Many of us are familiar with emotional needs and how they relate to our spouses. In fact, given the opportunity, those of us with the most dysfunctional relationships could likely give a lecture about meeting emotional needs and their importance in a relationship. Who could disagree that meeting the needs of your spouse is important? Unfortunately, for the amount of work that is done meeting needs, we still hear countless stories of affairs and couples plainly misunderstanding each other. Lack of self-esteem may be the culprit.
Self-esteem and Your Relationship
Self-esteem plays a large role in how you relate to your partner. Think back to when you met your spouse. Chances are, you asked the question “I wonder if he/she likes me?” While it seems like an innocent enough question, the truth is that it indicates a lack of self-esteem. More often than not, people tend to question how they are perceived by their partner (and others) and that insecurity causes great stress in their marriage. Many never evolve beyond this mentality and spend their marriage wondering if they measure up. This internal questioning of ourselves often causes issues in the relationship that may not have existed if we had simply sat back and realized that we are good enough.
We all know individuals who feel insecure about their relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues and even acquaintances. We often hear about “triggers” and phrases like “pushing my buttons” and “hot button issues.” Someone may identify an issue that makes you feel sensitive, and your defenses are immediately up and you’re ready to pounce with a counter attack to protect the part of you that you feel is inadequate. While some realize that these “triggers” exist, how many consider the long term affects that the related defensiveness has on their marriage?
Smoke from Another Fire
When your spouse is directly affected by your insecurities, much anger may arise from triggers that aren’t even related to your relationship. They can be leftovers from past relationships that haven’t been resolved, or even family of origin issues that have been swept under the rug and assert themselves when certain triggers crop up. Frustration, confusion and resentment are all by-products of low self-esteem and can be detrimental to your marriage.
Ideally, your spouse understands and accepts your weaknesses, but as we have all likely realized, we don’t live in such an ideal world. Our spouses are as vulnerable to attacks of defensiveness as we are, albeit in different areas. Building a strong self image and practicing the methods of good self-esteem may help to eliminate these weaknesses in marriage and avoid some of the catastrophic issues that may arise like cheating, emotional affairs and divorce.
Some well known triggers are those that individuals don’t always associate with insecurity. For instance, while it is generally understood that men are visual creatures and enjoy the beauty of other women, it’s widely known that most wives dislike their husbands admiring other women. We often hear: “This is not ok. I’m his wife. His eyes are only for me.”
Many women feel that it is a part of their marriage vows or a tacit agreement when they decide to marry that men no longer admire other women. So, why do women feel threatened when their men simply enjoy the visual feast that is omnipresent? While it is no different than admiring the Mona Lisa or a beautiful work by Monet, the thought of your spouse admiring a living, breathing human being seems to set your retinas on fire and unleashes a raging she-beast, full of anger. This feeling of insecurity may be a primal urge to secure property and protect it from being stolen. While it sounds dramatic, on a base level, this is EXACTLY what drives the feeling of jealousy.
Spouses ARE NOT property. Truly loving another person implies that you trust the person will not run off with what appears to be “the bigger, better deal.” Having healthy self-esteem allows you to trust in your spouse’s love and understand the difference between fleeting physical admiration and profound love. Physical admiration involves the eyes; profound love involves everything else.
Are you aware of what your spouse loves about you? Unfortunately, many of us are so hung up on the question “am I good enough?” that we forget our own wonderful attributes. Asking your spouse about your great attributes along with the not-so-great ones is a good way to evaluate your own self-esteem. Spouses should feel comfortable discussing their good and bad qualities. If either of you immediately feel defensive, it may be time to re-evaluate your self-esteem and examine the issue more closely.
“Honey, do these jeans make me look fat?”
What man hasn’t cringed when asked this question and felt the pressure of knowing that the wrong answer could land him in the doghouse? It’s a sad state of affairs when the person we love is stuck between telling the truth and feeling pressured to find the “correct” response.
A man in this situation may feel very insecure—he may feel torn between being honest and being perceived as hurtful. He may feel resentful for having been forced into this situation where unintentional hurt feelings may be the result. Faced with this, a man may want to remind himself that a hug, a compliment and a kiss go a long way in reminding your spouse that she is your chosen one. While you may not be able to lessen your spouse’s insecurities, if you are aware, you can make different choices that will strengthen your marriage, rather than weaken it.
How Tone Affects the Insecure
I know married people who are so insecure that huge blowups can start with the TONE that they use with one another. Each one imagines cryptic messages and haughty attitudes that don’t exist. Neither one understands that they suffer from deep insecurities that keep them on their guard, constantly looking for that hidden “offense” that they can “capitalize” on at the right moment. This is no way to live out your marriage.
When someone uses an angry tone, it’s best to assume they’ve had a bad day, regardless of what the reality of the situation may be. Give them some time to decompress and then attempt to discuss. Never assume that their answer had anything to do with you. Your feelings, although important, might not enter into this. The other person is likely dealing with something that is affecting their feelings far more deeply than you know. Do not make it about YOU.
When one of you is having a bad day and uses an angry tone, it’s not code for “I’m angry at you.” Often, it helps to give a hug to show your support and then speak about your feelings later on. Remember—while your feelings are important, a truly confident individual doesn’t assume that their spouse is targeting their feelings.
A nasty or haughty tone is sometimes a verbal wall that insecure individuals erect in order to protect themselves. Beware — “tone” can be real or imagined, depending on the self-esteem of the listener. By all means, CONFIRM with the person if you think they are using a rude or insensitive tone, but never ASSUME.
Building Better Self-Esteem
One of the first steps in improving your self-esteem is to eliminate the recorded messages that play over and over in your head. We all have different messages, likely originating from our family of origin. They are easily identifiable, often reminding us that we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough or we’re not visually pleasing enough. When you hear the messages, my suggestion is to hit the ERASE button. No one is allowed to tell us who we are, or dictate who we should be. When one of those negative messages pops into your head, replace it with a positive affirmation. Do NOT give negative thoughts any of your valuable mental real estate.
Allowing your spouse the freedom to speak his/her mind is liberating. If your spouse feels safe enough to discuss how sexy another person is, for instance, he/she is sharing his/her intimate thoughts with you. Don’t squander that opportunity! Realize that your spouse is your best friend, and best friends should be able to share their thoughts with immunity. I’ve yet to hear of a couple who divorced after being 100% honest about everything. If affairs are born out of secrecy, it makes sense to keep the lines of communication OPEN.
While I have learned that for some public compliments boost self-esteem, I’m not sold on this concept. While it may be an ego boost to hear that your spouse speaks highly of you in public, your ultimate goal should be the knowledge that what your spouse is saying is TRUE, rather than his/her validation of you. Validation, although legitimate, is unnecessary when one is secure in themself.
Keeping Up with the Joneses
We often become involved in the cultural zeitgeist that is built on the low self-esteem of others. Many of us can identify with “keeping up with the Joneses,” but the reality is that keeping up with neighbours is a testament to one’s self-esteem. Be content with what you can afford and be proud of what you have accomplished. Always question why you want something — does it appeal to you, or does it appeal to how you’d like others to view you?
Financial responsibility can interfere with family time, leading to feelings of inadequacy. The eventual diminished family time can result in overcompensating and overindulging children, which leads to even greater family issues. It’s important to remember that loving your children and being a good role model is commendable. Providing them with a loving home, shelter and food is far more important than keeping up with other parents and overstimulating them with many activities. Never let others dictate what being a great parent means to your family.
The Value of Healthy Self-esteem
Having healthy self-esteem arms you with the confidence required to defend your position without appearing defensive, to protect yourself without anger, and relate to others without feeling hurt or slighted. Self-confidence rids you of the burden of jealousy, which can literally drive your partner away. Once these goals have been achieved in marriage, we love effectively, protecting our relationships from external dangers.