Do you get self-esteem from being in a relationship? A fascinating article scheduled for publication in the journal Psychological Science shows that both men and women do – but that the source of self-esteem from relationships is different based on gender. The self-esteem that men get from a relationship comes largely from the social standing of being partnered. The self-esteem women get from a relationship is largely from the companionship and connection they feel with their partner.
The series of studies started by asking men and women to share their beliefs about how relationships influence self-worth. True to stereotype, opinions showed that both men and women believe that men depend less than women on relationship status and quality to determine their self-worth.
That’s what most people thought – but was it true? It turned out that when researchers asked participants about their own relationships, men in fact reported more dependence on relationship status for self-worth than did women!
What was it about these relationships that made men feel good about themselves? And though women seemed slightly less dependent than men on relationships for self-esteem, it remained important – were women getting self-esteem from the same relationship elements as men?
To answer these tricky questions, the researchers had men and women in relationships imagine a breakup. Simply, the researchers instructed people to, “Please imagine how your life would change if you were to break-up with your partner in the near future. For the next five minutes, write about whatever comes to mind. Please do not stop typing until the Experimenter cues you to stop.”
What language did men and women use to describe their fears about this breakup? What were they worried about? It turned out that men used words describing fears about loss of social standing, whereas women used words describing fears about lost connection.
There’s a disconnect between culture and reality: culture believes that men don’t depend on relationships for self-esteem, but it turns out that when you ask men, culture is wrong – men depend even more deeply than women on relationships as a source of self-worth. But what men and women depend on within relationships is different – men derive self-worth from the social standing offered by a relationship, whereas women get self-worth from the connection a relationship offers.
The authors point out that this may leave men more concerned with the fact of a relationship than its quality – the study implied that men derive self-esteem benefit simply from being in a relationship, whereas women who depend more on connection and companionship require not only the fact of a relationship, but also the quality of it.
As with any study based on statistics, the results are generalizations. Not every man cares about social standing and not every woman cares about connection! These conclusions are broad trends and your experience may be totally different. I’d love to hear about your experiences with relationships and self-esteem! What about your relationship makes you feel good about yourself? Let me know in the comments or via the social media links below.