Have you ever been, or are you now, in a relationship where you keep forgiving your partner, only to feel like you keep getting dumped on? This might qualify you as a glutton for punishment. If you’ve never heard of the term ‘glutton for punishment’ before, it refers to a person who seems to take on unpleasant or unreasonable tasks or challenges on a habitual basis. The word “glutton” has been used for centuries by Christians to describe a person who has a great capacity for something. The expression “glutton for punishment” was first seen published in the early nineteenth century, and originated as a pugilistic term first used in British journalism, referring to fighters who seemed to keep coming back for more. Punishment glutton successfully captures the idea of a person who habitually takes on burdensome or unpleasant tasks.
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms offers the example “Rose agreed to organize the church fair for the third year in a row because she’s a glutton for punishment.”
There are many reasons why people may act like gluttons for punishment. Perhaps they are terrified of ending up alone. Maybe they believe that they don't deserve better than their current circumstances. In other instances, it may be difficult to find a way out of a complex situation.
If someone is taking you for granted, piling on burdensome or unpleasant tasks, disrespecting you, or even abusing you, it is time to say walk away. What follows are some tips to help you stop being a glutton for punishment and set boundaries for how you wish to be treated in relationships.
(Note: These tips refer to habitual behaviors. Everyone can have a bad day, get snappy, or take their partner for granted. If you're experiencing items on this list often enough to feel down or distraught, then you may need to reevaluate your current relationship.)
Tip #1: Stand Up Against Excessive Criticism
It's one thing if your partner is trying to help you with, the way you cook a certain dish, or the way you handle your finances. Constructive criticism is basically a way of saying, "Hey, it looks like you need a little help with this. Let me offer you one way to do it better."
Excessive criticism, however, looks like nitpicking every little thing you do, your partner asks you to change something about your personality or the way you do things, so you oblige them. Then, your partner still isn't happy, telling you that you only changed because they told you to.
It’s hard to feel good about yourself in this kind of dynamic. A person who seems to never be satisfied with you is likely unhappy with themselves and projecting their insecurities onto you in order to validate their behavior and thought patterns. There's a difference between someone trying to help you and someone hyper-focusing in unreasonable amounts over everything you do. One is healthy, the other, not so much.
Try to phrase your concerns using “I feel” statements versus “You make me feel” statements – the latter can feel accusatory and cause someone to feel defensive. Defensiveness makes it difficult to receive someone’s concerns. For example, you might express: “I feel unloved/rejected/belittled when your first comment to me after a long day is about how messy the house it.” This phrase might be better received than an imperative statement, where you might say: “You make me feel terrible all the time!”
By using “I feel” statements, you’re prioritizing the emotion you’re experiencing versus placing blame on a person.
Tip #2: Take Pride In Your Originality
"No, that's not how you play the game. This is how you play the game."
"If you watch more comedies with me, you'll grow to love them."
"Here are all the reasons why your political beliefs are wrong, and why you should believe what I believe."
Do any of these situations sound familiar? While some people are excited by the differences they have with a partner, others may view them as threats, and may habitually insist upon proving their way to be correct in order to feel a sense of power or control.
If the things you sacrifice are personally meaningful, like a deeply held belief, then the relationship may not last long. You will likely grow to resent someone you feel forced you into doing or becoming something you did not want.
Instead of engaging in glutton-for-punishment tendencies, you may try to be more open about why you enjoy doing things a certain way or talk about the lessons and positive things your hobbies have helped you learn or develop.
To try and make the process fun, you might set one night out of the week or month when each partner is responsible for teaching something new to the other. Prioritizing learning and growing as an integral part of your relationship can take the pressure off of needing to be right all of the time, and even help you have fun while you’re at it.
Tip #3: Insist Upon Justice
"You left the toilet seat up when you left this morning, and the dog drank out of it!" You apologize and swear to never do it again, but in a matter of minutes, you are both bringing up past injustices that were supposedly settled. The game of tit-for-tat never ends, and nobody ever wins.
True justice means genuinely apologizing and doing what it takes to right a wrong. This is true for all parties in a relationship; when confronted with an issue, it is often best to take responsibility for your actions and aim for future improvement than it is to try to shift blame or shrug it off.
If you and your partner constantly find yourselves in this vicious cycle, it may be time to reevaluate that relationship.
Tip #4: Prioritize Relationships That Fuel – Versus Deplete – Your Tank
Gluttons for punishment tend to have overlapping tendencies with people pleasers. For example, if their partner loses his or her job, they may continue to buy them lunches and dinners, rather than eat at home, because they don't want them to miss out. Or they may give their partners rides to work or school because they don't have a car. Would their partners do the same for them?
People pleasers regularly prioritize others’ needs over their own. While this is sometimes necessary, it is crucial to put your own needs first occasionally, or else you may experience burn out. The next time you go out of your way to do something generous for a partner, ask yourself if they would do the same for you. If the answer is "no", then it may be time to reestablish a balance or exit the relationship.
Tip #5: Decide Not To Allow Anyone To Make You Feel Bad About Yourself
Perhaps you’ve heard Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous line: “No one is allowed to make you feel inferior without your consent.” Her words often ring true in relationships.
Your partner is often comparing you to their exes ("They always used to do it this way") or their friends’ partners ("His husband tried it this way, and they really enjoy it") is unhealthy behavior. Consider having a serious conversation about the effects these comments have on you emotionally using the same “I feel” statements listed before. Your partner may not realize they’re making you uncomfortable, and so may not know that they need to change their habit. Additionally, you may have habits that make them uncomfortable; speaking openly about these habits can promote a stronger relationship and better understanding of each other.
If this is a recurring habit, however, it may be time to decide not to settle for someone who doesn't appreciate you. Maybe it is time you substituted empowerment to love yourself more. By improving yourself, you can provide vicarious reinforcement to others. Vicarious reinforcement often leads to imitation. This is the opposite of vicarious punishment, wherein a person avoids doing the same behavior after observing someone suffered negative consequences for engaging in that behavior.
Online Therapy Can Empower You To Stand Up For Yourself
Do you feel like when you have something important that you want to discuss, that your partner just shuts you down? Effective communication is an essential ingredient in a healthy relationship, and many of the concerning behaviors on this list can be avoided or resolved if all parties are willing to sit down and communicate with each other.
BetterHelp counselors can offer you even more tips and advice to help you find the strength to get away from those who are bringing you down so that you can put more energy into lifting yourself up. Licensed BetterHelp therapists can demonstrate healthy ways of communicating your needs, setting boundaries, and noticing when you’re allowing others to take advantage of you.
Your partner can even participate with you in sessions and the two of you can role play scenarios using effective versus ineffective communication. The benefits of choosing BetterHelp include having the ability to select a counselor who specializes in the domain where you’re experiencing challenges, as well as the freedom to set a schedule that works for you.
Online Therapy Shows Effectiveness In Resolving Relationship Challenges
Online therapy has proven to be effective in addressing a range of issues that disrupt relationships, including situations where one partner seems to be a glutton for punishment and the other takes advantage of their partner’s habit.
A recent study identified that client evaluations of online therapy were essentially the same as their evaluations of in-person therapy. BetterHelp therapists use the same methods as in-person counselors – like emotionally focused couples therapy (EFCT) and the Gottman Method couples therapy (GCT) – which additionally show positive outcomes and improved marital relations when used in online contexts.
You and your partner don’t need to continue engaging in the same hurtful cycles. You can replace your tendency to be a glutton for punishment with habits that serve you and simultaneously grow your relationship in healthy ways. BetterHelp counselors are ready to help you set boundaries, speak truth to your feelings, and communicate effectively.
What does it mean to be a glutton for punishment?
A glutton for punishment is a person that seems to enjoy doing tasks or experiencing things that most people view as unpleasant. For example, a glutton for punishment may volunteer for extra tasks at work without additional pay. It implies that the person keeps putting themselves in situations that cause them discomfort, hardship, or adversity, almost as if they enjoy the pain or difficulty. This expression is often used humorously and not literally to highlight someone's tendency to repeatedly engage in activities or situations that others might try to avoid due to the challenges they present.
How do you use glutton for punishment in a sentence?
Here are five examples showing how to use the idiom “glutton for punishment” in a sentence:
- Tim's enthusiastic approach to complex coding problems at the office led colleagues to playfully label him a glutton for punishment.
- John's relentless pursuit of origami mastery despite repeated failures showcased his status as a glutton for punishment.
- Sarah is a real glutton for punishment, she has run 5 marathons this year.
- Emily's determination to perfect her piano performance by practicing long hours showed that she was a glutton for punishment when it came to achieving musical excellence.
- Mark's insistence on taking on extra work assignments, even during busy periods, indicated his reputation as a glutton for punishment among his colleagues who marveled at his workload.
What is the true meaning of glutton?
The word “glutton” has been used by Christians for centuries to describe a person who has a great capacity for something. This means a “glutton for punishment” is someone who has a great capacity to endure punishment. The expression originated in the early nineteenth century, and began as a pugilistic term first used in British journalism, referring to fighters who seemed to keep coming back for more.
Is glutton positive or negative?
Being described as a "glutton for punishment" typically carries a negative connotation. It implies that someone willingly or habitually engages in challenging or difficult situations, often to their own detriment. While it can reflect qualities like perseverance and determination, it can also suggest a lack of self-care or an inclination to repeatedly subject oneself to unnecessary hardship.
In general, the term glutton means taking on more than you need to for no real gain in the end. In most cases, being labeled a glutton for punishment is not seen as a positive trait, as it implies a potential disregard for one's well-being or an inability to recognize when to step back from challenging circumstances.
What is the best example of gluttony?
The example of gluttony that tends to be used the most is with overeating or binge eating. When a person eats more than they have to or eats with the purpose of seeing how much they can stomach rather than for nutrition, they may be described as a glutton. This is slightly different than the definition used in the phrase, “glutton for punishment” in which glutton means to be able to endure a great amount.
What can you be a glutton for?
You can be a glutton for various things beyond just punishment. Gluttony refers to excessive indulgence or consumption of any pleasure or desire to an unhealthy or wasteful extent. Here are some examples of what someone can be a glutton for:
- Information: If you're constantly seeking out and consuming information from various sources without discernment or consideration for quality or relevance, you might be a glutton for information.
- Technology: Engaging with digital devices and technology to an excessive extent, to the point where it interferes with daily responsibilities and face-to-face interactions, could indicate a gluttonous relationship with technology.
- Attention: Craving constant attention and validation from others, seeking it through social media, public displays, or dramatic behavior, might reflect a gluttony for attention.
- Work: An excessive dedication to work, consistently prioritizing it over other aspects of life, can indicate being a glutton for work or career success.
- Material Possessions: Accumulating possessions beyond practical necessity, driven by a constant desire for more rather than functional need, can reflect a gluttonous attitude towards material things.
- Entertainment: Binge-watching television shows, playing video games excessively, or spending excessive time on leisure activities to the detriment of other responsibilities might signify a gluttony for entertainment.
- Experiences: Constantly seeking out new and intense experiences, such as extreme sports or thrill-seeking activities, without consideration for personal safety or balance, can be a form of gluttony.
- Exclusivity: Craving the exclusive or rare, seeking out limited edition items or experiences, and constantly pursuing the feeling of "having something others don't" might indicate gluttony for exclusivity.
- Approval: Always seeking approval, validation, or praise from others, even at the cost of compromising your true beliefs or values, can be a form of gluttony for approval.
- Luxury: Constantly pursuing luxury and high-end experiences, regardless of practicality or the ability to enjoy them, can reflect a gluttonous desire for opulence.
In each of these cases, the key is to find a balance that respects your own well-being, the needs of others, and ethical considerations. Gluttony, in any form, can lead to negative consequences and hinder personal growth and contentment.
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