Love is a battlefield, according to '80s pop jams. And that's partly because the people we let deep into our hearts often have the power to inflate or implode our confidence. Sometimes it's in big ways, but usually it's a compilation of little ways that we hurt out partner's self esteem. Some people know they're doing it, but from my experience working with couples in crisis, both as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, most of the self-esteem damage is unintentional. It's just a by-product of being set in our ways, and of not being mindful of our words and actions.
Becoming more mindful of these little confidence killers is more important than you might realize, though. Low self-esteem is a relationship poison, and it messes with how you trust, what decisions you make, why you make those decisions, what kind of sex you have, what kind of treatment you accept, and whether or not you're able to give equally to the relationship. It's at the base of all things, really. And not just in your relationship with your partner. It affects your goals, your career, your friendships, and your overall happiness. So look over this list with your partner, and if either of you (or all of you, no judgement to the open relationship and poly folks) are doing these things, make a conscious effort to be more mindful, more positive and more empowering. Relationships should enhance your self-esteem, not chip away at it.
1. Making Love To Your Phone
Nothing makes someone feel more special than being the third wheel on a date with you and your phone. I hope you picked up on that obvious sarcasm. If you pay more attention to your phone than your partner, especially when you're having quality time, it can make your partner feel like they don't matter, they're uninteresting, and they're not who you'd rather be with at the moment. If you do it while they're talking, it gives off the vibe that you don't really care what they have to say. Put it in your pocket or shut it off sometimes. And if you an't do that, make sure you pay more attention to your partner that Siri.
2. Interrupting Or Not Listening
I'm pretty sure there's nothing worse than being in the middle of telling your partner something that's important to you, then suddenly realizing they're not listening. The same goes for being mid-yarn and having your partner interrupt you to tell you something completely unrelated that they were obviously thinking about instead of listening to you. Your heart drops. You get that twinge of anger/sadness. And it becomes clear that what you were talking about isn't important to your partner at all. And maybe you're not important to your partner. It's something so seemingly small that people can internalize in big ways.
3. Being Negative
Some people are just real glass-half-empty types. Negative, cynical, questioning, and vocal about it. It's not necessarily a bad thing to have a critical personality, but if you're not careful, you could really dent your partner's self-esteem with your truckload of negativity. Like, when your partner expresses that they really like something and, and instead of being a positive supporter, you launch into a diatribe about how that thing they like is actually the worst. If you do this all the time, your partner is going to end up thinking they have poor judgement, or that you really don't trust their judgement. You can't rain on every parade.
4. Being The Fashion Police
That whole idea that one partner (typically it's portrayed as a woman) has to dress their other partner (typically portrayed as a man) because they're so clueless about how to dress, or because they have to be seen with them, is more offensive than we realize. A person's personal style is often an extension of their personality, and criticizing or rejecting their clothes can feel like a very personal attack. It can come off as controlling. And it can come off as dissatisfaction about the way your partner looks and about the choices they make. Those kind of feels go straight to the bone.
5. Being Inappropriately Helpful
Hearing "let me do that" every three seconds doesn't sound romantic. It sounds like you don't think I know what I'm doing, or you don't trust me to do it right. If you think you're being a white knight by taking over every time your partner is struggling (or anytime they are doing anything), then you need to realize that your misguided chivalry is probably doing more harm than good. Plus, it's a form of enabling to never let people fail or learn from their mistakes. And it's controlling to never let anyone do anything. A revolutionary solution is to simply ask if your partner wants or needs help.
6. Not Taking (Or Asking For) Their Advice
Of course, you're under no obligation to ask for your partner's advice, or to take it when it's offered. But sometimes you should. Because your partner is just that — a partner. Someone you share your life with. Someone who knows you. If you never ask for their advice, never want their input, or never take the advice they freely give, you're doing two detrimental things. First, you're creating distance by not letting your partner be a part of your decision making process. Second, you're sending the signal that you don't need, want, trust, or value what your partner has to say. It can be a blow to your partner's self-esteem if they feel like they don't matter enough to have any say in your important life decisions.
7. Not Being Romantic
There are countless numbers of ways to be romantic. Even if you're not the cards and flowers types, every couple has those little gestures and words of affirmation that remind each other how loved and appreciated they are. If you're not putting in the work to make your partner feel special, they might not feel special. It's as simple as that.
8. Being A Know-It-All
You're smart. Your partner gets it. Just make sure you reign in the need to always correct them, or to act like you're smarter than they are. If you're forever questioning your partner's intelligence, they're going to absorb the idea that you think they're dumb. If you're always correcting them or criticizing "low brow" things they enjoy, you're making them feel inferior. If you refuse to do things they like and only do things that are in line with your supposed intellectual inferiority, you're not being a fair, equal partner. You don't have to jump in every time your partner says something.
9. Making All The Decisions
Aside from being a controlling move, always making all the decisions sends the message that your partner can't make good decisions. This applies equally to big things, like picking where to live, and small things, like picking where to eat. You both deserve equal say in your relationship and you're both responsible for making decisions. Loosen the reigns and let your partner lead sometimes, even if they make decisions you wouldn't necessarily make. Like pizza instead of tacos. You'll live.
10. Never Being On Time
Your partner's time is valuable. When you continually show up late, you're sending the message that you don't respect their time. That your time is more important. That you come and go when it's convenient for you. That your partner's unhappiness with you not being on time doesn't matter to you. You're also undermining the trust that's so critical to healthy relationships when you're regularly late (a form of being unreliable). Do everything you can do keep your word when you make plans for a specific time, and when you can't get there, at least call or text.
11. You Have A Wandering Eye
The ways we interact with others in a sexual or flirtatious way is a divisive issue. Some people don't care if their partners flirt, look at other people, watch porn, or occasionally hang out with their exes. Some partners are not cool with that at all. No matter which kind of partner you are, or have, you owe it to them to find their boundary, and not to cross it in front of them. If you know it makes them uncomfortable when you flirt with the server and you do it anyway, you're letting them know that their needs aren't a priority. Plus, that stuff can hurt the heart. It can make partners feel like they're not enough. Keep it classy and discreet, if that's the deal.
If you're both more mindful of the things you do and say, you'll do less damage to each other's fragile insides. As always, communication is key.
Images: Pixabay (12)