The Secret to Relationship Satisfaction (That has nothing to do with your partner).

The Secret to Relationship Satisfaction (That Only You Control)

Several studies have explored the trajectory of relationship satisfaction. Some have suggested that relationships follow a U-curve, with satisfaction decreasing in the earlier years and increasing later on. Others have been a bit more pessimistic, finding a continuous decrease over the years. According to others, satisfaction remains fairly stable.

Clearly, the results are mixed. Not a lot of help for those who adore the black and white for its classic, no-nonsense simplicity, but think the grey is a fence-sitting pony. The good news though, is that wherever your relationship satisfaction is at, there are always ways to make it better.

There is plenty of research that has tried to find the secret to a lasting relationship. Explanations are as varied as the research and include low relationship-related anxiety, fewer premarital doubts, lower psychological distress, less stressful events, better communication, less verbal and physical aggression and greater love, trust and cohesion. And then there’s self-esteem. 

The direction of the relationship between relationship satisfaction and self-esteem has been the subject of lively debate. First, there are those who suggest that relationship satisfaction enhances self-esteem. Intuitively this makes sense, as relationships are an important source of self-esteem.

On the other hand, evidence from long-term studies suggests that the reverse effect is true, namely that self-esteem increases relationship satisfaction, rather than the other way around. This also makes sense, given the effect of self-esteem on satisfaction and success in other areas.

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So how does self-esteem change throughout our lifetime? Longitudinal research suggests that self-esteem tends to increase throughout young and middle adulthood, peaking around age 60, and declining into old age.

In a recent study, researchers looked at the role of self-esteem in relationship satisfaction, tracking over 885 couples over 12 years in the first study and 6,116 couples over 15 years in the second study.

Initial relationship satisfaction was related to the initial levels of self-esteem of each individual partner. As the self-esteem of each partner changed, so too did the couple’s assessment of relationship satisfaction.

Interestingly, the effect of self-esteem on relationship satisfaction was the same for both men and women.

The exact mechanism underlying the effect of self-esteem on relationship satisfaction is unclear, though there are a few theories.

The first is that people with low self-esteem might tend to think their partners see them as negatively as they see themselves. In response to this, they may attempt to avoid disappointment by distancing themselves or by making a defensive attack upon their partner. Whether fight or flight, either response would diminish relationship satisfaction for both parties.

On the other hand, partners who feel secure in a relationship are more likely to experience lower levels of relationship-related anxiety and avoidance, something that would enhance relationship satisfaction.

Those who experience more relationship-related avoidance are more likely to pay less attention to emotional cues provided by the partner, thereby missing opportunities to connect and respond to emotional needs within the relationship.

Partners who experience more relationship-related anxiety are also more likely to seek excessive reassurance. This may be experienced as neediness from the sought after partner, which can be a killer for desire and intimacy.

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The take-away from this research is the importance of protecting your self-esteem as a protective measure for your relationship. It can be hard to steal time to put yourself at the top of the list, but it’s important for so many reasons.

Anything you can do to increase your self-esteem, whether that’s doing more of what you’re good at, looking after yourself by exercising, meditating and spending time with friends, or learning a new language, skill, sport or activity will be an investment in your relationship.

Relationships are an important buffer, offering protection and support when the outside world takes a swipe. It’s the people we love, and who love us back, who are critical in offering us a hand up when we’re ready to walk out the cramp. But they are not a remedy to a broken spirit, something that, as we know, can only be fixed with tenderness and grace from the inside.

6 Comments

Sarah

I loved reading this, well done. I’ve found that this principle applies to all the relationships of my life, not only my significant other. As I treat myself with more acceptance and am gentler with my own weakness I find it easier to accept others, not be intimidated by their accomplishments and give them the benefit of the doubt.

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you Sarah. This is such a wise comment that you have left. You’re so right – self esteem is important for all of our relationships!

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faby

Very interesting article. I totally agree on the idea of self-esteem being the very core and essence of relationship satisfaction. The satisfaction starts with oneself, as much if not more important is the issue of self-forgiveness. We can be our worst enemy and we should be taught ‘real’ self-indulgence and common sense from an early age. It would be an easy more enjoyable life Journey from then onwards….sure, there are big traumas that do need a bit more work.

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Hey Sigmund

Yes! Your point about self-forgiveness is such an important one. Mistakes are such an important part of growth and learning, and it’s self-forgiveness that makes that possible. Thank you for sharing your insight.

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Celine

Amen, sister! I learned this lesson the hard way over many years of clinging and patching. Now I find that self-care has increased my self-esteem and vice versa. Curating my “life worth living” means I’m ok with or without an SO, and (kind of ironically) confers greater love and respect within my new relationship

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I’m so excited for this! I’m coming back to Perth in February for another parent talk on 'Strengthening Children and Teens Against Anxiety'. Here’s the when and the where:

⏰ 6:30-8:30pm | 📆 Wed 22 Feb 2023
📍 Peter Moyes Anglican Community School, #mindarie

For tickets or more info google:

Parenting Connection WA Karen Young anxiety Mindarie Perth

💜 Thanks to @ngalaraisinghappiness for hosting this event.

#supportingwaparents #parentingwa
Let them know …

Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️

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