If you’re like most people, you’d 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 it’s selfish and hokey. Honestly, the whole concept is rather foreign to most of us. I certainly didn’t grow up with anyone talking about self-compassion and self-love. We knew about self-esteem, but that’s 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.
Why should we be kind to ourselves?
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 what’s really interesting is that it also helps our relationships.
You can’t rely on others to meet all of your emotional needs
When you rely on your partner to meet all of your emotional needs, you end up needy and disappointed. It’s impossible for him/her to know what you need and when you need it, at all times. And, of course, even when s/he wants to meet all of your needs, s/he’s not always available. In other words, it’s impossible for someone else to meet all of your emotional needs.
What happens when your partner doesn’t meet your 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 you’re hurt, angry, or clingy? Probably not the best. You also might turn this hurt and anger inward, using it as evidence that you’re not important or good enough for someone else to love.
If you don’t love yourself, you can’t receive love from others
Have you ever received a compliment, but dismissed it because you didn’t 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 she’s lovely and as cute as every other teenage girl I’ve ever seen. But I don’t tell her this…because it won’t help. When you don’t believe good things about yourself, you won’t 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 they’d believe it! So, if you don’t love yourself, it doesn’t matter if your partner is a pro at meeting your needs. You won’t be able to let all this emotional goodness in if you feel undeserving of love.
Dr. Neff’s research shows that people who are more self-compassionate display more care and affection for their partners, are more accepting, more willing to compromise and give their partners the freedom they desire. Self-compassionate people are less critical and controlling, less verbally harsh, and have greater relationship satisfaction rates. [i]
The more you love yourself, the more love you have to give
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, you’re 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.
You can’t give to others what you can’t give to yourself. So, if you’re not able to practice self-compassion for your own benefit, do it for your partner.
How to start loving yourself today
Loving yourself isn’t complicated. It’s very much like loving anyone else. When a friend or family member is hurting, you’re probably pretty good at offering a kind word or loving gesture.
- 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 he’d 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 he’d done something stupid in order for his boss to chastise him? No, you’d suggest he put his feet up and relax, or go for a nice long run by himself. You’d 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 don’t 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.