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Fountain of Life with Taiwo Odukoya: Low Self-Esteem Can Hurt Your Marriage



Self-esteem is defined as a reflection of a person’s overall self-appraisal of his or her own worth. According Trisha Macnair, it is a powerful human need and without a good dose of it, we become vulnerable to all sort of problems, from failure at school and work, disaster in relationships to health problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

The truth is, we all lack confidence occasionally but those with low self-esteem are unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time.

Now, low self-esteem can be caused, among other things, by circumstances in a person’s past like unhappy childhood where parents (or other important people in one’s life, such as teachers) were extremely critical;absence of praise, warmth, affection or interest;or poor academic performance in school resulting in lack of self-confidence. Some other causes are on-going stressful life events such as relationship breakdown or serious financial problem; poor treatment from a spouse, parent or carer (abusive relationship); chronic medical condition or physical disability; and mental illness such as anxiety disorder or depression.

Generally, people with low self-esteem:

  • Are extremely critical of themselves
  • Downplay or ignore their positive qualities
  • Judge themselves to be inferior to their peers
  • Use negative words to describe themselves
  • Have discussions with themselves that are always negative, critical and self-blaming
  • Downplay their role in their own achievements and never take credit for noble acts
  • Always blame themselves when things go wrong instead of taking into account other things over which they have no control such as the actions of other people or economic forces
  • Take compliments from others with a pinch of salt.

Unfortunately, some get into marriage with a bad case of low self-esteem.In an interesting series of studies by Murray, Holmes, MacDonald and Ellsworth (1998) using Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale to differentiate groups, researchers found that no matter how they adjusted variables, self-esteem colours not only a person’s perception of self but impacts expectations of the partner and the tenor of the relationship. The implication is that, although a spouse may not in any way be at fault, he or she often ends up bearing the brunt of the low self-esteem problems of the other half. It is therefore no wonder that self-esteem is a major factor in the success or otherwise of marital relationships.

Now, those with low self-esteem will question their adequacy, even in a marriage setting. They question whether they are desirable and whether their partner really loves them. What is more, they question whether or not they would still be loved if their partner knew everything about them.

You will understand that marriage thrives on openness and vulnerability, but low self-esteem often prevents people from being open and vulnerable. The more they try to conceal what they think is most unpleasant about themselves, the more they give room to suspicion and jeopardise the trust in their marriage.

At the core of low self-esteem is ‘self’. Those who have low self-esteem are therefore always too wrapped up in their own heads to really be available to their partner. They may be good in certain areas of life, but on a more intimate level, they are not really there.

The truth is, in a marital relationship, constructive criticism can help the parties get better. However, low self-esteem can prevent some from receiving constructive criticism in good faith. A spouse who is unable to admit flaws because of a negative self-image will often have difficulty feeling safe during marital conflicts. This of course will often escalate issues that could otherwise be easily resolved or brought under control.

Low self-esteem can also lead to perfectionism, which often makes people expect too much from themselves as well as their spouse. Unfortunately, this can make such people and those around them miserable or frustrated.

In addition, people with low self-esteem often struggle in their sex life. This is because great sex happens mainly when two people make themselves wholly available to each other. But when people have low self-esteem, it is difficult to really be present in the bedroom during sexual intercourse.

Now, as terrible as its effects are on marriage, the irony is that a lot of people suffer from low self-esteem without even knowing it. Some try to suppress their low self-esteem while others live in total denial. If you are one of such, it will help to remember that a problem correctly identified is half solved. The following questions may help point your attention to an obvious problem which, without your knowing it, may be tearing your marriage (and even other relationships) apart:

  • Do you only view or think of what goes on around you on the basis of your own needs and wants?
  • Are you overly submissive to—and blindly follow others without sizing up the situation on your own?
  • Do you spend too much time reflecting on past mistakes, with little thought for the present?
  • When someone corrects you, are you always unnecessarily defensive?
  • Do you always feel that you fall short of your own and others’ expectations?
  • Do you feel you have to prove yourself worthy of your spouse’s love?
  • Do you always feel inferior to other people?

Whatever the cause of low self-esteem, it is important to recognise it as a major problem and begin to deliberately change what you believe about yourself. This may of course involve seeking professional help. Without any doubt, it will involve gaining insights into how God sees you because, in spite of your past, you are special to Him.

And do not forget that healing from low self-esteem takes time. A poor self-image that has developed over a lifetime will not, in all likelihood, disappear overnight. So you have to keep at it until your self-image improves considerably.It may be a difficult task, but it is not impossible.

If you are the spouse of someone with low self-esteem, you have a lot to do to help your partner overcome the problem; you have to be lovingly part of the recovery process. So instead of assuming that he or she is cruel or insensitive, you can try to understand his or her negative feelings and help overcome them as much as you can. The result at the end is deeper intimacy between you two.

Taiwo Odukoya is the senior pastor of The Fountain of Life Church. He is an avid believer in the role of the Church in the social and economic life of the nation. He is the host of The Discovery for Men, The Discovery for Women, The Woman Leader, and Ruth and Boaz, quarterly meetings that reach out to thousands of men and women from all works of life and denominations. He lives in Lagos with his wife, Nomthi, and children. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Nike

    May 13, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Great article. Very inspiring. I believe a well nurtured childhood has unlimited influence on individual life. As a mom, i vowed to build a high-self esteem in my child. May God help me.

    • nwa nna

      May 13, 2015 at 11:02 am

      @Nike- The best thing any parent can offer their child is a healthy dose of self esteem, this will make a huge the difference on how the interact with others and face life’s tests.

    • iyke

      May 13, 2015 at 11:44 am

      @ Nike
      You are right. A good friend of mine used to have issues with his self esteem years ago and have noticed in himself a pattern of damaging potential relationships. The more he wants it, the more he expects it to fail because he feels inadequate and unable to trust a partner. He feels that because he is not rich and living the GQ life, that no woman would ever stay with him. On a closer examination, I found out that his parents experienced a painful divorce and betrayed each other,hence the root cause of his low self esteem.
      To my amazing single and beautiful BN family, if you can’t see your own worth, how can you believe a partner will? If you can’t believe you’re good enough, how can you believe a loving partner could choose you? If you can’t believe that you could be truly loved, then how can you be open to love?
      Let us all be self aware of who we are as this is vital to self improvement, because ‘our problems’ may be obvious to everyone but us.

  2. deeshoow

    May 13, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Low-self esteem breeds a sense if inadequacy, very true sir

  3. Munachimso

    May 13, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Not until adulthood did i recover from self esteem issues. At 28 i am still single, however it recently dawned on me that this might be the reason why as I sometimes get overly nice and all. Seeking acceptance, trying to be good enough for him. Everyday is a learning experience for everyone of us. Most of the esteem issues I am experiencing stem from my childhood. I find it very difficult to be open with people most especially as it relates to matters of the heart. Till date one of my closest friend who happens to be a guy still feels he doesn’t know me. He keeps saying there is so much I am holding back though he cant really place a finger on it. My friends think I am pretty, yet it always seems like its never enough, because a low self esteem makes you feel inadequate. Self esteem issues shouldn’t be handled with kid gloves.

    • papermoon

      May 13, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      Muna, thank God you overcame it. I would love to read about how u did it. You should write something about it. You hav no idea how many people you will be helping.

  4. Happy01

    May 14, 2015 at 12:01 am

    Pastor T. Odukoya…you will live long.This article touches me in more ways than one..Self esteem issues made me look forward to go to sleep at night, cos sleep was my best and only friend, .The root cause of this, was my exposure to a parent that almost killed my “spirit”, basically made my teenage experience my number one regret in life till today. An experience which left me almost completely broken,and a hatred of being physically touched by anyone.It took the intervention of some really good people who showed me that I needed help.
    Its been 4 yrs of purging myself of all the psychological sewage deposited in my life, asides that I have turned to true Father in heaven who loves me and wants the best for me.And so far, the sunshine has never been better.
    …It initially was tough cos I had to forgive all that was done, change some mentalities, change some notions,basically I had to hit the reset button. To those people out there, who are exhibiting the symptoms mentioned by Pastor O, I strongly urge you to seek out a counselor, and get ready for all sorts of things that you will say, cos it will hurt and you will cry a lot by the time the healing process begins. but pls try and heal. GOD bless you all. and may GOD bless you Pastor Odukoya

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