“Nobody will love you if you don’t love yourself.” Umm… what?! As a relationship therapist, this phrase is the equivalent to seeing “Live, laugh, love” on someone’s doormat. Well-intended, but also rubs you the wrong way. I think we all know on a gut-level that self-love is important to make marriages last. But why exactly does it work like that?
Let’s start by clearing the air about one thing. It’s absolutely not true that you’re unlovable if you don’t love yourself. Here’s my snazzy new version of the quote:
“It’s easier to fill the cups of our partners, if we know how to fill our own cups first.”
Boom! Now, let’s take a look at how this pans out in your love life.
Unhealed insecurities fester and multiply in your relationship like a bad case of the fleas. Rejecting compliment after compliment because you don’t believe you’re as gorgeous as your sweetie sees you, quickly sours the romance. Ignoring your own needs for the sake of pleasing your partner will have you burning out faster than the unity candle on your wedding cake.
But a person who fully accepts and takes care of themself?! That person now has more fuel in their tank for growing the relationship. More good times = happier marriage. Who knew that loving yourself translated into loving your partner better? The silver lining here is that your partner literally becomes a “mirror” who can reflect the parts of you that need healing.
No sweat, because here’s a three-step therapist-approved guide to loving yourself for the sake of loving your marriage:
1. Learning to Love Your Looks
We definitely live in a world where there’s a multi-billion dollar industry designed to make us feel bad about ourselves. That doesn’t mean we can’t make a bold decision to love our bodies anyway.
No matter how many insults you hurl at your body, at the end of the day you still have to live inside it. I can guarantee that you would never utter those words out loud to another human being. It would be cruel and hurtful. So, my advice? Speak to yourself as if you are someone that you love.
If that feels too uncomfortable, start small by choosing to see beauty in yourself. See yourself the way your dog sees you. Find appreciation in the unique texture of your hair, your cute crooked smile, your hands! Spend a few minutes every day just looking in the mirror with a huge grin.
The way I see it, we have one body and one life. Wouldn’t marriage be more fun if both you AND your honey treat your body like the sexy, marble statue you already are?!
2. Quit the People-Pleasing
When we people-please our partners, it’s usually with the intention to avoid conflict and keep the peace. Maybe you grew up in a household where it was discouraged to express your opinion or have a voice. This behaviour almost always gets carried over into your adult relationships.
The problem is that it doesn’t end up working! You might get some temporary relief for a couple of days. But then all that built-up resentment you thought was gone, suddenly shoots up like a broken whack-a-mole machine! You’re shocked at your own explosive or passive-aggressive reaction. Your partner is left scratching their head wondering why you’re so upset. Everybody loses.
My advice to you, my dear people-pleaser?
3. Please Yourself First
You deserve to have your opinion heard in the relationship. You’re allowed to ask for what you need. And heck, you’re even allowed to disagree on topics (gasp!).
Being in it for the long haul doesn’t mean you morph and twist yourself into a person who has no opinions, values, or a voice. In fact, being 100% authentic with your boo is the true foundation of honesty. It’s also the foundation of your own mental well-being. And trust me, we don’t want you burning out before you even hit your first anniversary!
So, practice speaking what’s on your mind instead of gaslighting yourself. Your marriage will become a lot simpler.
4. Give Yourself Permission to Receive Love
Do you shrug it off or mutter something self-deprecating when your sweetheart compliments your outfit? Do you push away help when your partner genuinely offers a hand, or get upset when they spoil you with lavish gifts?
I used to do that to. Until my own therapist pointed out that I was raised to be humble and self-reliant. God forbid I dare asked for help!
But here’s why this causes friction in your relationship:
Imagine that you spent three hours standing in the kitchen to bake these amazing chocolate cookies for someone special. You watched the YouTube video six times just to get the dough measurement right, and hand-wrapped them in a neat, red ribbon.
Finally, you arrive at their doorstep, only to have all your hard work handed right back to you.
“I don’t deserve these,” they say, while shoving the cookies back into your face. Ouch.
You see, when you reject love from your partner, you’re essentially telling them that they are wrong about how they feel. You’re insulting the person that they care about – you.
Receiving is also an act of love. It is an act of appreciation for your partner who wants to express their feelings and do something nice for you.
My two cents? Accept the damn compliment. Stop resisting and surrender to that warm, fuzzy love. Because you deserve it!
At the end of the day, self-love isn’t about the bubble baths or yoga retreats. It’s simply a decision that you matter just as much as everyone else in your life. The positive effects on your relationship are just the cherry on top!
In the wise words of Les Brown (a promising upgrade to the first quote): “Love yourself unconditionally, just as you love those closest to you despite their faults.”
About Gloria Zhang, MA
Gloria is an ink-lovin’ Psychotherapist and Relationship Coach based out of Canada, and host of Top 100 show The Inner Child Podcast. Gloria helps High Achievers break the pattern of toxic relationships and create lasting love by healing the inner child. You can find out more about her at bygloriazhang.com and follow her on Instagram @bygloriazhang