Tools for Couples Happiness — 28 April 2014
Self Esteem and Relationships

Nourish your mate’s self-esteem for deeper love

Many people assume that arguments, dissent and fighting are inevitable in long-term relationships. Pairs who do not fight are viewed as a rare aberration from the expected relationship norm.  Actually, most couples can learn simple tools to easily attain the harmonious relationship they deserve to have.

A common underlying cause of couples’ ongoing rifts in which they may berate, shame or discount each other is their personal low self-esteem. Having a poor self-concept leads individuals to assume that their mate also does not hold them in high regard. The pattern of exchanging accusations and insults that is intended to make one feel better only humiliates and estranges the partners from each other.

Professor Sandra Murray of Buffalo University found that “Individuals who scored low on measures of self-esteem tended to anticipate—incorrectly—rejection by their spouses and so preempted the spouse by derogating them first.”

Self-esteem is not an innate trait. It is acquired throughout childhood and continues to be amended and supplemented throughout life. The early parental depictions of the child as sweet, outgoing, smart, attractive, OR lazy, difficult, shy, or stubborn, are accepted by youngsters as facts and become incorporated in the child’s self-definition.

Teachers, family members, coaches and other significant adults contribute to the child’s early self-view. During adolescence, peers confirm or alter teenagers’ self-perceptions through honest feedback.

Through maturation individuals add their accomplishments to the mix of their sources of self-esteem. Dr. Jennifer Crocker’s research with college students at the University of Michigan found, “When students were asked about what they base their self-worth on, more than 80 percent said academic competence, 77 percent said their family’s support, 66 percent said doing better than others, and 65 percent, of which 70 percent were women, said their appearance.”

Whatever measures of self-esteem one capitalizes on, it is important for all people to view themselves as good human beings. To confirm and sustain your positive self-perception, you are wise to engage in behaviors that you value. You may also be wise to validate yourself for thoughts, feelings and actions that enhance other people’s lives and sustains your positive self-view, such as: learning new skills, volunteering, helping others and cultivating your children’s positive self-esteem.

The more you maintain a healthy self-regard, the easier it will be for you to be kinder, more forgiving and appreciative of your spouse’s endearing traits. Exchanging positive feedback within your relationship extinguishes dissonance, helps you feel closer to each other and enables both of you to be better parents.

Being valued elevates us to the highest level of functioning and enables us to be kinder to our spouses and others as we create the harmonious love relationship we crave and deserve to have.

For harmonious love relationships:

  • Sustain a high level of self-esteem by affirming your nature, skills, talents and behaviors.
  • Validate your mate’s good nature, attributes, abilities, and achievements.
  • Affirm your partner’s needs, wishes and wants even when they differ from yours.




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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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