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Reclaim Your Life! 5 Keys to Stop People Pleasing in a Relationship

Do you ever feel like you're constantly bending over backward to make your partner happy, often at the expense of your own well-being? Do you concern yourself with how your partner feels more than how you feel? Is it common for you to stay quiet to avoid an argument?

If so, you might be caught in the exhausting cycle of people-pleasing in your relationship. Breaking free from this habit and reclaiming your own happiness is vital for your mental and emotional health. It's also crucial to build a healthy and happy relationship. Here are five essential keys to help you assert yourself and stop people-pleasing in your relationship.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A happy young couple laying on couch looking at a globe to plan a vacation.


First Things First: Why Do I People Please?

People-pleasers often say yes to everything, even when they want to say no. Sometimes, they don't even recognize they WANT to say no until afterward when they resent their partner.

This hesitant and compliant behavior often stems from early childhood experiences that disproportionately heighten a fear of conflict. Many people-pleasers grew up in environments where their needs were secondary to others' or deprived altogether.

So, a child learns that pleasing is an easy gateway to acceptance, approval, happy parents, and love and affection.

A brilliant strategy, really.

However, while pleasing and seeking to make your partner happy at first glance may seem like kindness and love, it camouflages an invisible disease that eats away at self-identity.

When you give yourself over to your partner through pleasing there are BIG downsides. The first being your own sense of self disappearing.

I know—that was me! When I was first married, I couldn't even tell you what I'd like for dinner. Others' preferences eclipsed my own every time.

Boundaries? It wasn't a word in my vocabulary.

Of course, my husband loved the constant love and attention. He enjoyed me doing the lions' share of the housework, cooking, shopping, and parenting. But inside me, there was a seething volcano of resentment and anger. I knew that I needed to change but I was terrified.

You may be, too.

I now know, but didn't back then, that the goal of a thriving relationship is to build equity, autonomy, and create an authentic connection built on healthy individuals loving each other.

And what you may not know yet is how rich and sweet and fulfilling a relationship is when both partners take care of themselves and bring their best self forward.

You have a whole new world to look forward to!

Recognize the Signs of People-Pleasing

First, you must recognize the symptoms of people pleasing. Self-awareness precedes all change. Understanding if you’re a people-pleaser and your go-to behaviors is the first step.

Ask yourself these questions and see if you check the majority of the boxes.

Do you...?

  • anticipate the needs of your partner, sometimes, you even know what they need or want before they do?
  • agree easily and frequently, even when you don’t want to?
  • feel guilty when you put your needs first?
  • avoid upsetting others?
  • shun conflict whenever possible?
  • base your self-worth on others’ approval and validation?
  • have difficulty saying no and rarely set boundaries?
  • over-give and have a lopsided relationship, sometimes feel like a beggar
    in love?
  • tend to overcommit and then feel overwhelmed?
  • get uncomfortable or anxious when your partner distances themselves or takes time alone?
  • feel relief when you are alone?

If these points sound like you, read on. It's time to shift the focus back to you and your needs and bring more love into your relationship.

Related reading: "Why People Pleasing Damages Relationships—and What to Do About It!"

The Cost of People Pleasing

You might already know how bereft it can feel to be a people pleaser but I'd like to show you in a very graphic way.

Let's do a simple exercise to illustrate the detrimental effect of people-pleasing and what I refer to as a felony against self.

Take an 8½ x 11 piece of paper and write your name in big letters on the middle of the paper. Now, look back on the past week. For every time you've given yourself up, felt resentment, avoided conflict, agreed when you disagreed, or pleased your partner when you actually needed rest, exercise, or a snack, tear off a piece of the paper and discard it.

Shocking isn't it?

Not much left of YOU.

However, it's important to highlight the price you're paying to help motivate  change. Constantly prioritizing others' happiness can lead to:

  • Unhappiness and depression
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Emptiness of self
  • Hypervigilance on others' needs and emotions at your own expense
  • Chronic stress and burnout
  • Reduced self-esteem and confidence
  • Vacant and hollow fulfillment
  • Unhealthy, one-sided relationships

Quote on love and respect.

Imagine a Balanced and Healthy Relationship

Envision a relationship where your needs and your partner’s needs are equally valued. At first, this may seem impossible to imagine and light years away from living in a balanced relationship. However, a part of creating a new future and renewed sense of self is owning our desire. We must start entertaining the qualities of a thriving relationship to identify when we are off track.

Imagine yourself completely happy and your partner expressing and loving you as much as you give to them. Get in touch with the bliss and ease of mutual respect, trust, and genuine happiness.

When you stop people-pleasing, you create space for authentic connection and personal growth. You open the door to your true self.

Related reading: "How to Use Empathy to Strengthen Your Marriage."

The Benefits of Saying No

Learning to say no is liberating. And when we set boundaries and limits for others, there are many benefits.

  • Time and attention for our true priorities.
  • Healthy boundaries allow others to know us better.
  • Gain respect from others.
  • Preserve your energy.
  • More love and connection.
  • Elimination of resentment.
  • Emotional maturity.
  • More fun and ease.
  • When you give, it comes from a free and overflowing place, not from guilt and resentment.
  • We no longer surround ourselves with "takers," those who take advantage of our generosity and giving.
  • Our lives are enriched by those in our lives.
  • Our relationships are authentically connected, energizing, and loving.

Three men at lunch laughing together while viewing a TikTok video on a smartphone.Five Key Actions: How to Stop People Pleasing in a Relationship

Key #1: Self-Care

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is not selfish; it's vital and the foundation of a healthy life and relationship.

You might feel uneasy or guilty initially when you put your needs first, but it's the beginning of self-love and a partnership of equality.

Dedicate time to activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul. Whether reading a book, going for a walk, or practicing mindfulness exercises, prioritize your well-being. Perhaps, go out to lunch with friends and have a good laugh. Nurturing friendships outside the marriage can renew you and bring more vitality to your relationship.

Since you're in the habit of pleasing others, you might need to tell yourself at first that if you take care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to take care of others. This small reminder will relieve guilt and motivate self-care. (It helped me back in my people-pleasing years.)

Care of self is your responsibility, not your partner's job. The better you care for yourself, the healthier your relationship will be!

Key #2: Redefine false and limiting beliefs.

Redefine Your Negative and Limiting Beliefs

People-pleasers usually harbor negative or limiting beliefs about themselves, such as feeling unworthy of love unless they’re constantly giving. Pleasers have defined their worth by how much they give to others.

Self-worth can't come strictly from what you do and give. You have a right to equal love and respect.

Discovering what underlying beliefs might be fueling your people-pleasing is critical for forging self-reliance to ensure your loving is free without expectations.

Challenge these beliefs by affirming your worthiness and recognizing that your value is independent of others' approval. Cognitive-behavioral techniques or EQ tools, like journaling and mindfulness, can help reframe these thoughts.

Be forewarned that if you've repressed your emotions, you might be surprised at how much you feel. And at times, you'll have conflicting feelings that can be confusing. Just listen and acknowledge. These are new expressions of yourself surfacing to reclaim parts of yourself.

A woman journaling about her feelings to stop people-pleasing.

Key #3: Develop Assertiveness.

Declare Yourself Free! Develop Assertiveness

The word assertiveness originated from the Latin participle assertus, which means “to declare free.”

Declare yourself free!

Free to be YOU!

Free to love and be loved.

Free to honor your needs, desires, preferences, hopes, dreams, and goals!

Begin to imagine and expect that your needs and desires will be met with loving acceptance. To assert yourself is to stand in your power and claim your right for equal love and respect. Assertiveness is the ability to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs openly and honestly.

Time to be free and be you!

Related reading: "If You Want a Successful Relationship, Increase Self-Mastery."

Key #4: Ask yourself what you need and want.

Ask, "What do I need?" or "What do I want?"

Before you can chart your own path, you need to actually know what you need and want. Typically, people-pleasers have gone so long appeasing and pleasing others that it's not uncommon to discover they don't even know what they need and want.

So, repeatedly throughout the day ask yourself these questions, "What do I need?" or "What do I want?" Don't be dismayed if you ask and come up empty.

Keep asking yourself.

You'll mine the diamonds buried under the avalanche of fears, bad habits, and pleasing others and their seemingly endless demands.

Keep digging until you hear that inner voice reveal the answer.

Be compassionate with yourself.

When I first started asking these two questions, sometimes the answer was as simple as a drink of water or to breathe more deeply. Other times, I needed to be alone and craved solitude. Since it was my job to keep everyone happy, taking alone time appeared selfish so I rarely claimed it. It took practice to assert that need and ask for time to myself. Even when I did, initially, the enjoyment was drowned out by the loud voice of guilt.

Knowledge is power. Self-knowledge is gold.

Mining your True Self is the most rewarding experience of a lifetime. Then, sharing that wealth with your partner is joyous and exhilarating.

And when you start sharing yourself more with others, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how thrilled people are who love us. Yet, at first, when we disagree or set a boundary, they may be surprised. Just remember, you're changing the rules of engagement and they have a right to their feelings whatever they may be.

Take the leap!

Yes! I want to increase self-awareness.

Key #5: Set Mini-Boundaries

Set Healthy Mini-Boundaries

Once you know what you need and want, boundaries become a whole lot easier!

Establishing clear boundaries is vital in every relationship, but particularly critical in a romantic relationship or marriage.

Boundaries are the limits you set for your own well-being.

They distinguish who you are from another. Your uniqueness is only known when you let others in on the grand mystery of YOU.

Respect begins with you.

Respect yourself enough to say out loud what you think and feel. No one can love you very well if they don't know who you are or how they impact you.

However, when we've been pleasing for a long time, boundaries can feel intimidating, even unsafe. So start small.

Start by identifying what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. Communicate with your partner. Let them know that you're going to practice saying no and asking for what you want. Tell them know to go easy on you and how important compassion and empathy are for you in this self-discovery process.

Notice when you're out of sorts with yourself. Are you feeling resentful? Angry? Unloved? Identify your emotions and decode their meaning. What is your emotion (your own personal GPS) telling you that you need? 

Each time you pay attention, you'll not only be able to take enlightened action but you'll be able to assert yourself lovingly before negative feelings arise.

Remember, setting boundaries is a form of self-respect and shows others how to treat you.

Related reading: "How to Set Firm, Loving, Healthy Boundaries with Family."

Healthy Boundaries, Happy Life Mini-Course

Closing Thoughts

Stopping the cycle of people-pleasing in your relationship is a courageous step toward reclaiming your life.

Valuing your needs, setting boundaries, and fostering mutual respect will shift your life and relationships. As you implement the keys above, you’ll notice a significant change in yourself and your relationship dynamics, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling partnership.

Remember, you deserve to be happy and fulfilled, not just in your relationship but in every aspect of your life. Embrace this self-discovery (and recovery) with confidence and compassion for yourself.

You’re not just reclaiming your life; you’re transforming it for happily ever after!

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


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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

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