This topic was a request from someone in my audience. This is a very common relationship pattern and it offers a real opportunity for both people to grow & improve who they are. People-pleasers of course go along to get along, they are helpful & kind & often neglect their own needs. A Top Dog is something I’ve mentioned in past episodes, they go after their own wants with clarity & drive, and they can neglect others before they will neglect themselves. The old saying that opposites attract is exactly why this is such an ordinary pattern that can be observed in so many relationships.

Understanding The Relationships Between Top Dogs & People-pleasers

This is an ordinary relationship pattern and it offers a real opportunity for both people to grow & improve who they are. People-pleasers of course go along to get along, they are helpful & kind & often neglect their own needs.

So what do I mean when I say there is an opportunity to grow? This goes back to my definition of Love. Real love means being willing to do the work of becoming a better person. When my kids were teens I had to work harder to be a better parent & not give in to exasperation & frustration as easily as I wanted to…with my adult children to be a better parent I have learned to be more silent than I have ever been in my life, editing my opinions to one sentence very occasionally  unless I am asked. This is the work of growing up for all of us who love someone. 

My last episode #97 was an interview about people-pleasers. So let’s begin with examining Top Dogs. Top Dogs are able to cope with rejection or not being liked & they are excellent at taking care of themselves. People-pleasers are attracted to these strengths because it’s missing within themselves. 

So how does a Top Dog person need to grow into a better version of themselves? A Top Dog person takes up too much of the space that is in between two people. A Top Dog person can talk too much about their wants & themselves without factoring in the other person. They need to learn from the people-pleaser how to be kinder & be more aware of another’s needs. They are attracted to people-pleasers who are more graceful socially & are more easily liked by others which are qualities often missing within themselves.

How does change begin… always with moments of self awareness. So a Top Dog person needs to spend time becoming aware of HOW they fill up the space. Do they fill it with their priorities and ignore what’s important to their partner? Giving serious consideration to the HOW is really crucial…..because that’s the beginning of doing something different. So I was a Top Dog person & I realized I spent a lot of time listening to my clients but not so much to my partner the people pleaser guy who always has my back. Then I came up with an action to interrupt my habit of taking over the conversations by teaching myself to put my hand over my mouth.

That’s the work of love; recognizing & owning your dark side & too muchness as a Top Dog person. This is why you were attracted to the people pleaser in the first place because they have qualities that are missing in you. You have to be willing to accept you are wired to be “Too Much” which works well for you in so many ways and also understand how being Too Much is a problem for those you love. remember another of my favorite sayings is growing up is honestly facing painful situations… can be painful to understand you are being unfair & have too much of the power in the relationship because you are not good at sharing, & yet this is exactly what needs to happen.

So how does a People-pleaser person need to grow into a better version of themselves? A People-pleaser person takes up “Too Little” of the space that is in between two people. They spend their time focusing on others & what’s good for them. People-pleasers end up neglecting themselves and then they end up resentful about feeling neglected. They need to learn from the Top Dog how to speak up about their wants & their own priorities.

So change begins with awareness. So a People-pleaser needs to become aware of HOW they don’t take up enough space. People-pleasers tend to swallow their own wants so the action might be to wonder what matters to you in a discussion where you are just going along to get along. The actions to begin to grow up would be first to know your wants & then to say them out loud…to your partner. Start with the small stuff of wanting by saying where you’d like to go out to eat first instead of asking the other person.

People-pleasers also need to own their dark side. They can ultimately be untrustworthy because they are not being authentic. They are not authentic because they are erasing themselves & their truths by not speaking up. It’s like someone who keeps the secret of being gay & then ends up not being truly known, that is just too big price to pay. It can be very painful to recognize this about yourself & yet that recognition can lead to the action of learning to speak up more which is why you feel in love with the Top Dog who has no problem speaking up, they do something well that is missing in you which is part of why you love them in the first place.

People-pleasers will be more willing & find it easier to make sacrifices for their partner & to make the relationship work. The Top Dog needs to consider what’s unfair & take it seriously when they demand or ask for too much from their partner. If it benefits the Top Dog they may take the people -pleaser’s sacrifice for granted. The people-pleaser has to determine when things are unfair or unreasonable and speak up when they are taken for granted.

I define people-pleasers as being Too Little of themselves & Top Dogs as being Too Much of themselves. You can find drawings on the relationships page of my website that illustrate this. So I include terms like Too Much for Top Dogs & Too Little for People-pleasers. Top Dogs can be too much of themselves spilling over & crowding their partners. Too Muchers have to learn to edit, to back up to make room for someone else. It’s too easy to think just about themselves. Too Littlers are not enough of themselves. They need to carve out some space & stand up in it. They may need to learn it’s ok to be angry & to share their true feelings of disagreement.

It can be very difficult for the TD/TooMuch partner or the PP/TooLittle partner to change because they both get a lot of pay offs in their current roles. Top Dog people are really good at having the most power & People-pleasers are the best liked by everyone. Being liked & having power are both very enticing. 

Avoiding conflict or conversations that make you uncomfortable stunts your growth & harms relationships. I’m going to repeat this because I want all of you to be brave & face conflict more often. The more you practice tolerating conflict, the more your skills will improve. Avoiding conflict or conversations that make you uncomfortable stunts your growth. Yes, there maybe disappointments that emerge but managing being disappointed or disappointing is an ordinary burden we must all carry in this life on planet earth.

Conflict creates greater intimacy because there is greater truth. Conflict is about growth. Always needing to win, be in charge & control is not good for Top Dogs in relationships. Withholding, unspoken resentments hoarded by people-pleasers are lethal in relationships.

It takes an enormous amount of practice to install new behaviors, just like the work of doing physical therapy when you are home, not just on your appointment. You have to embrace that wince of self recognition when you’ve been a hog or insincere. You can’t climb down a hole of feeling so bad about who you are that you don’t change anything. The right thing to do is generally the hard thing to do just like the courage displayed by true blue republican Cassidy Hutchinson testifying at the January 6th hearings. Having the courage to face what’s wrong within you & facing those hard truths because you love someone else is an amazing achievement.

Often Top Dog people are experts at wielding anger to shut their partner up or have their partner doubting themselves. Top dog problems are more obvious than people-pleaser problems. People pleasers seem so sweet but they silently pile up & collect their resentments feeling entitled to a self righteous explosion down the road. So neither position is virtuous or constructive in their anger delivery which makes the road to repair almost impossible to discover. 

You have to learn new skills. Everybody has to learn new skills so they are more balanced & whole & less lopsided. When people-pleasers learn to stop/pause & ask themselves what they want then they have access to being a more whole person. When Top Dogs learn to edit & reign themselves in, pausing to include others then they are a more whole person.The pause is where you can begin with self regulation. The pause is where you disengage from the lopsided bad habit that keeps you stuck. So people-pleasers need to pause & explore within themselves & Top Dogs need to pause & look at the other person, checking in with them for their input.

Relationships can last for decades when the Top Dog learns how to be more thoughtful of others & the People-pleaser learns to be more authentic for themselves. This exchange of learning & growth creates a more solid infrastructure of truth that makes both people more whole, grown up, more able to begin repairs & more interesting to be with. Both partners deserve respect that they each have something to offer to their opposite.

It’s important to recognize & accept these hard truths in order to have more range & fullness in who you are as a person. It’s through self awareness of how you may crowd your partner that you learn the greater grace of backing up or through the self awareness of how you are not truly known that you learn to step forward & be more of yourself. Both partners have more wholeness that helps them have a better life. I consider this the great gift of honesty & growth in an authentic partnership.

My challenge for you today: Let me share how one simple step in order to embrace greater wholeness for yourself. Let’s begin by asking yourself which are you a Top Dog/Too Mucher who takes up too much of the space? Remember Top Dog’s tend to satisfy their wants more easily & are more willing to not be liked, if this is you then here is my prescription for you:

The Top Dog needs to back up by asking their partner more questions & make less statements.

People pleaser/Too Littler who takes up too little of the space. Remember People-pleasers are more easily liked & like to get things right, if this is you then here is my prescription for you:

The People pleaser needs to step forward by making more statements & stop hiding out by always asking questions.

 Like wikipedia this podcast & my website share knowledge in the public interest without making a dime. Thanks for listening & don’t forget you can find the children’s book Dancing With Your Lizard Brain for sale on amazon.

0 0 votes
Article Rating


About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments



Download your FREE checklist


Would love your thoughts, please comment.x