Attention couples: Before you found your Ms. or Mr. Right, what were you looking for in a mate? Was it Robert Redford’s good looks? Mother Teresa’s compassionate nature? Albert Einstein’s intelligence? Carol Burnett’s sense of humor?
Or, while these are exaggerations of the qualities many seek in a partner, some combination of these that is difficult to define?
If you are one of the very fortunate who found in a mate the delightful mix of personal qualities you were searching for, do you continue to recognize, honor, and nurture all those wonderful, lovable personality traits? Do you even remember what it was that drew you two together at the onset of your relationship?
Often, the everyday demands of daily living, and the responsibilities to career, children, and community contribute to couples losing sight of the energies that created their couple-hood. You may find that you start to undervalue your mate’s most positive assets, and also feel undervalued yourself. As a result, you may gradually grow apart from the very person to whom you want to be closest.
All of this can contribute to the erosion of self-esteem within the relationship which can be one reason behind the distance that often develops between romantic partners. To prevent this erosion, you need to do some active self-esteem building for yourselves, both as individuals and as a couple. I cannot emphasize too much how important it is that you both feel nurtured and appreciated by supporting the cultivation of self-esteem in your partner. The attention and direct appreciation of your partner will help each of you to maintain your own individual sense of self-esteem. It will also help keep your relationship strong.
Building self-esteem within your partnership is really quite simple. Verbalize, on a daily basis, yes daily, exactly what you appreciate in the other. Be specific as to the day, time and situation to which you are referring. For example: perhaps you admire your husband’s generally positive attitude. Maybe he has a way of always seeing the bright side, and seeing new possibilities. Tell him how much you appreciated how he dealt with the situation by using those abilities when you were laid off from your job.
Tell him how much it meant to you to have his support.
Perhaps you appreciate your wife’s ability to juggle many activities while maintaining her sense of humor. Perhaps she has a way of using laughter to relieve stress and put things in perspective. Let her know that you value her ability to patiently tolerate a traffic jam, make dinner for the family, prepare for a business meeting and still share a laugh with you. Tell her you love the way she smiles.
Another method is to sit down with your partner while each of you writes a loving list of the qualities you most value in each other. Emphasize your mate’s most positive qualities, talents, and characteristics: personal integrity, tenderness, a quick mind, warmth, exuberance, ability to listen, respect for others, parenting skills, “can do” spirit, affectionate nature, ability to fix things around the house, great cooking, etc. Place these lists in a place where you can both read them regularly. ( Note: in certain career cultures men often express their affection for each other with name-calling and insults. While I believe that no one truly, deep down, likes this form of affection, it is often a long established and well entrenched male environment which many men accept. However, this behavior can be destructive at home, so it is not appropriate in either a parenting or spousal relationship. Home should be a place of emotional safety where individuals are encouraged and supported with kindness).
By recognizing and focusing on your partner’s positive qualities you will be reinforcing and reaffirming your love and sense of caring. Building your mutual sense of self-esteem can deepen your commitment and keep those initial sparks alive. And, couples who feel appreciated and valued by their partners often have the best love lives.
Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former university director of counseling and career services, teaches individuals, couples, and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and by telephone 978 546-9431.