If youre like most people, youd like to have a stronger, happier marriage or romantic relationship. We all have a core need to be in relationship with others, and to experience a sense of love and belonging. We want to feel needed, but not be overly needy and clingy. This tends to repel people, not draw them to us. It seems counter-intuitive, but the way to stop being so needy and dependent is to love yourself more.

Many people shy away from self-love, imagining its selfish and hokey. Honestly, the whole concept is rather foreign to most of us. I certainly didnt grow up with anyone talking about self-compassion and self-love. We knew about self-esteem, but thats different. Self-esteem is our self-worth or how highly we think of ourselves. While self-love or self-compassion is the practice of being kind and gentle with ourselves regardless of whether we succeed or fail.

It turns out there are lots of benefits of self-compassion. You can find the research of Dr. Kristin Neff, the preeminent expert on self-compassion, here. It seems reasonable that self-compassion would benefit the individual, but whats really interesting is that it also helps our relationships.

When you rely on your partner to meet all of your emotional needs, you end up needy and disappointed. Its impossible for him/her to know what you needand when you need it, at all times. And, of course, even when s/he wants to meet all of your needs, s/hes not always available. In other words, its impossible for someone else to meet all of your emotional needs.

If you expect him/her to meet all of your needs to make you feel important, valued, loved, and needed you end up feeling hurt and angry. You try to glom on harder. You act clingy and dependent. And what kind of partner are you when youre hurt, angry, or clingy? Probably not the best. You also might turn this hurt and anger inward, using it as evidence that youre not important or good enough for someone else to love.

Have you ever received a compliment, but dismissed it because you didnt believe it was true? When a young teenager comes to my office and tells me she hates her body, I have to bite my tongue. My natural inclination is to tell her shes lovely and as cute as every other teenage girl Ive ever seen. But I dont tell her this…because it wont help. When you dont believe good things about yourself, you wont believe them when someone else tells you. Seriously, my job would be so easy if all I had to do is tell people they are amazing and completely worthy and theyd believe it! So, if you dont love yourself, it doesnt matter if your partner is a pro atmeeting your needs. You won’tbe able to let all this emotional goodness in if you feel undeserving of love.

Dr. Neffs research shows that people who are more self-compassionate display more care and affection fortheir partners, are more accepting, more willing to compromise and give their partners the freedom they desire. Self-compassionate people areless critical and controlling, less verbally harsh, and have greater relationship satisfaction rates.[i]

As you know, you can never run out of love. The more you give the more you get, which allows you to give even more. The same is true of self-love. The more you give to yourself, the more you have to give to others. In turn, your partner will have more to give to you.

When you love yourself, youre not only less dependent on other people, you’re happier because your needs are more fully met. When your emotional needs are more fully met, you also have more to give to your partner.

Youcant give to others what you cant give to yourself. So, if youre not able to practice self-compassion for your own benefit, do it for your partner.

Loving yourself isnt complicated. Its very much like loving anyone else. When a friend or family member is hurting, youre probably pretty good at offering a kind word or loving gesture.

Self-love is:

  • Saying nice things to yourself
  • Giving yourself a treat
  • Forgiving yourself
  • Using loving touch, such as giving yourself a neck massage
  • Taking care of your body (proper rest, nutrition, movement)
  • Noticing things you like about yourself
  • Using guided meditations (free on SelfCompassion.org)

You can also read my previous post, 22 Ways to Love Yourself More, for additional ideas.

What would you do if your best friend told you hed had a terrible day at work? His boss had embarrassed him in a meeting; traffic was awful making him late to pick up his daughter; he skipped lunch because had so much to do. Would you berate him for being late or assume hed done something stupid in order for his boss to chastise him? No, youd suggest he put his feet up and relax, or go for a nice long run by himself. Youd validate his feelings. The best part of self-compassion is that not only can you do all of this for yourself, but you can do it even better than your friend or partner because you know exactly what you really need.

You might be tempted to think, Well, heck, if I can love myself better than anyone else, maybe I dont need other people. Being loved and connected to others is a basic human need. You need to love yourself and you need to be loved by others. The essential piece is that you can only give love to others and receive love from others to the extent that you can love yourself.

[i] Kristin D. Neff & S. Natasha Beretvas (2012): The Role of Self-compassion in Romantic Relationships, Self and Identity, DOI:10.1080/15298868.2011.639548 Photoby:Ashley Webb