Tools for Couples Happiness — 25 June 2006
How to increase your couple-esteem

It is well known that self-esteem is a necessary ingredient for effective living. A high level of self-worth often affords one less emotional pain and greater success and satisfaction in life. The same principle also applies to couple-esteem.

When two people make a life commitment to each other they automatically produce a third unit – which is the couple. An “I” and an “I” unite to create a “We”. This new entity preserves each partner’s individual identity while adding a broader love based canopy that encompasses both. Just as each individual is unique –so is each couple distinctive from all others.

Matthew McKay, Ph.D. in his book Self Esteem, states that humans are unique, compared to other animals, in their ability to form a personal identity. He says: “You have the capacity to define who you are and then decide if you like that identity or not”. This statement is actually more accurate for couples than for individuals. Children are very susceptible, for survival reasons, to adopting their parents’ definition of them, which may be inaccurate or even damaging. It may sometimes take many years to undo a poor self-image and create a healthier one.

Pairs, on the other hand, are no longer dependent upon their parents for emotional or physical survival and are thus free to create their own couple identity and esteem. They can establish their mutual values, practices and culture as best suit them. Though parents or other family members may have their own view of the couple, those impressions do not have the same impact that parental judgments had on the individual during childhood. If voiced, these family assertions can be viewed as interesting opinions – rather than a determining factor in the couple’s self-definition. The nature of their union is created and maintained by the couple.

Individuals with low self-esteem reinforce their negative self-view through derogatory self-talk. They dislike who they are, may call themselves names, berate their qualities, actions or nature, compare themselves unfavorably to others, project negative view of others toward them and maintain a critical, unforgiving stance toward themselves to their own detriment. Couples who engage in these habits are equally self-destructive.

How individuals deal with errors affects their self-view. Those who can treat themselves with the same compassion they are able to extend to others, fair better in having an intact self-regard. Couples also need to accept their joint errors as mistakes, not a reflection of their union’s ineptitude. They also need to balance their failings with their wise and effective choices.

The way individuals and couples deal with criticism can reduce or increase their self-regard. If they confuse their behavior with their essence they will be devastated by any disapproval of their conduct. Insecure individuals and couples, who do not value themselves, may emotionally crumble receiving criticism from others, while healthier ones balance the negative input with their ongoing sense of competency.

As a couple you are encouraged to:

• View your union as a great asset in your life.
• Your couple-esteem is a crucial factor in your individual and couple success and happiness.
• Frequently point out to each other your excellent teamwork and the effective ways in which you run your life.
• Only compare yourselves favorably when viewing other pairs. “Our grass is greener”. Abstain from envy, jealousy or negative comparison with others.
• Delight in your ongoing attraction and passion for each other and recognize it as strength of your bond.
• See your complimentary individual traits as greatly enhancing your team and its success.

• View couple errors as enriching lessons for greater future success.
• Show compassion to each other at times of individual or family challenges or disappointments – it is team building.
• Pride yourselves as partners, parents, workers, friends and each other’s primary supporters.
• Use your strength as a couple to fend off any external criticism of either one of you. Support each other at times of individual hurts. What makes your partner better also makes you and your connection stronger.
• Be publicly respectful of each other. Never criticize, shame or be discourteous to your mate – it lowers your couple-esteem.
• Use positive adjectives to describe your connection, such as: committed, loving, competent, secure, supportive, special, effective, great and healthy.
• Remember that a strong couple-esteem cements the union, empowers each mate individually and further enhances each person’s health and wellbeing.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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