you are able to stay true to who you are, and not say yes begrudgingly. Saying Yes when we really mean No, quite often is a precursor for passive aggressive behavior.

Face it, if you can’t say NO then your YESes aren’t really YESes. Being able to say NO actually empowers your YES.

Here are a few differences I see from MEN and WOMEN with regard to the word NO:


In my experience, men in marriages and long-term relationships, tend to have a tough time with the word NO. Quite often the way this surfaces is that a man can agree to do something, perhaps to avoid an argument, or appease his partner, that he realistically will never be able to fulfill.  Commitments which begin with, “Honey, I won’t EVER ________” OR “I won’t EVER again _________” … are promises destined to be broken.

What ends up happening is when a man says YES and then fails to live up to his promise, is that the upset he tried to avoid in the moment, becomes much BIGGER later on.

Important Relationship Truth: You lose credibility when you don’t follow through on your word. The more this happens, the less credible you become. Even though it may seem like she always wants you to say YES, she will respect you more when you are true to your word. Don’t say it unless you mean it.


Women, if you are afraid to say NO to someone you are in an intimate relationship with, then somewhere along the line you may have lost your connection with yourSelf. When you continually put someone else’s needs in front of your own, you are living in an inauthentic relationship. When we stop being true to ourselves, we end up resenting the other person.  I see this happen quite a bit with women who struggle with saying NO to their partners (and others).

Generally speaking, women don’t want to disappoint others. Often she keeps saying YES, until she quits. It’s like a light bulb flashes and her sense of overwhelm becomes acute. She feels underappreciated and lost in a web of her own making. And quite often, when she finally does muster up the courage to say NO she is done. Done with the volunteer work. Done with the relationship. Done. She has reached the point of NO return.

Important Relationship Truth: You don’t need to try so hard to please someone else.  Your partner chose you. Not a reasonable facsimile of you. Being your authentic self is one of the greatest gifts you can give your partner. Either he likes you for you or he doesn’t. Saying YES to try and appease someone else, creates a false sense of security. Be brave enough to be you.


Each of us need to learn how to effectively flex our NO muscles, before we reach the point of NO return. Quite often the things that end up getting neglected when we have weak NO muscles, are the people and projects we hold dear. And then the guilt monster rears its ugly head.

Partners need to help each other build their NO muscles. Some things for men and women to remember about saying and hearing the word NO:

  • Sometimes the idea of NO can immobilize us. We freeze. Afraid to say it, and afraid of what we may hear when we ask. Remember: it’s always NO if you don’t ask.
  • A NO is better than a MAYBE. Really it is! While the initial NO may sting a bit, at least you know where you stand and can plan accordingly. MAYBE keeps you stuck in the land of uncertainty. MAYBE can create false hope, which weakens results in feelings of insecurity, and unhealthy attachment to a person, idea, or desire.


  • Try and pull back from being critical and hyper-sensitive to hearing a no from your man. Believe it or not, your man is pretty sensitive to being criticized by you (even if he doesn’t show it).
  • Remember, if your man isn’t empowered to say NO, then you are setting him up to let you down. Being able to say NO, rather than saying YES and not following through, helps build a foundation of trust in a relationship.


  • Don’t say NO just to appease her! It will backfire in the long-run. Trust me on this one.
  • Sometimes your woman needs to be saved from herself. If she seems consistently overwhelmed, you can encourage her to say NO to a few things, even if that means saying NO to something you would like her to do.

Now I am not suggesting that YES doesn’t have its place. As a matter of fact, YES is a beautiful word. So nice to say, and so nice to hear. Saying YES to life moves us forward and just plain feels good.

Hopefully by now you are getting that saying YES when you really mean NO, is actually disempowering, and sets yourself and the other person up for a fall. Your YESes are MUCH more powerful when you are also able to say NO, with dignity and respect.

So, just how do we step into integrity with our YESes and our Nos?  Here are a few tips:

  • Before say YES consider asking yourself. If I say yes to this, what will I have to say no to (or give up)?
  • If you are an automatic YES person, press the PAUSE button. Give yourself a little space between a request and your answer. It’s okay to say, “Let me think about this and I will get back to you.”
  • Are you saying YES just to please the other person?
  • Are you saying YES to something you really feel uncomfortable doing?
  • Are you saying YES to avoid an argument?
  • Are you saying YES because you feel guilty about something else?

Maintaining a healthy connection with another human being requires you to be honest with yourself first, and then mustering up the courage to be honest with the other person. You gain much more respect from someone when you are authentic, then when you pretend to be okay with something you’re not.

Following is a quote from Psychology Today which sums this up quite nicely:

“Wielded wisely, No is an instrument of integrity and a shield against exploitation. It often takes courage to say. It is hard to receive. But setting limits sets us free.” Psychology Today

While it may be difficult at first, by taking a little extra time to consider your options, BEFORE saying YES or NO, you just might find yourself feeling less overwhelmed and more confident. And perhaps you too will experience the power of this small word to make a BIG difference in your life.

Live Well. Laugh Often. Love Whole-Heartedly!

Dr. Jeanne

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