How People-Pleasing Sabotages Romantic Connection (And What To Do Instead)
When I started dating the man I’m currently with, we had an interaction that I’m pretty sure transformed my relationships with men forever.
He and I had been getting close over the course of a few weeks, and it seemed like an appropriate time for us to take our physical intimacy to the next level. I could feel his strong desire for me, and while I also felt desire for him, there was a little problem.
I didn’t want to have sex with him.
Not yet, at least.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t attracted to him. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to get close. It wasn’t because there was something wrong with our connection. It was just how I felt.
So I found myself at a relationship crossroads I think many of us experience: I could choose to ignore how I was feeling and fall into the role of people pleaser (as I’d done so many times before), or I could risk hurting him and stand by my truth.
Truth is where connection flourishes and real intimacy takes place.
My decision led to one of the most profound interactions I’d ever had with a man. Here’s what happened:
While cuddling at his place, I could feel my fear and discomfort rising, knowing I was going to have to tell him soon. So, I gathered my courage and started to share.
“I have something to tell you, but I’m really scared to say it.”
I scanned him to see his initial reaction. He seemed emotionally open and compassionate, so I kept going.
“I’m not ready to have sex with you. And there’s a lot of fear coming up for me as I tell you this. I’m scared I’ll hurt your feelings. I’m scared I might disappoint you. And I’m scared that if I do hurt or disappoint you, that you might stop caring for me or back away from me. But I don’t want to lie to you or to myself. This is my truth right now, and I have to stand by it.”
It was terrifying to say those words to him, but it also felt like such a weight had lifted. I was proud to stand by myself like that — to honor my truth! And I was completely shocked by how he responded.
“Shelly,” he said, looking me directly in the eye, unwavering, “the only thing I want from you is your truth. I don’t want your ‘yes.’ I don’t want your ‘no.’ I want what’s real for you.”
I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open at that point. I was beautifully stunned.
He continued, “When you’re in your truth, I get to be connected with you. But if you fall away from your truth — if you do something that you don’t want to do, just to make me happy — then our connection gets lost. Your truth is how I’m able to connect with you, and that’s what I want.”
I was blown away.
I stared at him, speechless, taking in the immensity of what he had just said. This was a huge gift — and a paradigm shift, no doubt. I realized how significant this interaction was — not only for me but for couples everywhere. His words were so simple yet so profound. I think there are lessons for everyone in that.
Truth is how we stay connected.
Truth is how we grow our intimacy.
Truth is the only way for us to feel known by the people we care about.
Truth is where deep love is formed.
When we focus on pleasing others — which I’ve done my whole life and you might have, too — we lose contact with ourselves. We ignore our truths. We ignore our inner knowing. And therefore, we automatically lose contact with the other person.
You can’t feel connected to someone else if you aren’t connected to yourself. That’s what makes the urge to please others so crazy! It’s a tactic we use to create connection, but it has the opposite effect.
Our sneaky egos tell us, “If you do what he likes, then he’ll like you.” Sure, there’s logic there.
So we follow that impulse, we disconnect from ourselves, we try to be liked, and eventually, we feel disconnected from everything: from our partners, ourselves, the relationship, and even love itself.
That’s not all. When we try to be pleasers, we don’t give our partners the opportunity to know who we really are. We hide ourselves away and wonder why we don’t feel known or loved. The reason is simple: We aren’t showing up in our truth.
Truth is where connection flourishes and real intimacy takes place. It’s a lesson that I’m practicing today, and it’s a lesson I want to offer you, too.
The next time you find yourself at a similar crossroads — where you can take the path of least resistance, or be brave and honor your truth — I encourage you to choose truth.
You might be surprised at the depth of intimacy that’s on the other side of being real.
Please leave a comment below telling us about how people-pleasing has sabotaged your connection with others and how you’re going to honor your truth even more, starting today.
If you want to know how I can help you embody your truth and can create the most connected relationship of your life, click here.
Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist with a holistic and spiritual approach to relationships. She has worked with thousands of clients on improving their relationships with others and themselves, and she's also the instructor of the popular mindbodygreen courses How To Become The Most Attractive Version Of Yourself and How To Attract A Partner.