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Self Compassion: Your Way To Healthier Romantic Relationships

Self-Compassion and healthier Romantic Relationship: How people’s thoughts and feelings about themselves impact functioning within interpersonal relationships

I recently read a research article about the role of self-compassion in Romantic relationship by Dr. Kristin Neff. According to the article, portraying the self as worthy and accepted plays an important role in the ability to maintain healthy, satisfying romantic relationships.

As it was described in my last blog post, self-compassion is an emotionally positive self-attitude that should protect against the negative consequences of self-judgment, isolation, and rumination (Neff, 2003). The concept of self-compassion derives from Eastern philosophical thoughts and is a relatively new concept for Western psychology. Studies suggest that self-compassion is strongly related to psychological well-being. According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion consists of three main elements: (a) self-kindness (versus self-judgement), (b) common humanity (versus isolation), and (c) mindfulness (versus over-identification).

The article indicates that self-compassion is linked to greater relational well-being in terms of feeling worthy, being happy, feeling authentic and being able to express opinions in one’s romantic relationship.

This finding suggests that the sense of care, connectedness, and resilience provided by Self Compassion is not only associated with greater emotional well-being more generally (Neff, 2009), but also greater well-being within the context of interpersonal relationships (Yarnell & Neff, in press).

  • Degree to which people are kind to themselves is associated with how kind they are to relationship partners, as assessed by partners’ perceptions of their behavior. According to the article, the higher they score in Self-compassion Scale, the significantly more caring (i.e., affectionate, warm, and considerate) people were described by partners. Self-compassionate individuals were also described as displaying higher levels of relatedness with partners. People who were more compassionate to themselves were described as being significantly more accepting of their partners, as well as giving them more autonomy. Because self-compassionate people accept themselves as imperfect human beings, they may be more inclined to accept their partner’s limitations. Similarly, self-compassionate individuals are kind and caring toward themselves and therefore they may be more inclined to give partners the freedom they want to make themselves happy.

  • In contrast, individuals with lower levels of self-compassion were described by partners as being significantly more detached in the relationship in the research. Being self-critical, feeling isolated, and ruminating on negative self-related emotions may lead to a type of self-absorption that blocks intimacy and connection in relationships. According to the research, those who lacked self-compassion were described as being significantly more controlling and domineering with partners, meaning they were less likely to accept their partners or allow them to do things their own way. It was also found that these individuals tend to be remarkably more verbally aggressive toward their partners. This is probably because they are more likely to be fixated on their negative emotions and they may tend to be over-reactive when angry or in conflict with their partners.

  • Individuals with self-compassionate partners were significantly more likely to report being satisfied with their relationship, which is perhaps unsurprising given that self-compassionate partners were perceived as displaying more positive behaviors in the relationship. Relationship satisfaction is closely related to partners’ actions and behaviors towards the self. The self-judgments, feelings of isolation, and ruminative mindsets of people may also be directly contributing to their partner’s lowered relationship satisfaction.

  • Self Esteem is not necessarily associated with more caring or functional behavior in relationships, while Self Compassion is. Many relationship conflicts stem from one’s pride being hurt, or from ego-defensiveness, and the focus on self-worth inherent in the pursuit of high Self Esteem may make it more difficult to focus on nurturing one’s relationship partner (Leary, 2002). On the other hand, being compassionate toward oneself may boost one’s ability to be kind, accepting, and intimate with one’s partner. When people don’t rely on relationship partners to meet all their needs for love and acceptance but can meet some of their own needs, they may have more emotional resources to give to their partners.

  • The self-compassionate attitudes of individual relationship partners might interact in a way that influences relationship functioning. Since self-compassionate individuals accept the fact that they are flawed and imperfect, and have also been found to accept responsibility for their mistakes (Leary et al., 2007), they may be more likely to apologize when stepping out of line so that relationship conflicts are more easily repaired.

  • Individuals’ perception of their partners’ level of self-compassion matched their partners’ self-reported self-compassion levels. A strong association was found between self-reports and partner perceptions. It suggests that self-compassionate behaviors, or the lack them, are easily observed by partners with whom one is intimate. If so, perhaps relationship partners are in the best position to help each other learn to be more self-compassionate.

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Sam Nabil is the founder of Naya Clinics and is a Cincinnati therapist and a Cincinnati Marriage Counselor.

Sam offers therapy in Cincinnati and Cincinnati Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety.

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