So, you’ve met that special woman… and proceeded to do countless amounts of favors, always at her beck and call. Sure, men like making their girlfriends happy, but what if that once-chivalrous desire to please your one and only suddenly starts feeling like a choke collar? Getting walked all over is a danger men in every relationship stage must be wary of — especially if they’re really smitten. So, how can you keep her happy without sacrificing your manly sense of integrity? Take heed of the following tips, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can turn the situation around.

Tip #1: Be nice, but avoid letting anyone treat you like a doormat
“I had a live-in girlfriend that always asked me to do favors for her,” says Eddie, 35, of Louisville, KY. “At first, I didn’t mind; I liked her... but she ended up totally taking advantage of me. She’d ask me to make trips to three or four different stores on the way home from work, just so she could watch The Bachelor. I’m dead serious! We ended up separating, but I was definitely under her spell for a while.” Relationship expert Richard Cohen cautions against confusing devotion with overly demanding behavior. “In a perfect relationship, each partner gives 100% to the other person,” advises Cohen. “That way, everyone is giving 100%, and everyone is also getting 100%. If your girlfriend is all take and no give, then you’re closer to being her hired help than behaving like a good boyfriend.” Keep an eye on the back-and-forth ratio to make sure she’s doing things for you as often as you do favors for her.

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Tip #2: Watch out for a sense that your actions to please her are usually motivated by fear
Sadly, as a man, it’s easy to lose track of personal dignity in the face of a beautiful woman. Just ask John, 32, from New York, NY: “I dated a model once. She was gorgeous, and I thought I had to do everything she asked of me just to make her happy. I ended up bending over backwards just because I was afraid to lose her; it was pretty pathetic.” To avoid John’s fate, keep an eye out for decisions based solely on the fear of letting her down versus a true desire to please. “If you become afraid of disappointing your girlfriend in every action you take, you’ve already lost your sense of self in this relationship,” Cohen says. “You’re supposed to love and cherish your girlfriend, not live in fear of her.”

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Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to respectfully disagree with her
A woman who is used to getting her way may put up a huge fuss if you defy her wishes, but know this: Once she’s calmed down, she’ll respect you more for it. In fact, some women deliberately push their boyfriends to their limits just to see how far they’ll go. If you cave, she won’t be thinking: “How sweet of him!” Quite the contrary, actually; she may believe you’re actually weak and easily manipulated by women. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a boyfriend who can behave like a true gentleman,” says Amelia F., 31, of New Mexico. “But women can be demanding and naggy sometimes. It’s really important that a man be able to challenge his girlfriend and not get walked on whenever she opens her mouth.” So the next time you’re feeling stretched thin by your beloved’s demands, politely decline the next thing she asks you to do… and watch the situation magically improve.

Related: What she’s really trying to tell you

Tip #4: Don’t let your buddies take the blame for you
Want to go out for dollar wing night with your guy friends instead of curling up at home with your girlfriend and a movie on the couch this Friday? Go ahead and say so: “I think I’d rather go out and watch the game with the guys tonight.” Simple, right? Whatever you do, don’t say it half-heartedly, like: “My friends are really banking on me going, and it’ll only be for a couple of hours.” To a woman, this sounds like you’re merely caving in to male peer pressure, and that doesn’t exactly garner her respect (plus, it makes it seem like you’re not very excited to hang out with them). The same rule applies while talking with your guy friends. Avoid making comments like, “I can’t make it because Nikki wants me to go to a wine-tasting thing tonight” when you can, in fact, state that you are doing exactly what you want to do, and that they are not invited. For instance, “Nikki and I have a wine-tasting thing planned that night, and I’ve always wanted to check it out, so make plans without me this time, OK?” sounds both assertive and leaves any dithering completely off the table. After all, being pushed around by your friends is no better than being controlled by your girlfriend, as many men can attest to. “I constantly had to choose between my guy friends and my girlfriend,” says Chris, 34, from Cleveland, OH. “They’d give me grief if I went with her, and vice-versa. In the end, I had to stand up for myself and tell each of them that they were equally important to me, and that I’d have to make some sacrifices to keep everyone — including myself — happy.”

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Tip #5: When she pushes you away, take the hint... and keep on going
Be honest here: Are you trying too hard to keep a girlfriend who’s really just not that into you? If you recognize any situations where that’s the case in your current relationship, you can save yourself a lot of heartache in the future. “If she’s blowing off dates, canceling plans, or shies away from intimacy, then you’re working too hard to keep the relationship alive,” says Cohen. Take note of her circle of close-knit confidantes as well. “If the woman has a troop of ex-boyfriends lurking in the background who still do favors for her, then she’s likely to try and mold you into that same role after you break up. You don’t want to find yourself joining the supporting cast of her exes!” John, 29, from West Virginia, admits that he had a hard time taking the hint in his own past relationships. “I dated a woman who would constantly break our dates. I was really attracted to her, so I tried to be more understanding, but that got me nowhere. In retrospect, I wish I’d seen it for what it actually was a lot sooner.” Because the truth is, sometimes when you’re being walked all over by someone, you can redeem the situation… other times, you just can’t and should be the one doing the walking — far out of reach from her ego-crushing grasp!

Matt Christensen has written for Maxim and other publications.



Article courtesy of Match.com.