One of the most common and precarious habits that I observe in couples and even long-term marriages is the popular behavior of telling your partner what they want to hear rather than what you need, want, think and feel. When we go along with our partner rather than engage on a real and authentic level, it builds a marriage with unsteady stilts that can topple at any time.Pleasing, people pleasers and compliance are prevalent. So why is this habit so pervasive?
There are many factors why we tell others what we think they want to hear, especially our partner.
- Risk of being rebuffed
- Fear of rejection
- Don't know how to set boundaries
- Avoidance of uncomfortable feelings
- We like pleasing others, especially those we love
- We don't know what we genuinely want so we go along
- Avoid conflict or an argument
- Intimidated by another's reactions
- It's just easy—until it's not.
It may not always be easy to respond with a genuine and honest response, but no one can create a thriving and happy relationship without honesty. Trust is built on honesty.
There are no healthy relationships without each person being true to themselves first. When we comply or please for some of the above reasons, it's unlikely that we are thriving in our relationship. Why? Because we start feeling invisible like we don't matter to the other person even though we're the ones creating that experience. It's also improbable that our priorities or goals get accomplished—at least not nearly as fast. Nor do we receive the support or joy of sharing the journey of our growth and aspirations if we're always complying to our partner.
When I was first married, I did everything in my power to avoid upsetting my husband. Not only did I seek to please him (before myself), but I also pushed down my desires and replaced them with his. Then when we had children, my days were filled with making everyone happy. Although my behavior appeared to be working on the surface, inside, I felt hollow, and every exchange seemed to be a bit of a sham. And although people viewed me as an outgoing, kind person, I realized that true kindness had to also be kind and loving to me.
Related reading: Why Being a People Pleaser Damages Relationships—and What to Do About It!
For more detailed support and advice, get our e-book, Advice from an Ex-People Pleaser: How to Stop Being a People Pleaser.
There's a Difference between Kindness and Pleasing
Kindness is not kind unless it is also kind to YOU. People who seek to please others without considering their own needs take a big misstep for several reasons.
1) If we don't show up in our relationships with what we think, desire, and need, there is no honest communication. When we withhold our truth from others, those around us are acting on inaccurate, incomplete, or unhelpful information that has consequences even if they are imperceptible at the time.
2) When a person is a passive participant in a relationship, the health and vitality of the connection cannot blossom since it is inequitable. Too much falls on one person and the relationship lacks the uniqueness that could be created by the full engagement and dance of both people. And sometimes, the relationship will even sink into becoming the definition of that word everyone loathes: codependent.
3) Whenever a person agrees with insincerity or to appease, both people in the relationship leave a situation or conversation with different inferences and understanding, which rarely has positive outcomes. These exchanges tend to pave the way for misunderstanding in future interactions. It can be as simple as telling your partner that their spaghetti sauce is delicious when you really think it's way too sour or sweet.
4) Even if you think you have a pretty good idea of who your partner is, I hate to break it to you—you're not a mind reader! One of the biggest complaints I hear from both men and women in a love relationship is that their partner tries to tell them what they think or how they feel, or even try to talk for them. We cannot know what is going on in another person no matter how long we've been together. Making assumptions without getting curious limits closeness, understanding, and connection. Thinking we KNOW what our partner thinks or feels acts like a dirty filter that discolors and thwarts meaningful conversations. This habit of assuming also flares arguments.
5) When we take our partner's word at face value and believe what they tell us to be true but they are withholding their real feelings, preferences or dislikes, love's potential is disavowed and the shallowness steals from possibilities. One moment, one experience can change us! One insightful conversation can shift how we view the world and each other. Don't miss out on this beautiful connection by telling your partner what you think they want to hear instead of what you really mean and want to say.
It is each person's responsibility to go to bat for their own needs in a relationship.
Pleasers disempower themselves and the relationship by putting their partner at the disadvantage of mixed messages or meaningless agreement. Compliance and dishonest responses are destructive because they only create an illusion of connection or agreement.
In healthy and mature relationships, we please others most when we are true to ourselves.
Only then can we give and receive from a free and loving space.
Begin a new way of interacting with your spouse. Learn how to be true to yourself while also being thoughtful, respectful, and loving to your partner. Advice from an Ex-People Pleaser: How to Stop Being a People Pleaser gives practical keys to start being your own advocate. Start enjoying a new richness in the relationship with yourself and a more profound closeness in love and marriage!