When playing nice is bad for your relationship

Do you begin each new relationship bending over backwards to please your new partner? Do you fall in line with their plans, their needs, and wants, while suppressing your own? Literally, nothing is too much trouble for your new partner. You are Mr or Mrs Altruistic, conveying a selfless love of your partner, wishing only for their happiness and expecting nothing in return. The trouble is - inevitably - at some point after the ideation stage of the relationship you get tired of negating your own needs. Playing the part of the pleaser has become utterly exhausting. You stop being so pleasing. Your partner (understandably) is hurt and confused. What did I do wrong? Cracks appear in the relationship. Resentment simmers. Toxicity sets in. If you recognise this cycle playing out in your own life, read on - you may be 'a pleaser'.


While there is a wealth of academic research that asserts the psychological benefits of altruism, such as the release of endorphins from performing a good act often referred to as 'the helper's high', and a decreased sense of hopelessness and depression, attempting to please others all of the time can detrimentally impact relationships. At some point, 'the pleaser' becomes tired of pleasing others but has spent so long negating or masking their own needs that they're not quite sure how to begin to be honest about what they need from their partner to get their own needs met. This can lead to suppressed resentment in 'the pleaser', which commonly mutates into passive-aggressive behaviour, whereby discontentment seeps out and is expressed in an underhand way.

If you hail from a family in which pleasing behaviour earned you maximum approval, it's not surprising that on an unconscious level you went into adulthood continuing the same strategy of pleasing behaviour to gain approval - particularly if it was coupled with a feeling of being unwanted or not 'being seen' in childhood. The cost to all this, of course, is that your inherent need as an adult for meaningful human connection in which you are seen and accepted in all your messy, most vulnerable parts is being lost in all the pleasing behaviour.

If you suspect that you may be 'a pleaser' and want to do things differently, a good place to start is to ask yourself, "Why do I feel the need to please others all the time and never myself?". Many clients, when encouraged to ponder this, say things like, "Well, you are meant to please others aren't you?", or contort their facial expressions in a way that says "isn't it obvious?".

No, actually, it really isn't obvious. Relationships are a two-way thing, and the art of forming a healthy adult relationship is very much about managing to negotiate both party's core needs to a level of mutual satisfaction. Counselling is a place in which we can get curious about why we negate our own needs to a level that inevitably induces resentment. Often, the root fear is of being disliked.

As a child, the pleaser may have come to the conclusion that others would only like them if they pleased others all the time. This is the sort of black and white thinking of a child. As adults with more information and nuanced thinking, we can formulate different, more potent strategies to get our needs met. The truth, of course, is that if you please yourself a bit more - in the long term - others will find you 'much nicer to be around'. Why? Well, for a start, you'd likely be less stressed, discontented, and perhaps even less passive-aggressive. Crucially, being more honest about your own needs would mean you'd be more authentically you, and there is little that attracts people more than the sniff of authenticity in a person. We feel it on a subliminal level as a good energy vibe.

The bottom line is that, if you enter a new relationship playing the part of ''the pleaser', the inevitable long-term result will be pain and disappointment. So, do yourself a favour and begin your next relationship in a different way. Less "your wish is my command" and more, "I really like doing these things for you as it gives me a lot of joy to see you happy, but I also need these things from you to get my own needs met". However hard that feels in the moment, in the long-term, you save both you and your partner a whole heap of heartache.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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