Balancing Low Self-Esteem In A Relationship — From Both Sides Of The Equation

Low self-esteem has a way of creeping into our lives and affecting nearly everything we do, from making us second guess ourselves at work to causing friction in our relationships. When you are fighting low self-esteem, there are some things you can do to help lift yourself up. On that same note, if you're in a relationship with someone battling self-esteem issues, there are also things you can do to try to help them find more confidence. And, while it's not your responsibility to make your partner happy and confident in themselves, there's nothing wrong with working to empower them.


Lauren Alexander, MD, told Cleveland Clinic "I think it's incredibly important for your mental health to have confidence in your abilities, so that you have a good sense of self-worth. And that you have the ability to grow and recognize that mistakes are normal." Sometimes our low self-esteem stems from general mistakes we all make in life, and it helps to know we're not alone, and things do get better. So, whether you or your partner has self-esteem issues, we have some tips to help you boost your confidence and get past those negative thoughts.

Signs of low self-esteem

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., described low self-esteem as "When a person feels worthless, they can start to show poor performance or stop trying to achieve in areas in which they feel defeated: academically, professionally, or personally," adding that "These thoughts often criticize and hold them back from going after what they want in life" (via PsychCentral). 


Low self-esteem can look like increased irritability, trouble accepting criticism, being more critical of one's self (lots of negative self-talk here), and withdrawing from the people around you. You may find that you're too focused on your own problems to be there for your friends and family. You may lose focus at work. For some, low self-esteem leads to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol — it's easier to shut out those negative thoughts with such mood inhibitors rather than dealing with what you're going through. However, whether it's you who has low self-esteem or your partner, the best way to deal is to face it head-on, without your self-medicating crutches.

Working on your own self-esteem

Before you can help your partner with their self-esteem, it's important to be sure yours is in check. The biggest way to fight back at low self-esteem is to work on defeating that negative self-talk when it creeps in. As Dr. Alexander told Cleveland Clinic, "A lot of times, people have very extreme styles of thinking, and they distort information and come up with very different assessments of the situation." If your first assessment is to look poorly at yourself, find a new way to look at things. Perhaps you forgot the laundry in the machine and it sat wet all night — rather than seeing yourself as making a mistake, look at it as getting a chance to run these items through a second washing to help remove extra dirt. There's a positive side to every negative, even if it's simply a lesson learned.


Dr. Alexander added "I think the one part of self-esteem that people struggle with the most is learning to accept errors. And also learning how to move past those errors." To help move on, work on using things like mindfulness (being in the moment and noticing when negativity is ruling your mind) and affirmations. Have a positive affirmation you can state any time you've got negative thoughts. Even something as simple as "this too shall pass" can make a big difference.

Helping your partner with their self-esteem

While it is absolutely not your job or responsibility to make sure your partner feels good about themselves, there's nothing wrong with trying to help them build up their self-esteem. You want to go into it not trying to fix them, but to offer them a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear. Sanjivan Parhar, a trainee counseling psychologist, told Happiful, "Ask your partner what it is that they're unhappy with at this moment. Validate these negative feelings and let them feel heard. Then you can move on to offer a positive opinion about how they look."


While you can support your partner emotionally, it would be beneficial for them to put in the work to improve their self-worth. Teach your partner about the ways you work to build your own self-esteem, whether it is by using mindfulness, positive affirmations, or something else. Spend some self-care time together, and encourage your partner to practice self-care even when you're not around.