Episode 155: "How can you tell someone to back off without hurting their feelings or the relationship?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about saying “no” to someone.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
So, today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, How can you tell someone to back off without hurting their feelings or the relationship?”
A lot of teens ask us about saying “no” in many different situations: saying “no” to someone who keeps asking them out ,or wants to have sex, or maybe they’re trying to leave a partner without making them upset.
Whatever the situation might be, you have a right to say no to anything. You get to make decisions that feel safe to you and benefit your life. This could be your mental health, your physical health, anything. And here’s the key: the other person’s response to your “no” is not your responsibility.
If you’re trying to be polite and not cause any conflict, that is totally understandable. But there’s a difference too between being polite, and being firm and setting boundaries. Your life matters just as much as anyone else, including your partner, so you get to make decisions for yourself, regardless of that other person’s feelings. Boundaries are really important, and people have to practice to become more confident in setting them.
This teen asked us how to say “no” without hurting someone’s feelings. You might hurt someone’s feelings, and that’s really hard. But it’s important that you find what’s safe for you, and that you practice expressing it.
First, figure out what you want to say and why. You have a right to leave any relationship for any reason. You also have a right to say “no” to going out with someone in the first place, or having sex, whatever it might be. You don’t have to overexplain yourself to this person, because they don’t need to know everything. They might be upset if they don’t know everything, but that’s still not something you have to explain. You have to do what’s best for you, especially if your partner or potential partner is making you feel unsafe.
If you think that this person might lash out or hurt you verbally or physically, that is another situation. You could get a trusted adult involved, as hard as that might be sometimes. If you’re breaking up with someone, do it in a public place where there are people around. Let a trusted adult and friend know what you’re up to, and have them ready to come and get you, or have them nearby.
Blocking your partner’s phone number or social media is another way to set boundaries if you tell them you’re leaving. It doesn’t mean you’re being impolite or causing problems. Like we said before, you need to set your own boundaries and look out for yourself.
If you’re saying “no” to sexual activity, this is something your partner needs to respect at all times. If they don’t, that is not okay. You can simply just say “no,” or that you’re not ready, or you need some time. That doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t say “yes” another time, or that you don’t like this person.
Your partner needs to be mature enough to understand that. If they aren’t, or they make you feel guilty or pressure you, it might be time to think about whether this person is good for your mental and physical health. If you are pressured or forced into saying yes or continuing with sexual activity, that is sexual assault, and it is never okay. There is support available and free services including at organizations like Safe+Sound Somerset.
Remember, you have a right to set boundaries, all the time. Lots of people think they aren’t polite, but that’s not true. It’s showing respect and love for yourself. In the end, it doesn’t matter what your partner or other people think about you saying “no” – it matters how you feel.
To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.