- Some people have tend to be more nurturing than the normwhich may be due to their nature or their youthful experiences within the family.
- As adults, people can pass on these overly nurturing tendencies in their romantic relationships.
- Nurturing can have negative effects on a relationship – for example, a partner may make bigger and bigger demands.
Some people seem born to encourage others. Researchers have yet to locate a “nurturing gene,” but it’s almost axiomatic that by nature some people experience a tendency to serve others that far exceeds the norm.
On the other hand, an abundance of caring people have learned to be so because of the way their parents raised them. Typically, but not always (a necessary qualification), the messages they repeatedly received were that their core value lay in putting their mother’s and/or father’s wants and needs ahead of their own.
When, consciously or not, they complied with the unspoken demands of their parents, they were rewarded: words of approval, acceptance and love systematically followed their martyrdom behavior. And while their selfless, non-childish conduct didn’t “win” them particularly positive messages, over time they realized that failure to adopt a role of subservience led to criticism, disfavor or a pure and simple repudiation. In such cases, they might either rebel or give up their own dependency needs in order to strengthen their all-important (and too tenuous) bond of attachment to their guardians.
While this article does not focus on those parent-pleasing individuals—literally raised to be generally pleasing people—it is helpful to understand how family dynamics may have delayed or restricted the development of their personality. And, as they got older, they were more likely to suffer from chronic emotional issues related to anxiety, depression, and anger.
In short, whether some people are desperate to please people – or that others feed excessively or even dysfunctionally on them – is likely determined by both biological predisposition and the early family programs. Anyone who is deeply convinced that his worth is inextricably linked to what he can contribute to the lives of others will be vulnerable, as an adult, to a wide variety of relationship problems. For such conditioning can repeat itself automatically until they become aware of how hurtful it is – especially to themselves, their partner, and their primary relationship.
Because healthy, non-pathological prioritization of their own needs was associated with outward disapproval, and they could never learn to approve and validate themselves from within, they will try to secure and stabilize subsequent relationships by doing what has now become so familiar to them.
The Negative Effects of Overprotection in Adult Relationships
If you have been made to feel that others are intrinsically worth more than you and that taking responsibility for them is the only viable path to acceptance (even conditionally), the question is:
How, in a committed relationship with an adult, could all of this affect your partner? (e.g. see ET Grant, 2018).
Here are 5 ways:
1. You encourage, or maybe even pressure, your partner to rely on you, rather than allowing them to handle difficult situations on their own.
If you could attract the positive attention of your parents only by regularly demonstrating that they could count on you to meet their demands and expectations, this old programming could compel you to act in the same way with your current partner. But such behavior can cause your partner – especially if their own parenting doesn’t adequately address their addiction needs – to take advantage of your “gift” in ways that are detrimental to their own distinct abilities.
Generally speaking, it is difficult to feel good about yourself unless you have developed the personal strength to withstand adversity. But frankly, it can be extremely tempting to avoid such challenges when there is an easy way out. If you’ve pretty much invited your partner to unload their problems onto you, and even if given enough time and thought they could overcome them on their own, they’ll be less inclined to do the latter.
It is true that the simple fact of relying on you will give him immediate relief and ease the tension. Inevitably, however, it will keep him from moving forward with his life. And in the end, he’ll probably blame you as the overly helpful partner responsible for his stagnation – ironically, because you took too much care of him.
2. Beyond that, you’re probably looking for ways to help your partner when you’re not asked.
Not realizing that you are intrusive, since your partner may not want your help, he may interpret your helping behavior as invading his space. And so your misconceptions about closeness can result in them being prompted to establish a greater distance from you to escape what is suffocating it. Curiously, your super-sensitivity towards him can be considered extremely insensitive. And that reveals an inaccurate and unfocused empathy.
In his book THe Disease to Please (2001)Harriet Braiker quotes a man who divorced his overly helpful wife:
I know how much you have always done for me…but what I felt was growing resentment, even anger, because I felt weak and needy. I never felt like you needed me, and that made me stop feeling like a man [c’est-à-dire que sa dépendance était émasculante et compromettait à la fois son respect de soi et son sens de l’autonomie].
3. By parenting your partner as, unfortunately, you were forced to do with your parents, you are essentially condescending to him.
And because sooner or later he’ll feel infantilized by your taking responsibility for him, he’ll probably see you as having damaged his self-image. He may not be aware of it, but he will perceive you as having “designed” a degrading and unreciprocated relationship with him.
Originally, he may have been flattered by all of your attention and grateful that you made his life so much easier. But ultimately, he’s likely to see you as controlling and dominating, and willfully deprive him of the freedom to make his own choices and decisions. And growing frustrated with you, he will see himself as a victim in the relationship – and you (subconsciously trying to make yourself indispensable to him) as an aggressor.
So could you, for example, have ordered for him when you went out to eat, thinking he would appreciate not having to make up his mind? If so, you were not allowing him to act independently in an area where he feels perfectly capable and would have much preferred to act on his own. Contrary to what you wanted, your attention and devotion may well have been felt negatively.
4. You tell your partner how he feels or should feel.
And probably also, you will teach him the best way to deal with, or perhaps turn off, those feelings. To the extent that you are too involved with your partner, you may not be able to resist emotionally identifying with them and projecting your own feelings onto them. And given your powerful people-pleasing tendencies, you’re likely to take responsibility for those feelings, too — and without checking what, personally, is true for him.
Nobody likes to be “pre-empted” like that, so you’ll probably be put off when you assume you have the mind-reading authority to tell your partner about what they haven’t shared with you yet. If only to assert his independence and free will, he will be motivated to keep things to himself.
5. The fact that you are so useful to him can lead him, if he is now in a state of regression, to impose more and more demands on you.
And at some point, you are likely to burn out, to feel exhausted at the idea of having to take care of everything that the other is no longer comfortable handling alone. Considering the way you have “repackaged” him, he may be less and less ready to function like the adult he was before you started intervening on his behalf.
To conclude, if you can relate to any of the 5 points above – it’s time to check in with your partner and explore what might need to change within the relationship.