Low Self-Esteem Hinders Intimate Partner Communication

New research from Canada suggests people with low self-esteem are more likely to stay in unhappy relationships.

University of Waterloo investigators found that sufferers of low self-esteem tend not to voice relationship complaints with their partner because they fear rejection.

This finding was somewhat contrary to what is often assumed.

“There is a perception that people with low self-esteem tend to be more negative and complain a lot more,” said Megan McCarthy, the study’s author and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology.

“While that may be the case in some social situations, our study suggests that in romantic relationships, the partner with low self-esteem resists addressing problems.”

The study is important for understanding how intimate partner communication can help improve the love lives of people around the world.

“If your significant other is not engaging in open and honest conversation about the relationship,” said McCarthy, “it may not be that they don’t care, but rather that they feel insecure and are afraid of being hurt.”

In her research focused on intimate partner communication, McCarthy examined how the low self-esteem of one partner can impact a relationship.

“We’ve found that people with a more negative self-concept often have doubts and anxieties about the extent to which other people care about them,” she said.

“This can drive low self-esteem people toward defensive, self-protective behavior, such as avoiding confrontation.”

Researchers believe the findings suggest that people with low self-esteem are hesitant to address concerns because they fear negative outcomes.

Sufferers may believe that they cannot speak up without risking rejection from their partner and damage to their relationship, resulting in greater overall dissatisfaction in the relationship.

“We may think that staying quiet, in a ‘forgive and forget’ kind of way, is constructive, and certainly it can be when we feel minor annoyances,” said McCarthy.

“But when we have a serious issue in a relationship, failing to address those issues directly can actually be destructive.”

Additional studies are planned to look at how increasing a low-self-esteem partner’s sense of power or influence in a relationship can promote more open disclosure.

“We all know that close relationships can sometimes be difficult,” says McCarthy. “The key issue, then, is how we choose to deal with it when we feel dissatisfied with a partner.”

Source: University of Waterloo