Most people look at their marriage
or long term relationship as a context for love, support and affirmation.
Research suggests, however, that a person’s self-esteem may significantly
impact this relationship potential.

How Do We Define Self-Esteem?

In psychology, self-esteem is
defined as a reflection of a person’s overall self-appraisal, of their own

Most people look at their marriage
or long term relationship as a context for love, support and affirmation.
Research suggests, however, that a person’s self-esteem may significantly
impact this relationship potential.

How Do We Define Self-Esteem?

In psychology, self-esteem is
defined as a reflection of a person’s overall self-appraisal, of their own

Measurement of self-esteem and the
most commonly used definition in research was offered by Morris
and social-learning theorists who defined self-esteem
in terms of a stable sense of personal worth or worthiness, measurable by
self-report.  Rosenberg’s
Self-Esteem Scale
which is available for use, consists of 10
statements about self like the following:

“I feel I have a number of good

“I feel I do not have much to be
proud of.”

These are rated from strongly agree
to strongly disagree on a 4 point scale and are tallied to offer a score that
ranges for 0-30 with scores below 15 suggesting low self-esteem and score 15-25
as within the normal range.

The Impact of Self-Esteem

In an interesting series of studies
by Murray, Holmes, MacDonald and Ellsworth (1998) using Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem
Scale to differentiate groups, researchers found that no matter how they
adjusted variables, self-esteem colors not only a person’s perception of self
but impacts expectations of the partner and the tenor of the relationship.

From Self Doubts to Relationship

Of particular concern is the
consistent finding that although those with low self-esteem want affirmation
from partners and need the relationship as a source of acceptance, their
self-doubts translate into relationship insecurities, precluding the very
benefits to self-esteem a loving relationship could offer.

From Insecurities to Self-Reflection

  • Given that we most often are unaware of the ways in
    which our efforts to psychologically protect ourselves sabotage the very
    things we need, consider the findings and dynamics listed below as an
    opportunity to self-reflect.
  • Curiosity about self is a step toward positive
    self-regard and interpersonal possibilities.

Assuming the Worst Obscures Finding
Out the Best

Although they wanted their partners
to see them in a better light than they saw themselves, dating and married
partners with low self-esteem greatly underestimated just how positively
their partners saw them. High self-esteem partners were much more accurate in
their perceptions.

Assuming that Love is Conditional
Will Keep You Frightened

  • A negative review at work, losing the deal or losing a
    job disappoints and feels upsetting to anyone. Those with low self-esteem
    tend to take outside events as indictments of low self worth. While they
    need their partner to help them see past this, they fear their partner
    will no longer love them.
  • They begin looking for evidence that proves their worst
    fear. The set-up for their partner is that if he/she tries to minimize the
    outside event, point out assets or offer alternative perspectives – they
    are not believed. Often they withdraw or actually become critical- exactly
    what was feared.
  • Although not easy, if the partner can hold their
    positive perspective – “I still love you and think you deserve better than
    that job.” – The message is affirming and whether believed at the moment
    or not – it is on record.

Contaminating the Partner is not

  • In a study in which partners were asked to recall a
    past transgression toward their partner, those with low self-esteem
    reacted by questioning their partner’s positive regard for them and then
    devaluing their partner – an attempt to preempt presumed rejection by
    diminishing the value or need for the partner.
  • This contamination dynamic robs a partner of a loving
    relationship that can weather human frailty and that includes forgiveness.
    To the other partner it adds insult to injury.

Compensating As a Way to Restore the

  • After remembering a past transgression, those with high
    self-esteem did not alter their perception of their partner’s positive
    regard. They presumed love was not incompatible with mistakes,
    transgressions or forgiveness.
  • One study found that those with high self-esteem
    actually compensated for the self-threat implied in their transgression by
    embracing their partner’s continued positive regard and acceptance.

Self-Forgiveness and Embracing the

For many reasons, most of which are
not chosen, people walk into adult life wounded by reality. One of the scars is
low self-esteem. We know that we can’t change our past but we can take charge
of our present. Having a partner is one way to find a new reference point, a
different perspective and an affirming presence.

Consider looking at one positive
quality of yours and one positive quality of your partner’s each day no matter
what else happens. You are laying the foundation for a different sense of self
and a different sense of trust in your relationship.

We know that positive emotions have
the unique quality to broaden and
both social and psychological resources.

It is never too late to start

Further Reading:

Murray, S.L., Holmes, J., MacDonald,
Ellsworth P., (1998) “Through the Looking Glass Darkly? When Self-Doubts Turn
Into Relationship Insecurities. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
Vol.75, No.6, 1459-1480.

Rosenberg Self-Esteem Test


  1. From a Psych point of view,
    From a Psych point of view, here is the Big Picture (of which self esteem is ONLY a part of):

    DURABLE FULFILLMENT = (1) Durability + (2) Freedom + (3) Success + (4) Happiness {which includes Self-Esteem} : That’s the overall equation to reach the general goal of life. Life is the BEST it can be IF you have max’d out all parts of that equation.

    Lets examine the parts ….

    (1) Durability = a Strong Personal Boundary that protects our Inner Resources (our inalienable ‘rights’) [defined as (a) emotional energy, (b) intellect “Ideas”, and (c) decision making ability]. It means you can both hear ‘No’ and say ‘No’ to bad requests and bad deals of yourself and others. Most importantly it prevents STRESS from diminishing your Inner Resources (a-c). So Durability is primarily a function of a strong personal boundary which is open to the ‘good deals’ but closed to the ‘bad deals’ of life and SHIELDS your inner resources from stress, which lowers it. Everything inside of our boundary is 100% in our control. If we stress about things OUTSIDE of our control we are said to be ‘Suffering”, defined as trying to control the uncontrollable. Note: Suffering happens every time you use the word “SHOULD”.

    (2) Freedom = decision making ability. You only make 3 types of decisions (a) constructive, (b) destructive and (c) no decision is made [which turns out to be the WORST decision of all]. Two things guide decision making (a) conscience and (b) intuition. Conscience => is a function of ETHICS and tells us if our decisions could be constructive or destructive. Intuition => is a sensing of IF the environment you are IN is going to be constructive or destructive to YOU. Is it the right place to be? Feeling ‘trapped’ is the product of being deficient in freedom So Freedom is the ability to make constructive decisions based on high ethics and keen street smarts.

    (3) Success = is defined as our “Intellect Level”, which is the proper combination of and levels of ‘Experience’ (right brain learning) and ‘Education’ (left brain learning ) levels. When our ‘experience’ levels are low we tend toward “Obsessive” behaviors. When our educational levels are low we tend toward Lazy or Confused” behaviors. These two parts of intellect are responsible for ALL of the successes and failures on our lives.

    (4) Happiness = Emotional Energy (either Positive or Negative). NEGATIVE energy is either ‘Anger’ {from Hurt} or ‘Anxiety’ {from Loss} (or both), and is called “Stress” when it is OUTSIDE our boundary (which by definition also 100% outside of our control) and REDUCES our Self-Esteem. Stress and Self-Esteem are OPPOSITE energies that can cancel each other out if given the chance. Your self-esteem will get drained IF stress gets past your boundary. IF your self-esteem is GREATER than your stress, then the stress is canceled out and thus defeated.

    ** Self_Esteem => has 2 halves (a) ‘Well-Being” [or ‘Mothering’] and (b) “Confidence” [or Fathering]. Well-Being is defined as having your ‘needs’ met (or having ‘enough’). It is effectively ‘taking CARE of yourself’ properly, giving yourself what is needed to be OK. Confidence is defined as being able to “take actions and risks, resisting losses and tolerating change”. To INCREASE your confidence is VERY simple: Exercise COURAGE. Courage is defined as simply “Doing The Right Thing Even If You Are Fearful”. Even if you FAIL at the process of doing the right thing, you STILL get Confidence Points. Your confidence will STILL INCREASE even IF your attempt to do the right thing does not turn out the way you wanted it to (failure?). This is VERY important to understand. Over time, exercising Courage will make confidence will grow, and when combined with proper levels of Well Being leads to SELF-ESTEEM growth, which is a key (but only one) part of Happiness.

    So to master the process of Positive Emotional Energy (AKA Self-Esteem) leads us to the state of Happiness. Remember, happiness is only one part of Durable Fulfillment which the ultimate goal of life.

    Please pass this along to your friends if you find it helpful ….


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