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I am the ultimate people pleaser. I put others’ needs before my own; I do everything in my power to make others happy; and only then do I think about me. In my humble opinion, this makes me a loyal, dependable friend… but it doesn’t come without its weaknesses. At the end of the day, my self-sacrifice isn’t great for my wellbeing. And it’s really bad for my relationships. What? All relationships require sacrifice. Sacrifice is noble. Sure, sometimes making sacrifices for your significant other—like letting them control the remote or putting up with their snoring every night—is honorable and beneficial. But there’s a difference between making these small sacrifices or compromises and completely devaluing yourself and your needs.

Mutual Respect and Power

Ruth Fearnow, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, says she sees entirely too often how people pleasing tendencies and a lack of self-worth ruin relationships: “A man puts his partner on a pedestal. She can do no wrong, and yet, she treats him like dirt. Or a wife always concedes her point in arguments to avoid conflict. He believes he is justified and they both learn to minimize her needs and feelings.”

As I mentioned above, it is possible to give to your partner without putting your own needs on the backburner. Fearnow explains this balance: “You can give freely and fully in a loving relationship. It is when your giving turns to sacrifice, or worse, martyrdom, that the damage begins. It’s you not standing up for your needs. It’s throwing yourself under the bus—and feeling that self-righteous satisfaction at first, only to watch it sour into resentment, or worse, a deep feeling of worthlessness. When a person devalues themselves in a relationship, they may feel depressed and worthless or become resentful while the other party never questions their own behavior. The upper party has brief satisfaction only to become less satisfied in the relationship, for without equality, true intimacy is limited.

When you were a teenager, did you have that insecure teacher that you just did not respect? You know, the one that was the easy target? It is hard to respect someone who doesn’t respect themselves. A person who doesn’t value themselves will struggle to be happy in a relationship. An unhealthy partner will soak up the self-aggrandizing role of the better half. A healthier partner may be frustrated by the person’s lack of self-worth. In both cases, the power and respect disparity can lead the top dog to leave.”

The key is practicing equality in relationships. Does your opinion matter equally? Can you express negative feelings and hear negative feedback? Are both partners giving and loving? Does only one person clearly have more power? These issues tend to run deep. If you find yourself unable to change harmful people-pleasing habits, you may need to explore the deeper causes that keep you from the happy, healthy relationship you deserve.”

Practicing Equality in Your Relationship: 5 Tips

Fearnow says the key is practicing equality in relationships. “Does your opinion matter equally? Can you express negative feelings and hear negative feedback? Are both partners giving and loving? Does only one person clearly have more power?” Ask yourselves these questions and ensure you’re practicing equality in your relationships by prioritizing the following practices:

    1) Hear each other out.
    You both deserve to share your opinions and be heard by the other. This rings true when it comes to arguments, important discussions, and even mundane conversations, so as to ensure you’re both integral pieces of your relationship.

    2) Share and enjoy common interests.
    You’re in this relationship because you care about your partner and love to be around them. But oftentimes, as a relationship progresses, that time spent together becomes rarer and rarer. You should continue to prioritize time together and use that time to enjoy common interests. Not only will this strengthen that bond but create equality in your relationship as well.

    3) Explore uncommon interests.
    None of us are just alike—which means you and your partner probably have some differing interests. So, enjoy those that you share together, but also don’t hesitate to explore your uncommon interests alone. Give each other that freedom and continue to uphold that balance of power.

    4) Talk about and agree on who pays for what.
    Nobody likes to talk about money, but it’s important that you and your partner are on the same page financially. Are you comfortable with who pays for what? Is your partner? These are important questions to explore together.

    5) Respect you, your partner, and your relationship.
    And finally, above all, respect yourself, respect your significant other, and respect your relationship. If you make this your golden rule, you’ll likely succeed in practicing equality and maintaining a happy, healthy relationship.

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