Does this scenario with your girlfriend or wife sound familiar?

You: “Where do you want to go for dinner?”
Woman: “Where do you want to go?”
You: “Let’s go to The Bistro.”
Woman: “OK.”

How about this one:

You: “I would like us to go on a vacation.”
Woman: “That sounds wonderful. What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?”
You: “I was thinking of skiing.”
Woman: “Oh, I know you love to ski. Great, let’s do it.”

You may see nothing wrong with these conversations. But they are damaging to both people in the relationship. Let me explain why.

The woman who constantly gives, gives, and gives—and puts the needs and wants of others who are close to her ahead of her own is a what I call a “people pleaser.” She does not consider the importance— or even the possibility—of prioritizing herself. In fact, because she gives so much, she may not even be conscious of her own needs and desires. She acts from the belief that the more she gives, the more loved she will be. Unaware of this pattern, she diligently works to please people.

What is so sad about “people pleasers” is that they are dependent on love that sources from the outside. Although they are loving to many, they give little to themselves and seldom stand for their own desires.

So, while it may feel great to get your way most of the time, your partner’s “people pleaser” pattern exhausts and depletes her. Wouldn’t it be more fun to live with a turned-on, exhilarated woman? Even a challenge? At the same time, ignoring or taking advantage of her pattern of pleasing you undermines the intimacy and happiness possible in your relationship.

I grew up as a “people pleaser” and lived that way as a married woman for 15 years, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was happy being a full-time mom of four and had many friends, but I didn’t focus on what pleased me. I didn’t prioritize what I wanted in the context of my marriage. I didn’t ask for what gave me pleasure: shared family responsibilities, leisure activities we might enjoy together, time for myself, and a satisfying sexual life. The only areas where I fully expressed myself came from areas where my husband had little interest and didn’t take the lead: parenting, personal friendships, our social life as a couple, home décor, and community service.

If you want to have a more authentic, equal, and satisfying relationship, then begin by asking yourself some questions:

• Is your partner a “people pleaser,” putting yours and others’ needs ahead of her own most of the time? How does that show up?
• How happy is your woman?
• How intimate is your relationship?
• What are your costs as your partner subjugates her needs and desires? How does that show up?
• What impact is that having on the intimacy in your relationship? Emotionally? Sexually?
• Do you often prioritize your woman’s wants and needs?
• Do you encourage her to express her ideas? Her feelings? Her desires? Her grievances?
• How supportive are you of her work and personal interests?
• How does it feel to accept her self-denying pattern while getting your way more? Do you feel remorse? Regret? Pangs of conscience?
• How can you be a more loving partner? How can you create a deeper, more satisfying relationship?

Once you’ve done some soul-searching, it’s time to create a happier and more intimate relationship. Here are some tips:

• Initiate conversations about how your woman is feeling. Listen deeply! Encourage her to express her feelings. What is stressful? What makes her happy?
• Ask her what she would like from you—what you can do to make her life happier and easier. Be responsive to what she expresses.
• Show your appreciation for all that she does for you and your children.
• Support and acknowledge her career and community endeavors.
• Think of ways to give her time for herself—lighten her load by sharing home and family responsibilities.
• Encourage her to give more time, attention, and treats to herself.
• Acknowledge her beauty often.
• Plan enjoyable couple times on a regular basis. Create more shared pleasure.
• Ask her about her sexual desires and satisfaction.
• Create surprises for her: a special show, a gift—it can be small or large.

I have faith in the goodness of men, and believe that many single guys, fiancés, and husbands have good intentions but just don’t think about relational dynamics. If their girlfriend or wife doesn’t complain—they think everything is OK. Remember, “people pleasers” don’t complain!

Men can take the lead by encouraging their partners to tell them what they want or need. How are they feeling about shared family responsibilities? Are important decisions made mutually or unilaterally?

Men who stand for their partner’s happiness as well as their own have far more satisfying and authentic relationships that enrich the soul and strengthen the couple.

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