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I'm trying to describe a character who dances for her husband so that he doesn't get mad, apologizes profusely even if she hasn't done anything wrong. However, she is also strong-willed and determined. I considered using the word "altruist", but the character is not selfless.

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    Would it be fair to rephrase this as 'someone who fears displeasing people'?
    – JimmyJames
    Jan 14 at 22:24
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    I'm confused, do you mean please everybody around her, or just one person, the husband? Jan 15 at 10:10

11 Answers 11

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People pleaser describes such a person, even the obsession part.

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sycophant

a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite.

sycophant in dictionary.com

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    Your link is just to the home page, not the word definition.
    – Barmar
    Jan 14 at 16:14
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    My dictionary says "a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage." It's not someone who wants to please everyone, they want to please one specific person with influence.
    – Barmar
    Jan 14 at 16:16
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    @Barmar: I copied the definition from my dictionary. Generally speaking, being a sycophant is a state of mind. One's MO, if you will. Thank you for the note, I'll provide the actual definition link shortly.
    – Ricky
    Jan 14 at 20:54
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    I don’t think sycophant is a good choice at all—it has a very strong connotation of behaving this way for an ulterior motive. It may be sincere or not, but even when sincere it’s still very much about getting to share in some of the qualities ascribed to the subject of the sycophancy. If a sycophant doesn’t believe there’s something to be gained from the behavior, the behavior doesn’t happen, or stops happening.
    – KRyan
    Jan 15 at 2:33
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    @Ricky: Motives are explicit in the definition: "self-seeking". In the same way that OP dismissed "altruist" as implying selflessness, I agree with KRyan and Barmar that "sycophant" leans heavily the other way.
    – cooperised
    Jan 15 at 11:30
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Lapdog would be one, but that has more of a political connotation.

People-pleaser gets more at the personal dynamic, but that is usually general, not specific to one particular relationship.

It seems like you are describing a dysfunctional / abusive relationship, so what the wife is doing in an immediate sense is "placating" and as a long-term psychological strategy is "fawning". There aren't really good noun forms of those; calling the wife a "placater" or "fawner" would be accurate, but awkward.

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Based the original description, appeaser or placater is appropriate.

More context might be needed, but the character in question is "strong-willed and determined," though "not selfless." Most of the suggested nouns are pejorative because people have assumed that the character is weak, relative to her husband. However, she might actually be more mature and wise compared to him.

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A happiness pump is defined by Simple English Wikipedia as

someone who will do anything to make other people happy even if it makes them very unhappy themselves

The term is taken from a thought experiment intended to illustrate problems with the philosophy of utilitarianism.

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    This is specific philosophical jargon and wouldn't suit the context the OP has asked for.
    – dbmag9
    Jan 14 at 11:32
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If the woman is constantly appeasing the husband, and the husband isn't contributing equally to the relationship or even downright abusive, then she would be codependent.

She then might still be strong willed in other regards (particularly if someone speaks badly of her husband)

And as nick012000 suggests, this can be a sign of abuse, but it might not be current abuse and instead someone who was raised in an dysfunctional family. (see https://adultchildren.org/ )

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This is a hard one. Calling them a doormat might be appropriate, although that usually tends to mean they do what they are told without resisting, rather than taking initiative.

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I don't think there's a one-word answer.

The personality is very peculiar and may not exist as you think. I'm concerned that your character may not be believable.

Understanding the motivation (ie why people do things) especially odd or 'irrational' things is important. The behaviour/attitudes described is not one but two contradictory ones. She needs some 'reason' to give-up her inner driving role for subservience. That depends on him. ie a relationship. There are a lot of words at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_analysis#Outline but don't be put off.

In short people do things because of some perceived reward. Love or triumph at being a victim, or gloating at another's discomfort. Couples often argue and both feel they've won something. For some it's the only excitement they get and plot for when they can do it again. You'll have noticed in the replies many references to abuse and so on. (That's a relationship of course.) That's what people are taking away from your thumbnail sketch. That relationship is double-ended and will change as things develop. Lots of potential so long as you can make it believable.

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A more offensive word could be "ass-kisser", or "Kiss-ass" as in "why is she always kissing (his) ass for no reason?"

I fear that in many parts of the world she would be "an obedient wife" or "respectful

servant".

Also a "passive" or "submissive" person would behave as described

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adulator: One who lavishes excessive praises or flattery, one who adulates. (Your dictionary)

the verb to adulate means:

to show excessive admiration or devotion to; flatter or admire servilely. (Free Dictionary)

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Abuse victim.

Frankly, the scenario describe sounds like the character is the victim of domestic violence, to me, and is taking actions to placate their abuser.

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  • Leaving aside that this is pretty crass label to attach to a person regardless of whether it's true or not, using the phrase "abuse victim" only makes a claim about the cause of the person's behaviour: it does not describe the behaviour itself.
    – KrisW
    Jan 15 at 14:02
  • Can't see any logic here, and it doesn't answer the question.
    – Tim
    Jan 15 at 18:59
  • @Tim "who dances for her husband so that he doesn't get mad, apologizes profusely even if she hasn't done anything wrong" Doesn't sound like abuse to you?
    – nick012000
    Jan 15 at 23:47

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