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people pleasers in relationships

People Pleasers: Are You Helping or Hurting Your Relationship?

In every relationship, there’s a dance of give and take. But what happens when you’re always the one bending over backward, constantly looking for ways to keep the peace and make your partner happy? As your eyes flit across these words, perhaps you recognize that niggling sensation that you’re continuously extinguishing your own needs to prioritize another’s.

People pleasers in relationships might feel like they are showing the ultimate act of love, the golden ticket to harmony and connection. But is this relentless pursuit of external validation nurturing your bond, or is it silently planting seeds of resentment and imbalance? Dive in with us as we explore whether your people-pleasing tendencies are helping or hurting your relationship.

What is People-Pleasing? 10 Signs You Might Be A People-Pleaser

Gottman Institute defines people-pleasing as “the act of chronically prioritizing others’ needs, wants, or feelings at the expense of, or to the detriment of, our own needs, wants, or feelings.” It’s that urge to avoid conflict and keep the peace, even if it means suppressing your true feelings or desires.

people pleasers in relationships gay couple ignoring each other
People pleasing is keeping the peace in relationships even if you need to suppress your emotions and desires.

Instead of expressing what you genuinely feel or want, you might alter your behavior, choices, or opinions to align with what you believe will make your partner happiest. Here are ten signs of people-pleasing behaviors in a relationship:

1. Codependency in a Relationship

Codependency means your sense of self-worth and identity become entangled with your partner. Instead of two independent individuals, you feel incomplete without their constant presence or approval, leading to a meshing of identities.

The Relationship Place founder and certified Gottman Therapist, Dr. Dana McNeil PsyD, LMFT, says that one sign of codependency in a relationship is “treating yourself and others as if their needs are more important than your own.” This tendency often leads to personal neglect, where your efforts to cater to your partner’s needs overshadow your own emotional and physical needs.

2. Avoiding Conflict

Instead of addressing issues head-on, you often go out of your way to prevent disagreements. This might mean suppressing your feelings or compromising even when it’s not in your best interest.

3. Lack of Boundaries

Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship is one of the secrets to a healthy relationship. However, it becomes difficult to stand your ground when you’re a people pleaser in a relationship. Whether it’s your time, space, or emotional boundaries, you struggle to maintain them with your partner.

4. Struggling to Say No

For people-pleasers in relationships, every request from their partner feels like a demand they can’t refuse. You hesitate to turn them down, even if it burdens you or goes against your wishes.

5. Seeking Validation

For people pleasers, seeking validation is more than just wanting occasional reassurance. You frequently need your partner to approve your actions, decisions, or feelings.

6. Fear of Rejection

Deep down, there’s an ever-present worry about not being good enough. As a result, you are likely to overextend yourself to feel secure in the relationship.

7. Oversacrificing

When you’re in a relationship, it’s commendable to care for your partner. The Gottman Institute encourages couples to do small things for each other often to keep a relationship happy. But when you’re a people pleaser, you’re likely to consistently put your partner’s needs so far above your own that you often neglect self-care or your own desires.

8. Hiding True Feelings

When you’re invested in pleasing people, you bottle up dissatisfaction, concerns, or unhappiness. You will fear that expressing them might upset your partner or rock the boat.

9. Over-Apologizing

Over-apologizing often stems from an underlying fear of upsetting your partner or causing conflict. Consequently, you might constantly say “sorry,” even for minor mistakes or mishaps, to maintain peace and avoid potential disagreements in the relationship.

10. Making Decisions Based on Others

If you’re a people pleaser, your choices predominantly revolve around what you believe will make your partner or those around you happy. This is as opposed to considering what you genuinely want.

Understanding People Pleasers In Relationships

Why do some people find themselves habitually striving to please others? Let’s delve deeper:

Response to Trauma

If you’ve experienced traumatic events, you might have adopted the behavior of ‘fawning.’ This is a protective mechanism where you appease or charm others to regain a sense of safety. Over time, this becomes a deeply ingrained pattern, where tuning into others’ emotions and adjusting your behavior accordingly feels like the safest way to navigate relationships and situations.

Seeking Love and Validation

Terry Gaspard, a contributor to the Gottman Institute, explains that your childhood can affect your marriage. She says that “people often gravitate toward relationships that resemble their parents or the way their parents treated them.”

Growing up, if you felt that your emotions weren’t mirrored or validated by your caregivers, you may have learned an unfortunate lesson: to be seen and loved, you had to tune into their emotions. This might have molded you into someone who’s always on the lookout for others’ needs.

people pleasers in relationships heterosexual couple arguing
For people pleasers, to be seen and loved, you had to tune into other people’s emotions.

Response to Stigma

External societal factors can also play a substantial role in shaping people to become people pleasers. If you belong to marginalized groups, be it due to your race, sexuality, or any other reason, the urge to people-please could be a defense mechanism. For instance, if you’re grappling with financial challenges, you might feel compelled to appease your partner, fearing the dire consequences of a disagreement.

Are People Pleasers a Benefit or Not In Relationships?

Is people-pleasing really bad? People-pleasing itself is not inherently bad; it can be a positive quality in certain situations. For example, being considerate of others’ feelings and accommodating their needs can contribute to healthy and supportive relationships. However, when people-pleasing becomes excessive and leads to neglecting one’s own needs, compromising personal boundaries, or sacrificing one’s well-being to gain approval from others, it can have negative consequences.

There are several signs to look out for to understand whether your people-pleasing habit is beneficial or detrimental to your relationship or marriage.

When people-pleasing helps

Here are the signs that your people-pleasing tendencies are having a beneficial impact on your relationship:

  • It provides a harmonious environment. Your efforts often lead to a peaceful and conflict-free atmosphere, making your shared space a haven of tranquility.
  • It deepens your connection with your partner. Your people-pleasing habit is beneficial if being attuned to your partner’s needs helps you create a bond that’s built on understanding and empathy.
  • You are more appreciative and grateful. You can tell you’re balancing between being empathetic and accommodating without overstepping into excessive people-pleasing if gratitude flows naturally, affirming the mutual respect and understanding shared between you two.
  • You know how to communicate with your partner’s needs. If your people-pleasing habits are rooted in understanding and anticipating your partner’s needs, it can promote open dialogue.
  • It makes you adaptable and flexible to changes. A noticeable ease in adapting to changes, making plans, or exploring new experiences together indicates a beneficial side of people-pleasing. This flexibility, born from a genuine desire to make your partner happy, can lead to memorable shared experiences and a sense of adventure in the relationship.
people pleasing in relationships
People-pleasing itself is not inherently bad; it can be a positive quality in certain situations.

When people-pleasing hurts

Here are five signs that your people-pleasing tendencies might be causing harm to your relationship:

  • You neglect self-care. If you’re constantly putting your partner’s needs before your own, it may mean neglecting your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
  • You are too dependent on your partner. People-pleasing can sometimes translate into a constant need for validation from your partner. This skewed dynamic can foster an unhealthy sense of dependency, where your happiness and sense of worth become overly dependent on your partner’s approval.
  • You lack authenticity. To avoid conflict or disappointment, you might agree to things you don’t truly believe in or want.
  • You develop anxiety in your relationships.  In a guest contribution for InStyle, Dr. Dana McNeil describes relationship anxiety as “the general sense that things are not going well in your relationship, even in the absence of evidence.” People-pleasing tendencies can exacerbate this form of anxiety because you’re constantly walking on eggshells to avoid potential conflicts, creating an undercurrent of tension
  • You suppress your emotions. Consistently putting on a brave face or hiding your true feelings to keep your partner happy can lead to suppressed emotions. Over time, these bottled-up emotions might lead to explosive conflicts or cause you to drift apart.

How to Balance or Overcome People-Pleasing Behaviors

Navigating relationships while harboring strong people-pleasing tendencies can be like treading a tightrope. While it’s heartwarming to care for your partner, it’s equally crucial to ensure you’re not sidelining your needs. Here are some strategies to strike that essential balance:

1. Set Healthy Boundaries

Creating clear boundaries is not about shutting your partner out but preserving your emotional well-being. This involves understanding where you draw the line and communicating it clearly. By setting these limits, you protect your mental and emotional space and offer your partner clarity on what you’re comfortable with.

2. Prioritize Self-Care

Dr. Dana McNeil strongly advocates self-care, asserting that it’s a key facet of a healthy relationship. “Self-care is not a luxury or an indulgence,” she says. “If you don’t have any gas in the emotional tank left, you are not going to be able to show up and give back. You must stop and put gas in the tank and self-care is the way to do it.”

Dedicate time for activities that rejuvenate you—be it self-pleasure, meditation, exercise, or simply a quiet moment with a cup of tea. Prioritizing self-care ensures you approach the relationship from a place of fullness rather than depletion.

3. Practice Assertive Communication

Rather than always agreeing or going along with your partner’s wishes, cultivate the art of assertive communication. This means expressing your feelings, thoughts and needs openly, honestly, and respectfully. It strengthens mutual understanding and respect.

4. Reflect Before Saying Yes

Ask yourself if you genuinely want to do what’s being asked or are merely acquiescing out of fear of conflict or rejection. By giving yourself this moment of introspection, you honor your feelings and boundaries and contribute to the authenticity and depth of your relationship.

5. Listen to Your Inner Voice

Inside you, there’s an innate voice that is often drowned out by the clamor of trying to please others. In relationships, it’s crucial to tune into this voice. It guides your true feelings, needs, and boundaries.

Seek Professional Help for Your People-Pleasing Habit

While people-pleasing behaviors may stem from a genuine desire to maintain harmony in your relationship, they can often tip the balance toward self-neglect and relationship anxiety. That’s why you should balance giving and self-preservation to foster connection without straining yourself.

If you find this balance challenging, considering professional help works best. Our practice is designed to feel like a cozy living room, offering comfort as we explore outside-of-the-box solutions to your concerns. Schedule a consultation today.


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