How self-worth impacts our relationships

During our search for a spouse, and even once we are married and settled, we tend to focus outwardly on our relationships with others and minimize the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves. This imbalance can manifest itself in many ways. We may completely lose our senses in the initial rush of a relationship or marriage, or fall to pieces in its painful demise.
We may cling to the fantasy of a soul mate who will “complete us” or grow overly dependent on spouses for our well-being, while forgetting to tend to other aspects of our lives. Two authors discuss the importance of maintaining a more balanced sense of self in order to find validation within as opposed to from another.

Raymond Brock-Murray: Addressing the root causes of insecurity

When looking to marry, we tend to place a disproportionate amount of focus on whether prospective spouses can fulfill our needs and desires. However taking an honest look at oneself and developing a strong sense of self-worth are important steps towards becoming a healthy, content Muslim who is emotionally ready for marriage. A lack of self-worth can damage a relationship because it creates a dynamic in which one person demands, consciously or unconsciously, constant reassurance that he/she is loved, valued and needed, while the other partner falls into the cycle of always validating the insecure spouse. It binds this person to serving as a vehicle for his/her spouse’s need for love, ultimately causing resentment.

This cycle of insecurity can start during courtship – when it’s most likely to be overlooked amid euphoric feelings – and extend into marriage if not addressed upfront. A person might not realize that he/she has set unspoken, unrealistic expectations that the other person will undoubtedly fail to meet. This need for constant affirmation is typically not created by one’s spouse, but rather it is often parents, siblings, friends, and peers who chip away at a person’s self-worth through negative messages, be they direct or indirect, verbal or nonverbal. These early judgments leave one feeling as though his/her value is conditional, not innate. Even if later relationships and experiences show otherwise, the damage done during the formative years often remains. Stamping out these feelings of inadequacy frees a person to be and accept his/herself, while others in this person’s life will be able to do the same. This balance is necessary for all healthy relationships.

External validation is only a temporary and superficial fix—a Band-Aid of sorts. If you have long carried a negative self-image, it is necessary to embark on the process of breaking those thought patterns and replacing them with healthy, realistic thoughts. There are a number of techniques through which to achieve this, one of the most popular being cognitive behavioral therapy. Regardless of the means used, if you can learn to validate yourself, you find yourself in balanced, mutually fulfilling relationships. Learn more through these suggested readings:

Ayesha Akhtar: Respecting yourself and communicating your goals

American culture tends to romanticize the dating ritual, thereby fostering unreasonable expectations held by both men and women. Going through the emotional roller coaster that is the courtship phase can easily sideswipe you if you do not have a strong sense of self. The key lies in negotiating a balance between the qualities you are looking for in a partner and the qualities you have to offer; we often focus on the former at the expense of the latter.

Ideally, marriage is a delicate but beautiful fusion of two individual’s best qualities and it is a vessel in which each person can safely attain his/her goals while supporting and loving the other. When a lack of self-worth weakens either half, both will suffer. Married for almost 15 years, my husband and I continue to respect one another’s independence. This, in turn, allows the two of us the ability to preserve our self-growth and meet our personal goals. It is easier said than done, and requires much compromise and patience! Ultimately we cannot rely upon others to chart our life paths and give us a sense of inner value and peace, but rather we use our experiences with others to make our own lives fulfilling.

I often hear that a woman has the tendency to “forget herself” after she marries and has children, relinquishing her personal goals and interests to make room for her new family. In a recent HEART workshop, a mother expressed this dilemma to me, confessing that she wants to be able to take a girls’ vacation without her family making her feel guilty about the time away from home. She was shocked but comforted when I told her that I’ve been doing that for years. I think a vacation with girlfriends is one of the best things I do to recharge and remember that while I am a wife and mother, I am also a woman with her independent hobbies and interests. Ironically enough, these vacations were my husband’s idea and he too takes a boys’ vacation now and then! He recognized that before his wife can give her time, energy and love to others ungrudgingly, she needs a bit of time to relax, reflect and reconnect with herself. I truly find that when I love and take care of myself, I boost my own sense of self-worth and I thereby add more value to the lives of my loved ones.

Raymond is a Psychologist and Licensed Professional Counselor. He earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Seton Hall University. He is a privately practicing therapist and a partner in Nasiha Counseling, serving Muslims in New Jersey and New York.

Ayesha Akhtar, MPH, is co-founder and Director of Policy & Research at HEART Women and Girls . HEART is committed to building self-esteem and leadership through health and wellness programming for faith-based communities.

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