Trying to Please Your Partner Can Lead to Marriage Problems
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear,” Ambrose Redmoon.
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6 NKJV)Like us if you are enjoying this content.
By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s book “How We Love.”
This article is part of a series about the personality imprints covered in “How We Love.” You can find an introductory article about imprints here. It will be followed by a practical article with steps for dealing with your pleaser imprint. That article can be found here.
Your stomach feels tied in knots as you approach the scary dragon beast person to ask their opinion or permission. They’re going to tear your head off; you just know it. But they don’t. Physically, they probably can’t. But that didn’t make the idea of angering someone with your request any less terrifying.
For people pleasers, almost nothing is more intimidating than the prospect of having to deal with someone who is upset or angry– especially if they may have had a hand in upsetting them. But that’s just part of life, and Milan and Kay Yerkovich try to help pleasers learn how to conquer their anxiety through their book “How We Love.”
I Hate When People are Mad at Me
Pleaser imprints are usually nurtured by childhoods overshadowed by either an overprotective or a hypercritical parent. In the case of an overprotective parent– the child is taught most things are a cause for fear or anxiety, and they grow to believe it. Because their overly cautious parent is constantly swooping down and rescuing them from anything frightening or worrisome, they never learn how to quell these emotions independently.
In the case of a hypercritical parent– they become pleasers as a method of avoiding their parent’s anger or criticism. As the Yerkovichs describe it, they become “good boys” and “good girls,” to avoid anxiety or abuse. Because they are so concerned with tending to the feelings of others, they neglect their own and never learn how to manage them. (71-73)
Their imprint may also be caused by a constant source of anxiety such as an undiagnosed learning disability. School becomes a daily torment because they can’t keep up with the other kids and everyone ridicules them for it. They live in constant fear of having to answer aloud or being called up to the board. (76)
“Being away from the house can be stressful for these kids. That’s because they are unable to monitor the moods and atmosphere of the home environment when they are gone. Then returning home requires an assessment of the prevailing mood so these young pleasers can adjust their behavior accordingly.” (75) As adults, they constantly gauge their spouse’s emotional temperature without even realizing it.
I’m Not Worried; I’m Just Stressed
A pleaser is basically someone whose emotional “fight-or-flight” syndrome won’t shut off. They may feel a constant undercurrent of what they believe to be stress, but is actually anxiety. They sponge up the tension given off by those around them, and then do whatever it takes to get everyone to relax in order to calm their own tension. Because their parents never taught them how to deal with intimidating or unfamiliar situations, they do everything they can to prevent or avoid them as adults. Their parents might even have been the source of perpetual, unpredictable fear so they monitor those around them for signs of anger and then either flee or rush in to ameliorate them. Pleasers may make gestures that, on the surface appear selfless, but are actually methods of gauging their partner’s emotional status.
For example, a pleaser wife may make a ritual of sitting down after dinner every night with her coffee-loving husband. From the outside, it looks like she wants to do something loving for her husband, and maybe she does. But, unconsciously, this is a way for her pleasing imprint to determine how her husband feels about her. If he accepts the coffee, it must mean he’s happy with her. If he tells her no, he’s just not in the mood, she interprets that as him rejecting her, and immediately starts trying to find out why he’s mad. The problem is, just because he doesn’t feel like having a cup of coffee doesn’t mean he’s mad at his wife. But pleasers are so unprepared to handle rejection even the smallest refusals send them spiraling into dejection. (83)
Pleaser adults also often allow themselves to be taken for granted. Establishing boundaries is almost impossible for pleasers. Saying “no” means someone might get mad at them, and pleasers do just about anything they can to avoid confrontation. This means pleasers often end up over-burdened because they agree to take on more than they can handle.
Becoming over-burdened dovetails into another common characteristics of pleaser adults– powerful insecurity that saps their ability to make decisions. Because pleasers are paralyzed with fear at the prospect of angering someone or being rejected, they struggle with solving problems or taking action independently. It requires a level of self-reliance and self-confidence they just don’t possess. They usually abdicate the big quandaries such as child-rearing and finances to their spouse.
What the Bible Says About Man-pleasing
Scripture exhorts Christians against fearfulness. Yes, life is often intimidating and we are sometimes wracked with doubt over our choices, but this doesn’t mean we ought to cower or kowtow until the difficulty goes away. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7 NKJV) Yes, the Lord imbued us with caution so we would think before we run headlong into danger. But you mustn’t allow fear to keep you from accomplishing God’s purpose for your life. Consider some of the more well-known characters of the Bible– Esther, St. Paul, Ruth, David, etc. All of them faced terrifying situations, and were probably frightened of what might happen to them, but they knew they couldn’t use fear as an excuse not to do what was required of them. I’m not saying you have to be as stalwart as these people, after all, everyone is given a different measure of bravery, but you can find ways to make space for courage in your own heart.
Christian Counseling for People Pleasers
Imprints are difficult to grow out of. They have shaped your entire range for interacting with others. But, providing you’re willing to creep out of your comfort zone, you can learn to not be so afraid of the people around you. This article is accompanied by a follow-up article of tips and exercises from “How We Love” aimed at helping pleaser adults learn how to grow out of their imprint. A professional Christian counselor is equipped to employ proven therapeutic methods alongside spiritual principles to help you live the life of integrity God wants for you.
Also, if you’re married, you and your spouse may want to sit down with a Christian marriage counselor to discuss how your respective imprints affect your marriage and what you can do to improve it.
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.com – “2 Hearts On Coffee Cup” by artzenter
“Father hugging his daughter” by imagerymajestic