People Pleasers in Relationships

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People Pleasers in Relationships

Are you a people pleaser in relationships? Or, do you love someone with people pleasing tendencies? 

As a couples counselor and relationship coach, I know that this is a common scenario: You’re in love with your partner and you want to do everything to make them happy. Or, maybe it’s your partner who cares about you so much that they feel desperate to please you — at all costs. Sounds like a recipe for a harmonious relationship, right? 

Well, not always. In this blog post, we’ll explore the challenges faced by people pleasers in relationships as well as their partners, and how well-intentioned actions can have unintended consequences. We’ll discuss how people-pleasing impacts emotional intimacy, take a peek into the experience of being in a relationship with a people pleaser, and offer some guidance on what to do if you, or your partner, struggle with people pleasing. 

The People Pleaser’s Dilemma

At first glance, being a people pleaser in relationships might appear to be a selfless act driven by a deep desire to make your partner happy. After all, what’s wrong with going the extra mile to ensure the one you love feels valued and cherished? Well, on the surface, nothing at all. However, it’s what lies beneath the surface that can significantly impact the trust, emotional intimacy, and stability of a relationship. 

People pleasing is a behavior that’s driven by fear. It often begins in childhood when a child learns to seek validation and approval from authority figures. The desire to be liked, accepted, and to avoid conflict can be compelling motivators for people-pleasers. This pattern can become even more entrenched if they’ve faced criticism, rejection, or conditional love in their past. 

As they grow older, the fear of disappointing others, coupled with a strong fear of rejection, drives people pleasers to over give, or prioritize others’ needs and desires over their own. In essence, people-pleasers are trying to maintain a sense of safety and belonging through excessive accommodation of others at their own expense. This creates a poignant dilemma as they struggle to find a balance between being compassionate and caring toward others, while respecting their own boundaries and needs. Breaking free from people-pleasing tendencies requires self-awareness, self-compassion, and the courage to assert one’s own needs and desires in a relationship.

People Pleasing and Emotional Intimacy

When you’re a people pleaser, your primary goal is to gain approval and avoid conflict. You often put your partner’s needs and desires above your own, even if it means neglecting your own wants or suppressing your true feelings. This might seem like a noble act, but the long-term effects on emotional intimacy can be quite the opposite.

People pleasing can hinder emotional intimacy in a relationship in several ways:

  • Loss of Authenticity: People pleasers often hide their true selves behind a mask of compliance. They may agree with their partner’s opinions or pretend to share their interests, even if they don’t genuinely align with their own. Over time, this can erode the authenticity of the relationship, creating space between the couple and a lack of fulfillment. 
  • Communication Barriers: A people pleaser may struggle to express their own feelings, thoughts, and needs. This lack of honest communication can create a significant barrier to emotional intimacy, as true intimacy is built upon open, vulnerable conversations, even when those conversations feel difficult.
  • Resentment: Constantly sacrificing your own needs for the sake of your partner can lead to resentment. Unexpressed emotions and hidden frustrations can simmer beneath the surface and eventually boil over, creating emotional distance between partners.
  • Imbalance: Healthy relationships thrive on equality and shared responsibilities. In people-pleasing dynamics, one partner often bears more than their share of the load, leading to an unhealthy imbalance in the relationship that can fuel resentment.
  • Damaged Trust: When the partner of a people pleaser realizes that they have been concealing their true feelings, it damages trust in the relationship. They may wonder what else the partner has been hiding from them and even whether or not they actually love them and want to be with them. 
  • Instability: People who are highly conflict avoidant will often end relationships before they have authentic, vulnerable conversations about what isn’t working for them. It can genuinely feel to a people pleaser like confronting issues in the relationship is impossible because it stirs up so much guilt, fear, and discomfort for them. This often leads them to blindside their partners with unspoken grievances and sometimes even an unexpected breakup. 

What Is It Like to Be in a Relationship with a People Pleaser?

Being in a relationship with a people pleaser can bring unique challenges. While it might seem like a dream come true initially, as you’re with a partner who’s eager to meet your needs, the cracks in the foundation of the relationship become apparent over time.

Some common experiences of being in a relationship with a people pleaser include:

  • Mixed Messages: People pleasers often send mixed signals. They may say “yes” when they mean “no” or express agreement when they actually disagree. This lack of clarity can lead to confusion and miscommunication.
  • Walking on Eggshells: Partners of people pleasers may feel like they’re walking on eggshells, afraid that they may be unintentionally doing things that upset their highly accommodating loved one. This constant tiptoeing can create tension in the relationship.
  • Unsung Frustration: Beneath the surface, people pleasers may be experiencing unspoken frustration and a sense of unfulfillment. Their inability to express their own needs can hinder the depth of emotional connection in the relationship and lead their partners to feel less than secure

Imbalanced Conflict: If the partner of a people pleaser is unhappy or upset about something and voices their frustrations, the people pleaser is likely to apologize and accept the blame. They may even beat themselves up for their mistake, while never voicing their own grievances. This can make the partner of a people pleaser feel uncomfortable about bringing up issues because they don’t want to make their partner feel badly about themselves or create further imbalance in the relationship.

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Navigating People Pleasing in Relationships

So, if you’ve recognized that you tend toward people-pleasing, what can you do to foster a healthier and more emotionally intimate relationship with your partner?

Here are my top tips for overcoming people pleasing tendencies: 

  1. Engage in Self-Reflection: The first step is self-awareness. Take the time to reflect on your own needs, desires, and boundaries. What are you sacrificing in the name of people pleasing?
  1. Open Communication: Prioritize open and honest communication within your relationship. If there is something your partner could do to help you feel more emotionally safe as you open up about your true feelings, ask for what you need. 
  1. Set Boundaries: Establish healthy, clear boundaries for yourself and your relationship. Learn to say “no” when necessary and express your own needs — even when it feels scary. 
  1. Seek Support: Working with a good therapist or couples counselor who practices assertiveness coaching can be a game-changer for people pleasers. They can help you overcome deeply ingrained patterns and create real change in your relationships. 
  1. Practice Self-Care: If you tend to people please, make self-care a priority. Ensure that you are meeting your own emotional and physical needs, so you can show up as your best self in your relationship.

How to Support a People Pleasing Partner

If your partner is the one with people-pleasing tendencies, here’s how you can provide support:

  1. Encourage Openness: Foster an environment where your partner can feel safe sharing their true thoughts and feelings. This requires being an emotionally safe person who is skilled at active listening, validating, and responding with intention rather than reacting impulsively during difficult conversations. 
  1. Acknowledge Their Needs: Be attentive to their needs and express your appreciation for their efforts to be more vulnerable and authentic with you. 
  1. Seek Couples Counseling: Couples counseling can be a safe space to work through the dynamics of people-pleasing within your relationship. Working with a good LMFT can help you both create an environment where open communication can flourish. 

Support for People Pleasers in Relationships

I hope this article helped you understand people pleasers in relationships from both sides of this dynamic. While people pleasing may seem like a loving and selfless gesture at first, it can damage emotional intimacy and keep you both from having the satisfying, secure connection you crave. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome people pleasing tendencies and create more authentic connections with the right support. 

If you would like to do this valuable work with one of the relationship experts at Growing Self, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more advice on overcoming relationship patterns and creating deeper connections, check out my “healthy relationships” and “emotional and sexual intimacy” collections of articles and podcasts. I made them for you!

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