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Dr. Ahlishia Shipley: Why Self-Esteem is Critical for Your Relationship’s Survival

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By Ahlishia J. Shipley, Ph.D.

Have you ever been around someone who did not seem to like themselves much? If so, you may have felt uncomfortable, disappointed, or even angry because of the negative view this person had of herself or himself. These emotions would be especially true if you believed there was little or no reason for their seemingly low self-appraisal. On a more personal level, if you have ever experienced low or unhealthy self-esteem, you may have felt like it was difficult to make self-supportive decisions or felt inadequate for a job or a romantic partner,

For the most part, these scenarios point to why having a healthy self-esteem is good thing. It has been linked with better mental health outcomes, better resilience in the face of adversity, and better social relationships. Conversely, low or unhealthy self-esteem may contribute to issues such as depression, substance abuse, poor communication, and dependency. Self-esteem is generally defined as an individual’s reflection of their overall self-worth, or simply stated, how good or bad they feel about themselves as a person. It’s no wonder with the potential negative consequences of having little or no self-esteem, it is so an important component of our emotional well-being.

In the context of relationship development, having low-esteem is not good for you or your (potential) partner/spouse. When someone dislikes themselves, their judgment or sense of reality could be compromised because they may incorrectly perceive a partner’s words, actions, or intentions as negative. In a similar vein, low self-esteem can cause insecurities, which often push individuals to overprotect themselves from being hurt or even seek attention outside of their relationship. Passive and/or aggressive communication in relationships is also a by-product of low-esteem.

For these reasons, it’s important to cultivate healthy self-esteem prior to entering a relationship and maintain it throughout your relationship. A healthy self-esteem is beneficial for the individual and for the couple for the following reasons.

On the personal level, healthy self-esteem:

  1. Increases your positivity and optimism toward people and circumstances.
  2. Validates your positive appraisals of yourself independent of what others think of you.
  3. Places you in better position to assess the health of your relationships and if your needs and desires are being met.
  4. Allows you to better recognize warning signs and red flags in unhealthy relationships.
  5. Bolsters your confidence and trust in yourself to make self-supportive decisions.

At the couple or relational level, healthy self-esteem:

  1. Assists you in making accurate perceptions of your partner’s view of you.
  2. Stimulates assertive, productive communication with your partner.
  3. Fosters a healthy level of interdependence with your partner rather than harmful dependence on your partner.
  4. Strengthens your trust and confidence in your partner to be the partner they have promised, which reduces anxiety and insecurity.
  5. Inspires you to be true to the core of who you are with your partner, which promotes intimacy and openness in your relationship.

Remember, positive personal development, which includes healthy self-esteem, is the foundation for healthy relationship development.

Additional Reading:

To assess your self-esteem, take the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Test.

For tips on building self-esteem, check out this resource from SAMHSA: Building Self-esteem: A Self-Help Guide

For a phenomenal, thoughtful book on self-esteem in the Black community, pick up Rock My Soul: Self-Esteem and Black Peopleby bell hooks.



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