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

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

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.


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