Self-love is often discussed as necessary but exactly why and how self-love affects your relationships can be confusing. Honestly, self-love is the foundation for all other relationships in your life. Therefore, the impact of self-love on your relationships is all encompassing but, in this article, you will learn some of the major ways self-love affects your relationships.
You may have heard, “you can’t love another person until you love yourself.” This is not exactly accurate as sometimes; you may question your worth yet still deeply love the people in your life. As a relationship therapist who is also in recovery for codependency, what I’ve learned to be more accurate is that you can only love another person to the degree to which you love yourself.
Love versus attachment
There is a difference between genuine love and attachment. In this context, I’m talking about the desire to have someone belong to us rather than attachment styles specifically. Prior to loving ourselves, it’s much easier to become attached to someone rather than to actively love them. My favorite way of describing the difference between love and attachment is to imagine a flower.
If you love the flower, you will admire it and leave it attached to the plant. You will continue to water it and admire its beauty. You allow the flower to be in its natural state while you enjoy it for what it is. However, if you feel attachment towards the flower, you will pluck it to make it yours. As soon as you cut the flower for yourself, it begins to die.
The more you love yourself, the more love you have to give
In human relationships, before you love yourself, you love others in a self-serving way. You are hoping that through your attachment to another person, you will become “whole.” A common question, before you love yourself, is to consider what your partner is doing for you. Are they appreciating you enough? Are they doing enough chores? Did they make you feel special enough on your date? Did they compliment your new outfit? And so on.
If you have ever felt a lack of self-love, you can probably relate to this never-ending desire for attention, approval, and validation at some point through your relationships. In your attachment, it is much harder to see the other person for who they genuinely are rather, you “need” them to be a certain way for your comfort. Unfortunately, all human beings – no matter how much they care for you – will become distracted. They have their own jobs, their own stressors so if you “need” them to validate you, then your primary concern will be how they are not showing up for you rather than being able to show up for them.
Love is a verb
Love is an active experience. It is not just a feeling, but rather it is also a verb. When you love yourself, you show up for yourself. You practice consistent self-care to fill up your own cup. Self-trust is natural as you listen to your intuition. You respect your own thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. You matter to yourself actively when you love yourself.
Therefore, when you love yourself, you have more bandwidth to be a loving partner or friend. For example, if you practice getting enough sleep (7-9 hours a night) because you love yourself, then you won’t be too tired when your friend needs to talk. Or if you ensure you are eating at work, you won’t snap at your partner out of “hanger” when you get home. When you love yourself, you know it’s your job – not anyone else’s – to care for you first and foremost. You take care to honor your needs so then, you are able to be more present for those you love.
Self-love makes you less judgmental
Self-love is sometimes confused with high self-esteem. When people love themselves, they know they have equal worth and value to all others. They know their gifts and talents are to be celebrated but they are compassionate with their flaws and weaknesses. A person with authentic self-love doesn’t judge themselves as less-than or better than others anymore. They love themselves enough to know they have equal and innate worth.
Genuine self-love looks more like self-compassion. You accept the fact you are imperfect yet innately worthy. Through this self-acceptance, you stop judging yourself so much. You also stop judging your loved ones so much. It is proven that people who are more self-compassionate and genuinely love themselves more, are less judgmental towards their partners than those who lack self-compassion. Self-compassionate people are rated as more caring, affectionate, and open to discussing problems by their partners. Furthermore, they give their partners more freedom and space.
Self-love isn’t selfish
I have found that relationships either make us more ourselves or less ourselves. We either are allowed to become our most authentic, joyful selves in a relationship, or we are completely depleted. There are absolutely people out there who will suck the very life out of you.
Prior to fully loving ourselves, sadly, we can also drain others despite our feelings of love and best intention. When you love yourself fully, you are giving the people in your life a genuine gift. You are giving them the space for you to truly see them, hear them, and allow them to be authentic.
You are already whole
Before feeling self-love, it’s easy to fall for the popular message that you are looking for your “other half” and together you will become “one.” If you believe this, you look for people that make you feel completed, but this is suffocating to a relationship. When you “need” another person to feel whole, you can place demands on them which are inhumane. When another person “needs” you then you can’t fully enjoy your life authentically. Instead, you are stuck being who they want you to be.
When you love yourself, you know the truth: You are already whole. Intimacy is about two whole people coming together and supporting the other. They will have many differences because they is the nature of being separate human beings and they care enough to keep negotiating these differences. They know it’s not a problem to have different thoughts or feelings than their partner. Rather this is the adventure of true intimacy: Allowing their partner and themselves to be completely whole while negotiating these differences.
Without patience for negotiation, there is bitterness: anger that forgot where it came from. There is a nagger who wants it done now and can’t be bothered to explain why. And there is a naggee who no longer has the heart to explain that his or her resistance is grounded in some sensible counterarguments or, alternatively, in some touching or even forgivable flaws of character.
These two parties just hope the problems – so boring to them both – will simply go away.Alain De Botton, The Course of Love
Self-love is the foundation of intimacy
True intimacy can be seen as “into me you see” and vice versa. Prior to feeling self-love, letting another person see you is incredibly threatening. Of course, intimacy is always scary. It’s scary to let another person see us in our wholeness – the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s vulnerable to tell another person how much you love them and how scary it is to imagine losing them. But it’s real intimacy.
Before a person loves themselves completely, true intimacy is not fully possible. A person lacks the self-awareness and self-compassion to be fully seen. They lack the ability to validate themselves enough to see another person fully rather than their projections of them. When you learn to accept yourself unconditionally, without judgment, you learn to do this for another person. In this process, you begin to show another person true love as a verb rather than just a feeling.
It’s ok if you don’t (yet) know how to love yourself
Self-love is the foundation for all other relationships. It allows for true intimacy. It allows for another person to be truly loved by you rather than existing to make you feel worthy or special. Yet, it can be very hard to learn how to love yourself. If you relate, please know you’re not alone. Many of the articles on this blog are designed to help you deepen your relationship with yourself.
Some articles you may want to check out right now to build self-love include:
- How Do You Love Yourself? 3 Tips to Start Loving Yourself Today!
- How to Like Yourself Better: 3 Practical Ways from a Therapist
- What is Self-Compassion? and,
- How to Be Your Authentic Self
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, will be released September, 2023.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.
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