Less Supportive, Less Responsive People Have Partners with Lower Self-Esteem

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These days I live with a romantic partner who makes me very happy. Before I met them, I didn’t know this was actually possible. I’d had long-term relationships before, but I’d never been with someone who was so supportive. And frankly, even as responsive in conversation, if I really think about it (stumbling on today’s study prompted me to).

Prior to dating this person, I was used to romantic partners being prone to completely zoning out while I was talking — even when I was telling them something really important or that meant a lot to me. I was used to having to repeat myself because they hadn’t heard it. Or to tell them something again because they hadn’t remembered it.

When I finally did date someone who listened and was supportive in response when I told them I was having a hard time, it was frankly hard to get used to.

These days I do feel a lot better about myself. I wouldn’t exactly say that I have high self-esteem; on a good day, I’m probably moderate (I’m just not wired for astronomically high self-esteem, and I’ve learned to accept that).

But I do have to admit that in the past when I had largely unsupportive, unresponsive romantic partners, well, my self-esteem was pretty darn low. It was certainly lower than it is now.

Anyway, I recently stumbled upon a study that looked at the relationship between partner responsiveness and self-esteem and found a pattern:

  • People with low self-esteem had less responsive, less emotionally supportive partners.
  • This pattern wasn’t just reported by the low self-esteem participants but was also corroborated by their partners. Both parties admitted and agreed.

Since this is a correlational study, it’s impossible to claim causation here — or to even talk about which direction a potential causality would go in, if it were present (and not actually the result of a stronger unknown mediating variable). There are a bunch of potential places to explore here.

Because it would be impossible to know if lower self-esteem caused people to pick less responsive partners (or to stay with/tolerate them for longer than people with higher self-esteem would.)

Or to know if having a less supportive, responsive partner had a negative effect on a person’s self-esteem.

In any event, it’s an interesting link. I’m looking forward to future research in this area that could tease some of these questions apart.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

Featured Image: CC BY – Jason Rogers