When one or both members of a romantic couple 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 is easier to resolve, you live more in the moment with one another, and are more supportive of each other’s goals.
If that's the feeling that you're seeking, following are 4 ways to work on your self-esteem in your romantic relationship.
1. Know your preferences.
If you have not done the work you need to do to understand yourself — your emotions, your desires, your needs — then no one else will understand you. Instead of thriving in a mutual relationship, you will find yourself being pulled in various directions. Influences may be exerted on you by people who do not reflect your identity or may not be have your best interest in mind. 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 don’t come immediately, be patient. Take time for this type of reflection each day. And when your partner asks about your preferences — even "Where would you like to go for dinner?” — resist the impulse to defer. Pause and search inward, and see if you can communicate your authentic preference.
2. Stick to your guns.
When two people are truly close, conflict is inevitable. If self-esteem is an issue, caving and deflecting become ways to manage conflict. If that's your tendency, then, over time, your partner can lose respect for you, and you will feel that you have little power. When facing conflict in your relationship, stick to your guns. If you constantly strive to help your partner feel better, then you will lose your own perspective. Bring conversations back to your point of view. This doesn’t mean you should be rigid: Listen to your partner’s perspective and show compassion, but do not sell yourself out in the process. This may sound something like, “I hear you, and I understand that 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 declines when your entire identity becomes wrapped up in your partner and relationship. This turns romance into dependence — and dependency is not sexy. Instead, it makes you feel extremely vulnerable whenever conflict arises in the relationship. No one person can meet all of our needs, so actively pursue activities outside the 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 the relationship, you will find yourself feeling less vulnerable, more able to share your preferences, and more able to stick to your guns in your romantic relationship.
4. Be physically active with your romantic partner.
Research shows that couples that enjoy physical activities together are happier, more content, and resolve conflict more easily. Being physically active together simultaneously promotes both your and your partner’s self-esteem. When you both feel good about yourselves at the same time, happiness soars, and it becomes easier to expediently resolve conflict. Take on a physical hobby together — camping, hiking, running, dog walking — and be active together regularly. You should both see immediate rewards in terms of your sense of self and self-esteem. In my workbook, Building Self-Esteem-5 Steps, I describe 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.