AMSTERDAM — People with low self-esteem struggle to look at themselves in a positive light, so what happens when a second person is added to the equation? A new study finds that sufferers often project their difficulties onto the relationship, and wind up regretting the sacrifices they’ve made for their partner because they don’t feel validated.

Researchers at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands conducted a series of studies in which 130 Dutch couples were instructed to fill out multiple surveys and diary entries over the course of eight days.

Couple in bedEach couple examined had no kids and had been together for at least four months. Most of the couples were unmarried.

The researchers found that having low-esteem led one to feel as if they weren’t sufficiently supported or appreciated by their partner, making them “underestimate how positively they are viewed by their partner and how much their partner loves and cares for them,” says lead researcher Francesca Righetti in a press release from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Such low-esteem individuals “also tend to think that others are not there for them, not available to provide support when in need,” Righetti adds.

Righetti et al. were able to conclude that possessing low self-esteem is linked to harboring greater regret of past sacrifices, which can contribute to lowered mood and life satisfaction, along with higher levels of stress.

Really, it makes sense: feeling like you’ve sacrificed something and gained no significant returns is sure to lead to regret.

Interestingly, there was no evidence that individuals with low self-esteem made fewer sacrifices in a relationship.

Rather, “they are more likely to regret those sacrifices,” Righetti explains.

The researchers recommend that individuals with a low-esteem partner show appreciation and gratitude to their partner after they’ve made a sacrifice. For partners with low esteem, they recommend not assuming that their partner didn’t appreciate their actions. Ultimately, having a discussion about sacrifices in a constructive and non-judgmental manner might be the most effective way to go.

“If you are low in self-esteem yourself, try not to assume that your partner did not notice what you have done for the relationship,” says Righetti. “Perhaps, talk together (in a constructive manner!) about what you have done for him/her and what it has entailed for you.”

The study’s findings were published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

About Daniel Steingold

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