There’s a maxim that says you can’t truly love someone else until you first love yourself. Like most pieces of common wisdom, it contains a grain of truth.
Rather than needing to love yourself first, though, a more accurate version of the saying might be that you have to accept yourself first. That’s because self-acceptance empowers us to relax, to be ourselves, and to connect honestly and authentically with our partner.
If you can do that, then you can navigate whatever the relationship throws your way.
Acceptance Versus Esteem
Before diving into how self-acceptance benefits your relationship, it’s worthwhile to make the distinction between fostering self-acceptance and possessing self-esteem. As taught in the Positive Psychology Program’s Self-Acceptance Masterclass, self-acceptance emphasizes compassion for the self, but still encourages self-improvement.
Self-esteem, on the other hand, can be a barrier to a healthy relationship and to self-improvement, because it tends to emphasize ego. Self-acceptance can yield healthy self-esteem, but self-esteem shouldn’t be your goal.
Fostering an Acceptance Mindset
Once you’ve developed an acceptance mindset with regard to your personal flaws and shortcomings, you’ve placed yourself in a better position than most people to build a healthy relationship. That’s because for most individuals, it’s actually easier to accept one’s partner’s flaws than our own.
Even so, many people assume if they could change only one little thing about their partner … then everything would be perfect. But desiring to change your partner is unrealistic and can make your love for her or him seem conditional. Ultimately, it’s a recipe for frustration.
From Acceptance to Appreciation
Another benefit of emphasizing acceptance in your relationship — both of yourself and of your partner — is that this makes it easier to demonstrate your appreciation for that person because it comes from a genuine place. At the same time, you won’t be dependent on your partner for external validation.
Sure, it’s great to show your girlfriend or boyfriend how much you appreciate them, but no one should have to depend on that appreciation for their happiness. You should be able to affirm yourself.
Embrace Acceptance, Reject Anxiety
Self-acceptance makes you a better partner by improving your communication and helping you to build an honest connection, but another way it can strengthen your relationship is by helping to diminish lingering anxiety. People who don’t accept themselves tend to worry constantly that others don’t accept them either.
That can cause you to worry that your partner is going to leave you, that he or she is angry about a minor mistake you made, or you fret unnecessarily over fairly normal interactions. None of this worry does any good: It makes your day-to-day interactions fraught and unpleasant, and it’s exhausting and unhelpful.
Though you certainly should be attuned to how your actions might make your partner feel, lack of self-acceptance typically leads to false projections.
Self-acceptance makes people more attractive. It makes you magnetic to those around you. And when you’re in a relationship, carrying this little nugget of positivity in your pocket along with a willingness to grow is one of the best things you can do.
So take a look at yourself — at the parts that make you anxious or that don’t feel quite right — and ask yourself how you can possibly accept them. You don’t have to love yourself or believe you’re perfect to be relationship-ready, but you do need to know you’re okay, and completely lovable, just the way you are.