I am a people pleaser: a feather-smoothing, shoulder-dusting, mood-lightening, seat-swapping, satisfied customer. My distaste for confrontation often leaves me struggling to be forthright with friends, juggling too much in my job, and avoiding salary negotiation at work. But I know I'm not alone. This hesitancy to assert oneself is a common problem amongst most Americans and especially women in the workplace. Forbes reports that,
“In the U.S., we regularly pay whatever price we’re quoted, whether it’s for a pound of apples or a housecleaning service. When it comes to salary negotiations, many Americans have a “take what you can get” mentality that explains our discomfort with negotiations.”
It seems to me that, if women are avoiding confrontation at work, there is a good chance we are adopting a “take what I can get” mentality in our personal relationships as well.
Rather than approaching relationships with a bit of a negotiating spirit, we see them as all or nothing: take what's on the table, or cut your ties and run. That feeling is even worse when you want to advocate for yourself, but fear seeming "needy" or "crazy." But both of those interpretations are looking at it wrong—it really isn’t all about you. The truth is, being assertive about your needs means you are being an advocate not just for you, but for the relationship itself—and when you do that the man you are in the relationship with will thank you too.
Just as we can learn to be more confident in the workplace, there are things we can keep in mind to help us take a more proactive stance in our relationships as well.
01. Expressing your needs isn’t displeasing.
The majority of men prefer clarity. If you aren’t happy with the way things are going they want to know about it. The truth is, men spend half their time guessing about what might make you happy and the other half assuming that the status quo is working. You're not doing your guy any favors letting him think things are OK when they are not. He will likely feel frustrated when he realizes that you have been letting him spin his wheels—he isn't a mind reader! If a guy is put off because you are advocating for yourself, then he is not worth your time or your easy breezy attention.
02. Advocating for yourself isn’t just about your needs.
Part of a people pleaser's distaste for negotiation is that it seems very needy. What I need, what I want, what I deserve. But advocating for yourself in a relationship is really about both party's needs. Communicating your needs shouldn't be a one-way conversation. This is just as much a chance to find out what he needs as it is to express what you need. For example, telling him that TV dates every Saturday night just don't fly gives you both a chance to settle on a date-night situation that makes each of you happy.
03. Know thy enemy.
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. It's one thing to have a generosity of spirit that is happier when those around you are happy, but it's another thing to believe that you are less worthy of happiness or that your needs come in second place. Psychologists suggest that people pleasers should know the difference between goodwill and pleasing.
“This isn't about never doing anything for anyone else again. Notice when in your heart you genuinely want to do something for someone versus when you're doing something just because someone else wants you to, or you want to manipulate the situation, or you fear consequences if you don't do it. Learning the difference will help you make better choices for yourself.”
Sacrifice is an important part of healthy, happy, committed relationships, but so is clear communication and give-and-take. Acknowledge your propensity to sweep your own needs under the rug and tell your man that you struggle with this. This self-awareness will help you to identify between an opportunity for loving sacrifice and the moment you need to speak up—for your sake and his.