Self-Esteem Influences How People Express Romantic Affection

If you want to have good relationships with other people, it helps to have a good relationship with yourself first. That might sound a little corny, but I’ve got some science to back it up.

Recently, researchers from City University of New York and University of California, Berkeley published a study looking at how people’s self-esteem influences their behavior in romantic relationships. The researchers were especially interested in whether people with high versus low self-esteem expressed affection differently.

The researchers found that, indeed, people with different levels of self-esteem differed in several ways as far as how they expressed affection.

First, it turned out that people with higher self-esteem tended to express affection more while people with lower self-esteem were more conservative in how often they expressed romantic affection.

Moreover, people’s level of self-esteem influenced how they felt when expressing affection. People with lower self-esteem had fewer positive emotions, thoughts and bodily reactions when expressing affection. In other words, it appears that people with lower self-esteem may not find expressing affection as rewarding.

So what’s going on here?

One possibility is that people with lower self-esteem may underestimate how much their partners value expressions of affection. As it turned out, people with lower self-esteem gave lower ratings of how much they thought their partners would benefit from these expressions of affection. But in reality, the partners of people with low self-esteem got boosts in positive emotions from expressions of affection that were just as big as the boosts in positive emotions experienced by partners of people with higher self-esteem.

Ultimately, then, it looks like self-esteem influences how often people express romantic affection, with lower self-esteem leading people to express less romantic affection and to enjoy expressing romantic affection less. However, part of the problem may be that people with lower self-esteem simply don’t realize how important expressions of romantic affection are to their partners, and how much their partners gain from these expressions of affection.

Image: Flickr/Mo Riza


  1. DigiGirl Media, Christy Malone on October 11, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    How had I never connected these dots before?? 🙂 And where has this site been all my life?

    I could seriously click on link after link of awesome content on this site – article titles that echo a ‘hunch’ I’ve long held but had yet to flesh out. Makes total sense that a partner who is unsure of him/herself cannot possibly give affection freely, as at the back of the mind is always going to be the risk of rejection. Yet another piece of proof that we cannot expect to join ourselves to another until we’ve cleaned out all of the junk from the attic. There’s simply no shortcut to attic cleaning. It can be faked for only so long, and in the end, ‘faking’the fact that your demons are dealt with can only result in hurt on both ends.

    • Neil Petersen on October 11, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Hi Christy. I think that’s one of the cool things about psychology research — it scientifically explores many of the things we know intuitively to some extent. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂