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Dating a People Pleaser? Top Ways to Foster Understanding and Good Communication

When I was growing up, my mom bought Wonder Bread (white as the snow in Montana mountain ranges!). She purchased it cheap at an outlet, and I remember peeling off the crust and forming the bread into a ball instead of eating it.

Dating a people pleaser can feel like a relationship with Wonder Bread. They are very likeable, pliable, fresh and gooey, yet their constant agreement is bland and tasteless. And even though initially everything seems wonderful, the nutrients for a healthy relationship are missing.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

A young couple after an argument about resentment built up due to people pleasing.

Some people don’t realize just how exasperating it is to marry or date a people pleaser. The whole relationship can feel like a lie.

Loving a people-pleaser—what a quandary!

How do I know?

I was that soft, squishy “bread” for the first few years of my marriage. Severely conflict-avoidant, I did everything to make my husband happy, even if I wasn’t. But there were huge downsides: I was miserable, and he doubted my answers, jeopardizing trust. I started to wonder if my love was real or if my husband was only a safety net.

What I discovered: Trust cannot be built on dishonesty. Pleasing and compliance are forms of dishonesty.

 

Understanding the Reasons People  Are People Pleasers

Often, people pleasers have spent so much time molding themselves to others' preferences that they lose touch with their own identity, self-worth, and desires.

Their people-pleasing tendencies are sometimes subtle, other times blatant. They avoid conflict to maintain harmony and usually won't bring up things that are bothering them, even bordering on self-neglect. External validation through pleasing you is more important to them than assertive communication! Seeking validation can result in being overly dependent on you.

There are many reasons why people choose people-pleasing. And many people pleasers check every single box like I did years ago.

People Pleasers:

  • want to be liked.
  • seek validation to feel okay about themselves.
  • don’t want to create waves and rock the boat.
  • don’t like conflict.
  • are afraid of conflict.
  • aren’t clear about what we want.
  • fear rejection.
  • are so adaptable, it’s just easier to go along.
  • have lost themselves and don’t know what they want!
  • boundaries were disrespected as children.
  • were raised by fragile, emotionally immature parents.

Anyone who has dated a people pleaser—or is married to one—will tell you that it’s crazymaking!

How Disingenuous Communication Leads to Resentment

In a romantic relationship, without each person being true to themselves, a relationship lacks authenticity. When a partner seeks their own emotional comfort without concern for the impact of their behavior, trust is uprooted each time you discover the disparity.

Of course, when we love someone, we truly want them to be happy—and there’s no way to accomplish this feat without knowing what our partner wants or what pleases them.

So, what eventually happens in a relationship controlled by people-pleasing is it sours. Their partner’s frustration of playing a guessing game or attempting to be a mindreader begins to replace feelings of love.

The faulty communication created by deception is compounded by the seething resentment hurled toward them. The hollowness of their communication becomes more and more evident and discouraging.

Yup, people pleasers’ inability to advocate for themselves turns to resentment. As they're chronically prioritizing others, they neglect their own needs, which results in bouts of unexpected anger.

Some might call people pleasers manipulative; however, they often see themselves as kind, self-sacrificing, and generous. I sure did!

While they’re busy giving up themselves "in the name of "kindness," simultaneously, they view others who are direct or know and ask for what they want as “selfish” or "self-centered."

Why?

This forthright behavior contradicts a people pleaser’s beliefs and jeopardizes their hiding. If they can turn the labeling inside out and keep the focus on you, they don’t have to take responsibility for their own needs or behavior.

Keeping score can also be prevalent when a partner is a chronic pleaser. Their insecurity often causes them to keep score in an unhealthy way, adding to the complexity. One time I presented my husband with several 8½ x 11 pages documenting a long list of things I did for our family compared to his half dozen or so! Yeah, I know, how lame is that!?

Bloating worth and value is indicative of self-loathing covered over with pleasing. Let’s face it! People pleasing hurts relationships.

So what do you do when you discover you’re dating a people pleaser?

 

People-Pleasers in Relationships: from Frustration to Compassion

When you suspect your partner is vexed with chronic people pleasing, it’s vital to recognize that if they could do better, they would do better—at least, until now.

People pleasing is like any other coping mechanism; it was developed to feel safe, to be accepted, or avoid painful experiences.

In my early relationships, voicing my truth, disagreeing with others, or saying “no” felt life-threatening because they were as a child growing up. So, how would I know how to interact differently?

I lacked the experience that it was even possible. I had zero evidence that someone would love me for who I was. And skill?—that’s laughable, there was an empty hole where self-esteem and individuality should have been! The habit of pleasing others buried my self-identity. Being kind was reserved for others.

Intending harm? No way! But nonetheless, I did.

Related reading: "Do We Need to Experience Love to Be Loving?"

Loving your partner requires you to be honest about how their behavior affects you and set healthy boundaries as needed. Individuals who operate from pleasing and conflict avoidance often don't even realize they are being disingenuous.

They are typically delightful, helpful, extremely kind and caring people.

As stated in Your Tango so eloquently:

Despite a people pleaser's generally persistent good-natured manner, inconsistencies between their intent and delivery can ultimately wear down your trust and spoil your relationship.

Pleasers don't intend harm. It's just that their stronger need to please overrides other inclinations.

Yet, choosing to unconditionally love them doesn’t mean allowing them to cloak their true intentions.

Invite them to come to the relationship more honestly. Remind them NOT to commit unless they really WANT to do what they are agreeing to. And when they commit, hold them accountable. Don't pick up the slack for their omissions.

Quote on emotional immaturity by Lindsay Gibson.

The catch is that the only way for them to be more honest is if you create enormous safety. Nonjudgment is the key that unlocks the door to a pleaser's authentic self.

How to Deal with People Pleasers—Lovingly and Firmly!

Dating a people pleaser requires a supportive role as they learn a new way of being and a healthier model of interacting. It is also incredibly vital for your own well-being to set healthy boundaries and insist on open dialogue.

Encourage them to explore their interests and hobbies (without giving up your own). Suggest they set aside time for self-care and self-reflection. Broach the subject of getting professional help.

Happy, young gay couple with tablet PC at home talking.Love is a choice, yet, relationships require work regardless of who you are dating. Even so, this kind of relationship dynamic is unique and challenging.

Let’s explore some specific strategies for a partner with pleasing tendencies. These five ways will support the relationship, give you opportunities for greater understanding, and help your partner in their growth and self-discovery.

First way to help a people pleaser: create safety.Create a safe space for honest expression.

People pleasers often find it challenging to voice their opinions, especially if they think it might lead to disagreement. Create a relationship where honesty is nurtured, emotional well-being is valued, and differences of opinion are listened to and respected.

This commitment could involve setting aside time for regular check-ins where each partner can express themselves freely without judgment.

Or establish a "safe zone" during specific conversations to help alleviate the fear of reaction. Carving this dedicated time will increase mutual understanding and meaningful dialogue and your success with difficult conversations.

For instance, ask about their preferences in decisions. If they defer, say, “Give it some thought and get back to me.” Then follow through. Let your partner know how you really care about what they think and feel. Be gentle and consistent.

Second way to empower a people-pleaser you are dating: get curious.Ask leading and open-ended questions.

When you genuinely get curious about what they like and don’t like, a pleaser is more likely to open up with their true feelings. These prompts can help them connect the dots so they are able to provide better input.

Be careful not to entrap them by asking questions to prove to yourself that they're incapable of being forthright. Sincerely seek to understand! Remember your goal is emotional well-being for both of you!

For example, “I remember you enjoyed rafting last summer unexpectedly; would you like to do more of that kind of adventure?” Or “You seem stressed by work, would it feel good to snuggle tonight and watch a movie together rather than go out?” Once they give input, validate their importance in the relationship by acting on it.

A couple snuggling and watching a movie together. This decision honors the people pleaser not wanting to go out and be social.Pleasers might struggle to articulate their needs, but with patience, they will reconnect with them and be able to advocate for themselves.

A third way to help your partner is to mirror their feelings.Mirror the feelings of your partner compassionately.

One mistake people often make is ignoring the body language that disagrees with a people pleaser’s words. Don’t!

Instead, patiently prime the pump of their self-advocacy.

For instance, you are discussing what to have for dinner. You suggest ordering Mexican take-out and they automatically agree. However, you notice a slight displeasure in their facial expression, then remember how they complained previously about it being too heavy and loaded with cheese.

Don’t pretend and order it anyway. Mirror what you see: “Did I catch a little grimace in your face?” or “Are you only agreeing to please me? I remember the last time we had Mexican, you had indigestion. Would you prefer something fresher?”

Another example that often causes upheaval in relationships with people pleasers is vacations. They agree to go where you want and do the activities you suggest, and then they complain the entire time. Ugh.

Don’t be fooled.

Sincerely care about where and what they would like to do. Don’t make unilateral decisions. Tell them you won’t decide on your own without their input. You want them to enjoy the vacation, too! Then, brainstorm together and keep a close eye on when they get excited or identify a desire.

Number 4: Establish a healthy give and take.Establish a healthy balance of give-and-take.

It's essential to monitor the balance of give-and-take in any relationship, particularly with people pleasers. While the people pleaser might be inclined to give more than their fair share, this dynamic should not be exploited. Instead, strive for equality in contributions.

This encouragement can involve intentionally acknowledging and appreciating the people pleaser's contributions. Other times, make a point to tell them to relax and take some time for themselves while you clean the kitchen.

Make self-care a priority for both of you. People-pleasers are notorious for neglecting self-care, yet it is critical for the health of individuals and a romantic relationship.

These may seem small, but they create an opening while raising awareness on both of your parts.

The last way to increase authenticity in your relationship is to celebrate your partner's breakthroughs and baby steps.Celebrate breakthroughs and baby steps!

When a people pleaser starts to reveal themselves more courageously and set boundaries, it's a cause for celebration.

Highlighting successes—no matter how small—can be significant for them since they will often minimize their efforts. Recognizing their progress will reinforce and encourage them to assert more courage in stepping outside their comfort zone. After all, you’re probably the one they want to please most!

Whether it's a small "no" to an inconsequential request or a larger boundary-setting moment, acknowledge these steps as part of their growth. Offer encouragement warmly and generously.

A couple planning a vacation with a small globe in their hands.

What Do You Do When You Love a People Pleaser?

Being in a relationship with a people pleaser can feel like the twilight zone. No matter how much you try to get a straight answer, you find out later that it wasn’t the whole truth. 

If you’re feeling stuck or beginning to wonder if “the relationship is worth the effort,” there are several things to consider:

Ask yourself:  does your partner acknowledge your experience?
Does your partner acknowledge your feelings and experience?

Ask yourself about your partner's awareness of their negative impact on you and the relationship.Do they agree that pleasing and avoiding conflict interferes with an honest, connected, and loving relationship?

Ask yourself about your partner's willingness to grow.
Are they willing to change and get help and support?

 

If we can’t trust what someone says, it’s challenging to grow together with confidence. Building a healthy relationship requires a willingness from both you to grow self-awareness and mature emotionally.

One vital ingredient is the DESIRE to change. As long as you and your partner are WILLING to change and put EFFORT toward being more authentic, you'll be on a path to healing for the relationship.

 

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, we are all wired for survival and have developed ways of interacting to achieve emotional safety.

However, emotional intelligence is integral in paving a path to honesty and trust in a love relationship. A people-pleaser puts their own emotional comfort as a high priority. Yet, we must be willing to be uncomfortable with displeasing others to be true to ourselves.

People pleasers CAN learn to connect with and express their true self. Self-mastery and healthy boundaries are at the heart of every thriving relationship.

Yes, dating a people pleaser requires patience, understanding, and open communication. You CAN create a long-lasting and loving relationship by recognizing the signs of people-pleasing behavior, encouraging self-expression, and working together to ensure that the relationship is mutually satisfying.

For more on people pleasing, check out our e-book: “Advice from an Ex-People Pleaser: How to Stop People Pleasing.”

LEARN MORE 

Your partner is worth the investment of your love! A life together can be an adventure of knowing each other better each day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are people pleasers emotionally immature?

When a person is unable to identify and express their true feelings appropriately and openly, it indicates emotional immaturity. However, in their own mind, pleasers may view themselves as mature because they're always taking care of others and people can be overdependent on them.

Emotional maturity is an aspect of emotional intelligence that is often lacking when people are avoiding conflict and pleasing others to be liked or accepted. When we are emotionally mature, resiliency and integrated wholeness allow us to express ourselves while respectful to others and mindful of our impact. 

Is a people pleaser a red flag in a relationship?

Let's first define a red flag. A red flag warns us of danger; it indicates a need for caution and alertness. Therefore, a red flag in a relationship means to keep a look out for unhealthy behaviors.

So yes, whenever we're dealing with a people pleaser, we need to be extremely mindful that much of their communication is warped by their need for emotional safety. In this way, we can approach the person with eyes wide open while requesting a deeper honesty with one another.

However, keep in mind that we all have unconscious behaviors. Love relationships are the fertile ground for healing and becoming our best selves.

In this frame, a red flag serves as a lighthouse that protects ships from crashing; it is there to guide and steer, not to prevent passage.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity founder and an emotional intelligence expert. She has two decades of EQ experience and is the author of emotional intelligence training and courses. As an emotional fitness coach, Jennifer teaches EQ skills, brain science hacks, and a comprehensive approach that gets results. She is happily married and the mother of three incredible grown children.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence & Fitness, Most Popular

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