When one or both members of a romantic union feel positively about themselves, or have high self-esteem, romantic bliss becomes less elusive. When you and your partner’s self-images are positive, your sex life improves, conflict becomes easier to resolve, you live more in the moment with one another, and are more supportive of each other’s goals. Here are 4 ways to work on your self-esteem in your romantic relationship.
1. Know your preferences.
If you have not done the work to understand yourself — your emotions, your desires, your needs — then no one else will understand you. Instead of a mutual relationship, you will find yourself getting pulled in various directions. These influences may be exerted by people who do not reflect your identity or may not be in your best interest. If you find yourself always going with the flow and being accommodating, pause and reflect on what you like and don’t like. Spend time alone, mindfully paying attention to your emotions and internal states in your body. Ask yourself questions about what you feel and what you like. If the answers to these questions don’t come immediately, be patient. Take time for this type of reflection each day. And when your partner asks about your preferences — for example “where would you like to go for dinner?” — resist the impulse to defer. Pause and search inward, see if you can communicate your authentic preference.
2. Stick to your guns.
If two people are truly close, conflict is inevitable. When self-esteem is an issue, caving and deflecting become ways to manage conflict. Over time, your partner will lose respect for you, and you will feel that you have little power. When facing conflict in your romantic relationship, stick to your guns. If you are constantly trying to help your partner feel better, then you will lose your perspective. Repeatedly bring the conversation back to your point of view. This doesn’t mean you should be rigid. Do listen to your partner’s perspective and show compassion, but do not sell yourself out in the process. This may look something like: “I hear you, and I understand you are angry, but I have to feel as if I can trust you in order to feel safe in this relationship,” or “I understand you have a lot going on with work, but I need to feel I can depend on you.”
3. Maintain a life separate from your romantic relationship.
Perhaps more than any other variable, self-esteem becomes lower the more your entire identity is wrapped up in your partner and your relationship. This turns what may have started as romance into dependence. Dependency is not sexy and will make you feel extremely vulnerable whenever conflict arises in your relationship. In addition, no one person can meet all of our needs. Actively pursue activities outside of your relationship. Force yourself to spend some time each weekend with friends or pursue hobbies separate from your partner. When you create a fulfilling life both inside and outside of your relationship, then you will find yourself less vulnerable, more able to share your preferences, and more able to stick to your guns in your romantic union.
4. Be physically active with your romantic partner.
Research shows that couples who enjoy physical activities together are happier, more content, and resolve conflict more easily. Being physically active together simultaneously promotes both you and your partner’s self esteem. When you both feel good about yourselves at the same time, happiness soars, and it becomes easier to more expediently resolve conflict. Take on a physical hobby together — camping, hiking, running, dog walking. Regularly be active together, and you will both see the immediate rewards in terms of your sense of self and self-esteem.
Even if a pattern of low self-esteem describes you, there is a way out. I describe in my workbook, Building Self-Esteem-5 Steps, specific strategies for how to overcome this inclination, and also how to start attaching with healthy romantic partners.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Relationship Formula Workbook Series, including Toxic Love—5 Steps: How to Identify Toxic Love Patterns and Find Fulfilling Attachments, Breaking Up and Divorce—5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone and Building Self-Esteem—5 Steps: How to Feel 'Good Enough.' For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visit drjillweber.com.