Low self-esteem affects relationships in so many ways that it's almost mind blowing. There are almost too many negative side effects to list. Relationship behaviors that might mean you have low self-esteem are, coincidentally, common fight starters, and even breakup fuel. And because you've probably been battling low self-esteem most of your life, and through all your relationships, you probably don't even notice you're doing these things — or you think they're normal relationship behaviors. They're not.
When I worked with couples as both a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator (and in my work with homeless teens), there was probably no bigger issue that impacted relationships than low self-esteem. Our own sense of self worth shapes not only how we let others treat us, but how we treat others. It impacts what we think we deserve, what we will accept, whether we'll settle, and if we ever even talk to our dream partner in the first place.
I'm always talking about how relationships are a ton of work, but a big part of that work has nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with becoming your best self and dealing with your own issues. If you find you do a lot of these behaviors, it might be time to check in with yourself (or your therapist) to see if your self-esteem could use a boost.
1. Apologizing For Existing
You're supposed to apologize when you hurt someone. You don't have to apologize every time you make a noise, bump into something, say something that isn't full of glitter, or for no reason at all. If you apologize, pretty much after every time you do things, and even apologize for apologizing when people tell you to stop apologizing, it could be a reflection of your sense of self-worth.
2. Being Needy Or Clingy
People with deep insecurities and low self-esteem feel unworthy of love, and scared that they'll lose it at any moment. This can lead to clingy behavior, as you try too hard to hold on to something you're afraid to lose. It can also mean you're letting your relationship take up your identity, so you don't know what to do with yourself when you're alone.
3. Being A People Pleaser
People pleasers typically have low self-esteem. They overdo it on kindness and helpfulness because they feel a need to prove their worth. They're uncomfortable with conflict or negative emotions, so they work hard to always keep their partners happy, with no concern for their own feelings. This behavior kills relationships because it sets up unrealistic expectations and leads to resentments. It's also kind of a form of dishonesty.
4. Asking For Permission
There's a big difference between discussing something with your partner and asking permission. Even if the conversation starts like "Is it OK if I..." it can be a healthy conversation starter. But when you ask permission for everything, always, like permission to pause the TV, visit your mom, or get something to eat, then you're either in a controlling relationship, or you're constantly seeking approval and validation because of low self-esteem. Living your life shouldn't be such an inconvenience to your partner that you feel the need to ask permission to live it.
When people have low self-esteem it can cause them to do unhealthy things in order to keep or please their partners. Like enabling behaviors. Enabling can include letting your partner make bad choices that involve you, giving them money for their addictions, supporting them while they don't work on their goals, or not making them solve their own problems. It can also mean doing everything for them so they never learn how to do things for themselves.
Co-dependence often happens when both partners have low self-esteem. It's when you depend on each other too much. It can look like never going anywhere without each other, feeling unable to live without each other, or setting up your lives so they don't work unless you're together. People with healthy self-esteem maintain their individual identities and must of their independence.
Did you ever know someone who acted like God's gift to the world, to a sickening degree? Cockiness is often more about what a person thinks they lack than what they think they have. It can be a mask for low self-esteem, an act, a mask the keeps people from getting too close or meeting the real person inside.
Are you distant? Is your partner distant? This could stem from trust issues, but it could also mean low self-esteem. Remaining distant keeps you from getting hurt by not letting people in. When you don't let people in, they can't see the real you, and reject you for it. People with healthy self-esteem aren't afraid to let others get close to them.
Cheating happens for a lot of reasons, but it's tied to low self-esteem when it happens as a means of self-sabotage. People who feel unworthy or unloveable can find lots of ways to destroy potentially serious relationships, including cheating. Cheating can also be a way of making someone with low self-esteem feel better by padding their ego with successful pursuits.
When you don't like yourself, it's not too much of a stretch to think you'd lie to make yourself more like the person you want to be, or you think your partner wants you to be. Constant lying can mean your or your partner is desperate for your approval, and willing to manufacture stories to please you. It could also be a way of protecting others from the bad person you perceive yourself to be by creating a new version of yourself.
Dating can get expensive. If you overspend on dates and gifts, to the point of near-financial ruin (or being late on your rent) it could be coming from a place of low self-esteem. You might think the person you're dating might not be happy enough with some more low-key dates, or might not like you unless you keep buying them gifts. This is an easy trap to fall into and a hard trap to escape. Just know someone who loves spending time with you would love spending time with you anywhere.
12. Being Oversensitive
If you're the type who cries at the drop of the hat, you should come to my house and cry with me and be my bestie. But if you cry all the time, always, every time your partner says something to you that's serious, it may be low self-esteem. When you have low self-esteem, small comments like "did you cook this or order it?" can make you spiral into a hot mess of "oh no, they hate my cooking, I suck at life, they don't like anything I've ever cooked, I'm the worst and I'm basically going to die." It's a far cry from the stress relief or anxiety tears of other people why bawl on the regular.
13. Not Making Decisions
Decisions are stupid and I hate making them. But I'm not afraid to make them. That's the difference. if you never make any decisions because you're afraid to, because your partner won't like the decision you make, it smacks of a lack of self-esteem. Your opinions are just as important as your partner's.
14. Not Setting Boundaries
Ah, boundaries. They're the rules in the playbook of your love life. If you don't set boundaries, it means you're not telling, nor demanding, your partner treat you the way you want to be treated. If you have low self-esteem, you might be too scared of losing your partner to discuss when they treat you in a way that you don't like. You'll basically accept all kinds of behavior that aren't ideal.
15. Not Arguing
The same goes for not arguing. When you don't argue (and you're not in an abusive or controlling relationship), it could be because you're afraid of the consequences, or you just think you're probably always wrong anyway. Arguing can be a healthy way to resolve issues in a relationship, it isn't a punishment for something you must have done wrong. You don't have to hide when things bother you, either.
16. Losing Your Interests
When you have healthy self-esteem, you let a relationship enhance your life, not define it. When you have low self-esteem, you let your partner or your relationship define you. The first thing that tends to go are your own interests. If you stopped doing the things you used to love once you got into a relationship, you should take the time to examine if you just didn't have enough self-esteem to put effort into things that mattered to just you and not also your partner.
17. Doing More Than Your Fair Share Of The Work
Doing your fair share of the work goes hand-in-hand with people pleasing. You do all the work of making sure your partner is happy, while they don't do that much work to fight for your happiness. You may do more housework, show more affection, or just cater to your partner's every need because you feel like just you alone isn't enough to keep them happy.
18. Second Guessing Yourself
Pay attention to how you speak. Do you always say things like "We should have pizza for dinner, unless you don't want to." Or "I was hoping we could go on a date, unless you don't want to or don't have time" or "I was thinking you could run with me if that's OK, or if not, that's OK, I can go by myself." People with low self-esteem use qualifiers after everything they say, and act like every idea they have isn't important unless it's what their partner wants.
19. Not Getting Close To Their Family Or Friends
People with low self-esteem have enough trouble worrying about being good enough for their partners. Having to please and gain approval of friends and family, too, can be too much. It might also be that they don't feel worthy of sharing in your loving family or your close friendships. They may see them often, but they probably won't be super close.
20. Putting Everything Into Your Partner's Goals
I'm not talking about decisions like, "we can only afford for one person at a time to go back to school" and your partner goes first. I'm talking about,"You go after your dreams and I'll just stay here, support you, and be your cheerleader." If you have healthy self-esteem, you will put as much energy into your own goals (without an overwhelming fear of failure) as you put into supporting your partner's dreams. Your dreams matter.
21. Breaking It Off Before It Really Begins
If you throw your partner to the wolves as soon as you start to catch some feelings, you might want to ask yourself why, especially if it's a pattern in you life. It might be that you don't feel worthy of love, or that you think your partner won't like or accept you once then get to know the real you.
22. Obsessing About Your Appearance
You're gorgeous. Not just in full makeup (if that's your thing), but even when you just wake up, even when you've been sick, even when you've been cleaning the house in sweats all day. If you never let your partner see you unless you're looking like a supermodel, you could have self-esteem issues, and worry that your partner won't accept you unless you're at the peak of your beauty. You're basically saying to yourself and your partner that you only have worth and value when you look a certain way.
23. Never Flying Solo
If you're always with your partner, it's a little co-dependent. But it could mean other signs of low self-esteem. Maybe you feel the need to show off your partner and prove to the world that you're worthy of not being single by always having your partner on your arm. Maybe you're so insecure that they'll meet someone else and leave you that you always want to be together. Never being without your partner isn't healthy.
24. Starting Too Many Fights
If you have a lot of issues in your own life that you're not willing or able to deal with, it's common that you'll distract yourself from your own problems by focusing on your relationship problems. If you have low self-esteem, you might start unnecessary fights, find problems where there are no problems, and project your issues onto your partner.
25. Looking For Attention
Some people with low self-esteem need constant love and attention. It's like there's a black hole inside and they can never get enough. If this is you, you'll constantly text your partner, even when you know they're busy. You'll create drama to get sympathy. You'll pretend your feelings are hurt to get apologies. You'll demand your partner pick you over their friends or families sometimes, or make them feel bad about the time they don't spend with you. None of those behaviors are healthy.
26. Falling Too Hard, Too Fast
It's not that I don't believe in love at first sight. I moved in with my wife at 4 months and married her 9 months after I met her, and we have a great marriage. But in many cases, if it's only been a week or a month, and you're already declaring your undying love, imagining your wedding, naming your children in your head, and suffocating when you think about life without your new boo, it might be a sign more of insecurities than fate.
27. Plastering Your Love On Social Media
You're in love and you want the whole world to know it. Especially those hater exes, and anyone who ever doubted you'd ever find love. Doing that once in a while is fine, but when all your posts, all the time, a million times a day, are about your relationship, it's almost like "who are you trying to convince?" Plus, science agrees with me. Too much time and too much sharing on social media can have a negative impact on your relationship, according to multiple studies discussed in an article on Psychology Today by Martin Gradd Ph.D. When you're confident in your love, you don't always feel the need to prove it to the world.
We're all capable of each of these behaviors, but if you do a lot of them and you do the all the time, you might want to look into improving your self-esteem. It's way past time you understood how awesome you are!
Images: Pexels (28); Isla Murray/Bustle (2)