The Worst Parts Of Dating A People Pleaser

What are you really saying “no” to?
A people pleaser
Unsplash /
Hian Oliveira

I think the best piece of marriage advice I ever got from my mother was this:

“The thing you love most about your spouse will also be the thing you hate the most.”

She was right, too. I’ve seen this play out in my marriage and when I’ve passed this nugget along to others, I’ve seen their faces light up and expand with new understanding.

For my mom, the thing she loves most about my dad is his big heart. If anyone has a problem or needs something, my dad stops and helps out. He is utterly reliable; I can’t think of a time when my father did not follow through on a commitment to help a person or give aid on a project. It’s what he does; it’s who he is. I challenge you to find anyone with a bigger heart than my dad has.

It also drives my mother nuts because this trait that she loves shows up at incredibly inconvenient times.

Like that one time we were in a very remote part of Northern California getting a final tank of gas before we headed in to the mountains to camp. The van was overstuffed with kids (including an infant) and we’d already been on the road for five hours. The next leg was the final stretch: another 45 minutes of driving before we arrived at our destination and we could finally stretch our legs and set up our sleeping quarters for the night. Dad finished filling the tank up, got his receipt and started walking back to the car. “Thank God,” Mom said. “Let’s get going.”

“Every ‘yes’ is connected to a ‘no.’”

Just a few feet from the car, however, the man at the other pump asked my dad a question. I don’t remember exactly what the guy asked, but my dad walked away from the car to engage and help. They chatted for a few minutes and my dad accompanied the stranger into the store (an exasperated “Oh, come on!” wafted from my mother’s lips), and we saw many wavings of hands and sharing of thoughts inside the store before the two men re-emerged fifteen minutes later. My dad shook the hand of this new non-stranger and got into the car. “Was that really necessary?” asked my mom, frustrated. “Yes, dear, it was. He had a simple problem and I could help him with it, so I did.”

“I could help, so I did” may be the mantra of my father’s life. In truth, it’s the mantra of the people-pleaser.

People-pleasers are the kindest people. They work with everyone, make few demands, and are always willing to give an ear or a hand. It doesn’t matter what they have going on in their lives, people-pleasers can be counted on to show up and help out. The word “no” doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.

And that’s a problem.

It’s a problem for their families, who don’t get the time and attention they deserve. It’s a problem for work; people-pleasers tend to take on too many projects and get overwhelmed, miss deadlines, and turn in lower-quality work. It’s a problem for their health, which gets overlooked due to time crunches. Priorities and goals get lost in the effort.

While on the outside, people-pleasing seems like the best of traits (we all know the phrase “it is better to give than to receive”), the truth is that people-pleasing has a price. For the people-pleaser, these costs are hidden; it seems to them (and I was one of them) that the only sacrifices are theirs: their time, their money, their help. Most of the time, that’s simply not true.

Here’s another bit of wisdom I gained from my mom: “Every ‘yes’ is connected to a ‘no.’”

Just like Newton’s Third Law states, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Identifying that opposite action correctly is critical to shifting out of a people-pleasing mindset.

When I say “yes” to arriving at the church early to help set up for the morning, I’m saying “no” to helping my wife get the kids up and ready for the day.

When I say “yes” to another working lunch, I’m saying “no” to the 10-minute walk that I know clears my head and helps me be more productive and turn out higher-quality work.

When I say “yes” to a new task at work, I say “no” to the project that potentially takes my career to the next level.

When I say “yes” to taking on the sick kids of the working mom in the neighborhood for the day, I’m saying “no” to giving my own kids the day I planned; I’m also saying “yes” to more stress and my own kids possibly getting ill.

Sometimes the yes/no tradeoff makes sense. Maybe that work task is a one-time gig and it helps you build a relationship with someone in another department that you will work with as you advance in the corporate ranks. Maybe that mom with the sick kids has helped you out in the past and it feels right to you to return the favor. As long as we know what we are saying “no” to, we can make the right choices.

So how do we do this? We start by understanding our real “yes.” When we think about our lives and our priorities, what matters most to us? Is it our spouse and kids? Following spiritual guidelines for nutrition or attending services? How about our career/work life: is there a goal there? How does it stack up against our other priorities?

When we get clear on these priorities, we get clarity on what we are saying “no” to every time we are asked for a favor. If my priority is my daughter, then I’m not going to sacrifice afternoons making sure she gets homework done and learns critical life skills so that I can put together the silent auction for the local animal shelter. I might be willing to help in discrete ways but I’m not going to commit to an ongoing activity.

In fact, the proverb “Every yes is connected to a no” works in reverse, too. When I say no to the silent auction, I’m saying yes to my daughter. When I say no to getting to church early, I’m saying yes to helping my wife, which helps her feel loved and valued.

Think about that for a moment. When we say no to the extraneous requests, we are saying a loud, resounding YES to the people who are most important to us.

How do you think that makes them feel? How do you think that investment reflects in your relationships?

What is the ROI on expressing the best (for you) yes?

When I first understood the power of this proverb, I made a decision on my top three relationships: I wanted to be a good wife to my husband, a good mom to my daughter, and a good employee for my boss. Once I got clear that those three relationships were my top priorities, it became a lot easier for me to say “no.”

I no longer have a boss, but I do have a ministry. Saying “yes” to the people I love and support through my support groups and Facebook group is a priority for me. It doesn’t supersede my relationships with my husband and daughter or my spiritual walk, but it’s a close fourth. This clarity has helped me focus on saying “yes” to what matters most to me, and gives me peace of mind when I decide to say “no.” The people-pleasing instinct still exists, but it’s a caged lion now.

What about you? Are you a people-pleaser? How does that impact your life? TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

The People Bringing You Delicious Dairy

A new Thought Catalog series exploring our connection to each other, our food, and where it comes from.

Meet Alise Sjostrom
The Worst Parts Of Dating A People Pleaser is cataloged in , , , , , , , ,