Leon’s Existential Cafe

Self-Respect in Relationships: How You Choose Your Partner

The Role of Self-Respect in Choosing Our Partners

It seems as though each cultural blog and website you go on deals with issues in relationships, in particular difficulties in dating. “10 Things you can do to Find your Perfect Match,” “5 Questions to ask a First Date,” “10 Signs He/She is the one,” etc… Dating seems to be more of a problem than ever before, and we can’t seem to figure out how to make it work for us; it appears that we’re lonelier than we’ve ever been. And often, our pickiness and our desire for more is to blame.

Taken to an extreme, I’d certainly agree that it’s a bad thing; how can you ever really settle down if you’re constantly on the hunt for your best match or the perfect partner? A task like that is perpetual, as it can go on until you’re old and grey. However, having high standards is not, in itself, a bad thing, and can be a sign of a healthy sense of self-worth.

I often argue that, in most cases, the middle path is best. (Thank you, Buddha.) And this topic is a prime example. Each of us tends to go one of two ways in romantic relationships and friendships: we either continually seek out perfection, remaining lonely in the process; or, we settle for relationships with people who mistreat us, and exhibit clear signs of their unwillingness to care about, and accept, us. One way or another, we find ourselves stuck in a rut, wondering if the other extreme is the answer. And the answer is no.

The Consequences of Increased Self-Worth

If one were to attempt to map someone’s progress, in let’s say therapy, and focused on the progression of self-worth and confidence in treatment, they would find something peculiar, a byproduct of sorts; they would discover the aforementioned individual’s desires for intimacy altered and their standards for their relationships evolved.

When we feel down about ourselves and doubt that we have anything significant to offer the world, we tend to express, and experience, a heightened level of gratitude for any one entering our lives. Instead of focusing on what they have to offer us, we dwell on how little we have to offer them, creating a wide power imbalance and narrowing our field of vision.

When we’re so grateful for another’s attention and affection, we drown out the noise, deluding ourselves into positive thinking. Being that we’re so intent on sustaining ties, red-flags become irritants, they essentially become noise; and since we’re intolerant of noise, seeing as how we’re human, we go to great lengths to reduce it. And this is most apparent in those who struggle with self-compassion and self-acceptance, as they easily accept others, excusing away, and even denying, mistreatment, pretending that everything is okay.

Overcoming Your Inner Critic

Interestingly, in that struggle, something special can happen, and that specialness to tied in with toxic relationships. If an individual, struggling with self-worth, begins to overcome their own debasement, they subsequently begin to see the world, and their relationships, through fresh eyes, with more clarity than ever before. When one’s confidence in him or herself and their acceptance of their needs, their wants, and their wishes become prominent, they begin to see how devalued they were, by themselves and by their partners; they begin to acknowledge their partners’ shortcomings and mistreatment: the red-flags come to the forefront.

Conversely, exuberantly high standards aren’t good, either; and it can be argued that they’re linked to a low sense of self-worth as well, perhaps due to a fear of intimacy stemming from a fear of rejection. So, as the Buddha would say, the path forward is through the middle. Good enough is okay, and good enough is what all of us deserve. But, good enough is not settling for less.

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Leon Garber

Leon Garber is a philosophical writer, Licensed Mental Health Counselor/Psychotherapist and manages a blog exploring issues of death, self-esteem, love, freedom, life-meaning, and mental health/mental illness, from both empirical and personal viewpoints.

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