A Therapist Teaches 2 Ways To Break Your Romantic Fawning Response

Are you always bending over backwards to please your partner? This could be a trauma response called fawning.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | September 17, 2023

Fawning is a way of coping with stress or danger by trying to please and appease someone whom you perceive as causing harm. It's a form of self-protection that involves sacrificing your own needs and desires to avoid conflict, criticism or rejection.

In therapeutic settings, many individuals grapple with this in their romantic relationships, often without realizing they're exhibiting a fawning response. These patterns, rooted in past traumas or learned behaviors, manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • "I seem to date people who are energy vampires."
  • "I've often felt more like a caretaker than a partner in my relationship – and it always keeps me on edge."
  • "I always go the extra mile to keep my partner happy, but they rarely do the same for me."

If these statements resonate with you, here are two ideas that can help you break the cycle of fawning in your romantic relationships.

1. Understand That Your People-Pleasing Could Have Its Roots In Underlying Trauma

Traumatic experiences, even those from our past, can deeply influence how we respond to stressful situations in the present. This is not just about the trauma itself, but also about our unique personality traits.

A 2021 study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that some individuals, due to their particular traits, may experience increased stress and negative emotions after being reminded of traumatic events. For instance, people who are naturally more emotional or less extroverted might show signs of stress more intensely than others. When applied to relationships, this can mean that past traumas, combined with our personality, can lead us to cope in specific ways — like fawning. Essentially, when faced with conflict, those past traumatic experiences might resurface, making us respond in ways that prioritize peace over addressing the real issue at hand.

For instance, consider a situation where your partner expects you to meet their parents, but you're not ready. Instead of expressing your hesitations, you might hastily agree to avoid disappointment. However, as the day approaches, your discomfort could become so overwhelming that you do not show up at all. While your initial agreement might have momentarily appeased your partner, not addressing your true feelings could result in greater misunderstanding and tension in the relationship later on.

Addressing your trauma can provide clarity, helping you understand that it's not solely your responsibility to manage your partner's expectations or problems. By recognizing and addressing the root causes of your behavior, you can learn to set healthy boundaries and communicate your needs effectively. This can help you break the cycle of fawning and develop healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

2. Your Trauma May Inadvertently Turn You Into A "Rescuer" And Your Partner Into A "Project"

A common manifestation of trauma is the continual attraction to partners who seem to need "fixing." Many people-pleasers find themselves drawn to such individuals, believing that their love and care can transform their partner's life. At its core, this behavior can be seen as a way to reclaim power in a dynamic where the person has felt powerless in the past, sometimes due to traumatic events.

A 2018 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that giving advice, an interpersonal behavior, can evoke feelings of power in the adviser. The findings revealed that giving advice amplified the adviser's sense of power, primarily because it led to a perceived influence over someone else's decisions or actions.

This is pivotal: if trauma left you feeling powerless, helping or "rescuing" someone could be a subconscious attempt to regain control or exert influence in a new context, essentially rewriting your narrative. Moreover, the study found that those who inherently sought out feelings of power were more inclined to give advice.

In the context of romantic relationships, this suggests that continually trying to "help" or "fix" a partner might not entirely be about the partner's needs. It could be an ulterior motive to feel a semblance of control to counteract past feelings of powerlessness from traumatic experiences. Recognizing this can be the first step in breaking patterns of putting your partner's needs above your own and focusing on healing, rather than turning relationships into projects.


Everyone comes with their own baggage, and it's important to know how to deal with your own before putting it all on the line for someone else. Recognizing and addressing patterns of fawning in romantic relationships can make you a more complete person, and can help you find healthier, more fulfilling connections.