Are You A Glutton For Punishment? Replace People-Pleasing Habits With These Tips

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated November 6, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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

You Don’t Have To Keep Rehashing The Same Argument

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.

A glutton for punishment will often acquiesce to their partner’s criticism or doggedness. Others may  attempt to change some aspects of themselves to please their partners, especially at the beginning of the relationship.

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.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
You Don’t Have To Keep Rehashing The Same Argument

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. 

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