Chapter 1 - Consent Subchapter: Yes No I Don’t Know

No: The End Zone

Key points

  • If either person decides no, then both people enter the End Zone.
  • Only one person needs to decide no.
  • We can experience social and emotional barriers to saying no.
  • We need to make it safe to say no.
  • You need to manage your emotions in the End Zone.
  • Moving to a new decision means returning to Stop Ask Listen.
  • A really big no might make you decide to end the relationship.
  • No’s can be used abusively if you frame the decision back to front, or if one person interferes in another person’s individual decision.

 

About No

The Field Model diagram with one anonymous character No and one Yes. The End Zone is lit up in red.

 

If either person decides no, then both people enter the End Zone.

The options in the End Zone are pretty simple: most of the time, we move on to another decision; occasionally we end the relationship altogether.

What makes the End Zone tricky is actually getting into it—because there are all sorts of reasons why people avoid saying no even if they want to—and then managing our emotions when we’re there.

 

Only one person needs to decide no

No is fundamentally different to yes.

For a yes, both people need to agree to be able to cross to the Action Zone.

For a no, only one person needs to decide, and then both people are automatically in the End Zone.

The person who was saying yes doesn’t get a say in the matter. Of course they can try to persuade the other person to change their mind, so long as that persuasion doesn’t turn into pressure or coercion, but they are not entitled to take any action once the other person says no.

This is fundamental to the Field Model: if we want to respect individual freedoms and rights, then everyone needs to be able to say no to shared personal decisions.

 

Barriers to saying no

A woman at the gym looks around and thinks.

 

There are social and emotional barriers that can make it hard for us to say no when we want to:

  • We feel like we need to be polite.
  • We feel like we’re obliged to go along with what the other person wants.
  • We don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.
  • We’re afraid they’ll react badly.
  • We just don’t want to deal with awkwardness.
  • We think it’ll be easier and simpler if we just say yes.
  • We feel like there’s “normal” behaviour that we must conform to, even though it makes us uncomfortable—for instance gender-based expectations like, “I’m a guy, I have to be up for anything,” or “I’m a girl, this is how I get someone to like me”.

 

To be able to make free decisions and have truly respectful relationships, we need to be aware of these barriers and find ways to overcome them.

 

One big barrier is fearing that saying no will mean the end of the relationship.

We should never feel like the other person is threatening us with a breakup in order to get their way—but on the other hand, if that threat exists it’s probably not a good relationship anyway. And the reality is that sometimes saying no really will jeopardise a relationship, and sometimes we have to be willing to sacrifice the relationship for the sake of respecting ourselves and our right to make the decision.

This can be scary, but it’s usually better to be brave and recognise that you don’t have to be in this relationship—you can thrive just fine by yourself, or in some other relationship yet to be discovered.

 

We need to make it safe to say no

A man at the gym having asked a woman out says, 'You can say no.'

 

In a respectful relationship, we make it safe for each other to say no.

This is as simple as saying, “It’s okay to say no.”

But you can also set this up early, with small decisions, before you get to any big ones—or you can just talk about it as part of the ground rules of your relationship: “I just want you to know that you don’t ever need to worry about saying No to me about anything. I want us to be happy and having a good time together.”

Of course, the other person might grab the opportunity to say that no, which might suck for you. But at the end of the day it’s better to talk openly and honestly with each other—it saves everyone time and it’s the basis of any respectful relationship.

 

If you want to lower your chances of getting a no to an important decision, Stop Ask Listen and lay the groundwork with other smaller decisions first—so that when you ask for something important you’re already pretty sure you know how the other person feels.

 

You need to manage your emotions in the End Zone

The man at the gym looks back and picks up weights – the gif cuts to a hammer smashing his ceramic heart.

 

The most challenging and most important skill in the End Zone is managing your own emotions if someone says no on something that is really important to you.

If you ask someone out, if you try to kiss them, if you signal that you want to have sex with them, even if you just ask somebody to do you a small favour, and they turn you down—that can be hard.

It’s perfectly okay to be upset, embarrassed, frustrated—your feelings are your own.

What’s not okay is reacting by punishing, hurting or harassing the other person.

  • You can’t hit them
  • You can’t abuse them
  • You can’t get revenge on social media
  • You can’t exclude them
  • You can’t nag them until they give in and change their minds

 

If someone says no to you, even on something that’s important to you, it’s your job to manage your own emotions, and take the no gracefully.

At its simplest, this means saying, “That’s okay, I understand.” And that’s it. It doesn’t need to be more than that.

If you’re super upset, you have two options:

  • You might want to step back and examine your own emotions, challenge your thinking—maybe this isn’t worth being upset about. Maybe it doesn’t mean what you think it means, maybe you have other options.
  • Or you might want to rethink the whole relationship—if this relationship doesn’t meet your most important needs, maybe this isn’t the relationship for you.

 

Moving on to a new decision

A woman and a man are in taekwondo outfits, they do a chop then the woman flips the man over.

 

People say no to each other all the time in relationships; it’s not the end of the relationship. We just move on to alternative decisions:

 

“Can I kiss you.”

“Mmm… I’d rather not.”

“Awkies. Okay. Well, do you want to dance?”

“Sure.”

 

As with any decision, it just means a return to Stop Ask Listen and figuring out where you both stand on the field for the new decision.

The better you handle your emotions in the End Zone, the more likely you’ll be able to agree on some other decision and stay on good terms, and maybe later you can revisit the original decision, and the other person might be more open to it.

 

Ending the relationship

A woman and a man at the gym, woman on treadmill, man picks his bag up and walks away. Caption reads 'Have a good life.'

 

Sometimes someone says no to something so important that you basically have to leave the relationship:

 

 “Will you marry me?”

“No.”

“It’s over.”

 

 “Will you have sex with me?”

“No.”

“I’m finding a new relationship.”

 

 “Will you help me with the kids?”

“No.”

“Okay I’m done with this.”

 

 “Will you stop playing that game and come eat dinner with me?”

“No.”

“You know what? This relationship sucks. I’m out.”

 

What defines a deal-breaker is different for everyone.

Sometimes leaving is easy: you can just walk away. But leaving can also be hard: you might be emotionally attached and struggling with the idea of losing the relationship or being alone, or you might have a more entangled life—a marriage, a mortgage, children.

Either way, in Field Model terms, leaving is a legitimate response to a big no.

 

Watching out for the abusive no

A man stops a woman leaving the car they are in. She screams in terror "Let go of my arm!", he says, "No!"

 

According to the Field Model, if one person says no, you both go to the End Zone. The person who wanted to say yes doesn’t get a say.

But the point of the Field Model is to help us have respectful relationships and avoid hurting or abusing each other.

So is it ever possible that saying no can be disrespectful or abusive?

The short answer is yes, the word no can be abusive. For instance:

 

 “Can you stop hitting me?”

“No.”

 

“Can you stop calling me names?”

“No.”

 

“Can you leave my things alone?”

“No.”

 

In those examples, there is clearly something wrong with those no’s. So what’s happening?

 

The bullying no

When you look at these situations, somebody is already moving the line—taking action without getting an agreement. They probably didn’t even ask the question.

But if you think about the question as it should have been asked, it’s clearly something that the other person would say no to:

 

“Can I hit you?”

“No!”

 

 “Can I call you names?”

“No!”

 

 “Can I mess with your things?”

“No!”

 

This is true of most bullying situations: the bully is unilaterally deciding yes on a question they never asked, or gave the target a chance to respond to:

 

 “Can I bully and harass you? Sure I can!”

*punch*

 

But if bullies followed the Field Model:

 

 “Can I throw your bag in the toilet?”

“No!”

“Oh okay, that’s cool. I understand.”

 

Wouldn’t it be great if bullies followed the Field Model? 

 

The controlling no

So we’ve seen one type of abusive no: refusing to stop when you’re already moving the line.

Another type of abusive no appears when one person applies the Field Model to something that is not a shared decision, effectively giving themselves control over another person: 

 

 “I want to go out with my friends.”

“No, you have to stay here with me.”

 

 “I want to get a job.” 

“No. I don’t want you to work.” 

 

 “I want to get my own bank account.” 

“No. We have a shared account.” 

 

 “I want to break up.” 

“No. I love you. We have to stay together.” 

 

The Field Model applies to shared decisions, which require someone else (or their property) to participate in the action. 

The examples above are not shared decisions. One person wants to do something with their own body and their own property, making an individual decision. But the other person is attempting to turn them into shared decisions and use the Field Model rules to restrict the other person’s personal freedom, which is not right. 

 

Why do people interfere in other people’s individual decisions?

We are all affected by other people’s individual decisions, so we often want to have some influence. But to do this we need to frame the decision correctly, as a shared decision from our point of view, and then apply the Field Model. Consider these two examples:

 

Framed as an individual decision

 “I want to go out with my friends.”

“No. You need to stay home with me.”

“I’m sorry but it’s none of your business. This is my own decision.”

“Well I’m going to make you stay.”

“You just try it, mother#@%$!”

 

Framed as a shared decision

“Can you stay home with me tonight?”

“No, I really want to go out with my friends.”

“Okay. That makes me sad, but okay.”

 

Abusive no in a nutshell

In summary, the Field Model gives a lot of power to the word no, but this power can be abused if the Field Model is misapplied.

There are two basic ways the model can be misapplied:

  • Bullying-type situations, when someone moves the line and then says no to the person asking them to stop. (For example: “Can you stop using my credit card?” “No.”)
  • Controlling-type situations, when someone applies the model to an individual decision that doesn’t need anyone’s consent. (For example: “I have to travel to Melbourne with Nish from work.” “No. I don’t want you travelling with female co-workers.”)

 

Ideally you would be able to push back in these scenarios, pointing out that the model is being misapplied and that the other person is being abusive or controlling.