Can You Be Loved If You Don't Love Yourself?

Updated: May 11, 2020

I truly love my partner and I really, really wish they’d love me forever, but I know it’s unreasonable to keep asking them to prove their love all the time. I know my worth, I know I have some great qualities, and I’ll even work on having more of them - and I accept myself and love myself no matter what. And so if they love me for all of those things, great! But if they don’t, I’ll accept it as a normal part of life and I’ll find someone who does.

This is where I’ll try to get you to be by the end of this article.

We’ve all heard the saying - you can’t expect to be loved by someone if you don’t love yourself first! And yet, so many of us enter relationships in which we feel that we are truly loved, before we learn to love ourselves. So is the saying bogus? Can you actually be loved if you don’t love yourself first? Absolutely! But sooner or later, it turns your relationship into something toxic. You end up feeling anxious and depressed, and your partner grows bitter and resentful. And unless you work - and hard! - on accepting and loving yourself, chances are that relationship won’t survive.

Before we figure out how to start loving ourselves, we need to learn how to recognize the lack of self-love and how exactly it affects our relationships. Here are some of the most common problems that arise due to your lack of self-acceptance and self-love, and a lot of them start with...

“I look nothing like these girls they follow on social media.”

I have extra weight in all the wrong places, my body isn’t attractive at all, and I don’t even wear lingerie! So openwhy are they even in a relationship with me? They’re settling - that must be it! And the moment one of these girls shows interest in them, they’ll break up with me.

Does this line of thinking sound familiar?

If you’re a millennial like myself, or a Gen Z-er, then congrats - we all live in an uncharted territory we aren’t sure how to navigate! By that I mean, of course, social media and what it means for our relationships. We all draw certain lines when it comes to it, and there really isn’t the right measure to it - each couple decides what they feel comfortable with and more often than not, some compromises need to be made.

If you’re familiar with the problem I mentioned above, chances are that in your relationship, following profiles of near-naked, perfectly built people and liking their photos is acceptable. And that’s all nice and dandy when you have a) enough love and acceptance for yourself, and b) enough trust in your partner.

However, if you lack the former, chances are you’ll lack the latter, too, and you’ll most likely be living in anxiety every time you go on social media, or worse yet - every time you hear a notification pop up on their phone!

So what are some of the negative behaviors you may resort to as a response?

  • Going through their phone without them knowing

  • Obsessively visiting profiles of all the girls they follow & like

  • Imagining scenarios in which they are already having an online affair with one of them

  • Blaming them for their behavior even though you’ve told them you’re perfectly fine with it

  • Growing distant and angry without providing an explanation, then snapping at them once these feelings have grown too strong

  • Getting anxious and angry every time they mention another girl’s name, whether it’s a coworker or someone they met recently

And as a consequence of these, your partner will start distancing themselves, too. Odds are, in the beginning, they’ll do everything in their power to let you know that they love you and think you’re beautiful just the way you are - and that there’s nothing wrong with either one of you looking at other people and admiring the way they look.

But after a few weeks or months, they will grow tired of it - after all, we all have our limits. They’ll start giving you snarky remarks, being sarcastic, and once they decide they can’t cope with your insecurities anymore, the relationship will likely be over.

Does this line of events sound familiar? It sure does to me - I’ve been there a couple of times. And it’s not like I heard a magical click in my head at some point during my psychotherapy training - far from it! I had to learn, bit by bit, to love and accept myself, and once I got better at that, my relationship got better, as well. If you’re fighting the same battle (and if you’re reading this, you probably are), here are a couple of tried-and-tested ways to help you feel more comfortable in your skin - and in your relationship.

1. Find things you and people around you love about yourself.

Make a list of all the things you admire about yourself, physical and non-physical! Your hair, eyes, humor, empathy - anything that you can think of, but make sure you find at least five. After that, ask your friends what they like and admire about you and add it to the list as well. Finally, ask your partner. Once you’ve written it all down, I suggest you put it in a visible place - on your wall, for example. And every time you notice you’ve done some of the things from the list (shown empathy, made someone laugh), write it down and note it. Take a note every time you get a compliment on your looks, too. You’ll likely be surprised to see just how much and how often you prove to be likeable!

2. Don’t compare your everyday with someone’s best.

One of the mistakes we most often make when it comes to social media is comparing our unfiltered, everyday look with someone’s best and (let’s be real) often photoshopped. And though it’s easier said than done, if you simply can’t convince yourself that what you’re seeing isn’t real, the ideal thing to do is to stop looking at those Insta models ASAP. To make sure you follow through and not fall off the bandwagon, prescribe rewards - or punishments - to yourself in case you do return to the habit of looking at them and downing yourself.

Another alternative is to be inspired by them! If you look at those girls and think “I want abs like that”, make it your goal and work towards it! As long as you don’t start thinking you absolutely need to look like that, or else… , it’s healthy to be inspired and to want to look and feel better! With that in mind, the next one is a myth we really need to bust…

3. If I'm thinking of changing the way I look for my partner, I’m in an unhealthy relationship!

Absolutely not - it all depends on the context! Now, if your partner is threatening to leave you because you don’t look a certain way, then you may truly be part of an unhealthy relationship. It’s one thing to have preferences about your partner, and a whole different thing to demand they do it. But if they truly have some preferences and/or you yourself would feel better if you looked a certain way - then there’s nothing unhealthy about it!

We live in the age of body acceptance, and (unless it starts affecting your health), I personally think it’s a great thing! Self-acceptance and self-love is where we all should be, rather than downing and hating ourselves for the way we look. But here’s something controversial: just because you want to change the way you look doesn’t mean you don’t accept yourself! It’s absolutely okay to strive toward your ideal weight goal, or body shape, or whatever else would make you feel even better about yourself.

What matters is where it all comes from. If you’re thinking: “I like the way I look already, but I’d like it even more if I looked a certain way, and I know my partner would, too” - there is nothing wrong with that! However, if you’re starting from the place of “I hate my thighs and my breasts, and if I don’t do my very best to look different, it means I’m ugly and worthless”, well then we have an issue.

4. Distinguish fantasy from real life - and appreciate it

Here’s a slightly controversial one: if you only have eyes for your partner, and you don’t want to, under any circumstances, look at other people and appreciate the way they look - you’re in for some trouble. Even if you’re in a monogamous relationship, there’s nothing wrong with admiring other people's looks and thinking “I would prefer it if my partner looked more like that, but I still love and appreciate them nonetheless”, unless you decide to act on it. And the reason that shying away from it will likely be worse for your relationship is - no matter how much you love your partner, you’ll eventually get bored.

Anything that we do exclusively day in and out without a bit of change starts getting boring. If you believe in the myth of true love and not needing anyone or anything else, not even a glance at another person, you’re neglecting the fact that we’re still human beings, and we still have our limitations. Try eating the same food every day for a month - you’ll get bored of it far before the month is over!

The most controversial thing about this is: fantasies are healthy. For one, they stop us from getting bored with each other. Now don't get me wrong - if you're having fantasies about your best friend while in a relationship, that's a sure sign something is very wrong. But if you catch yourself fantasizing about famous people or hot strangers from the internet (unless it happens all the time, which is another red flag), don't beat yourself up about it!

By fantasizing about unattainable people, we bring a certain level of newness into our relationship which helps us not get bored with our partner.

The second thing is - fantasies open up our imagination. So next time you catch yourself doing something funky in a fantasy of yours, bring it up with your partner and see if he'd like to try it out!

5. Accept that you can never be 100% certain about anything, your relationship’s future included.

If you came here looking for a certain proof that your relationship will last forever - it’s the wrong place to be. The truth is - you never know. I don’t, either! And if that makes you feel anxious, it’s only because you’re demanding to know something you simply can’t. The nature of anxiety is such that, if we feed it, it doesn’t help us and it doesn’t go away - it only asks for more and more.

So what happens when you keep demanding your partner promises and shows constantly that they love you and will never leave you? They get tired of having to prove themselves to you over and over again. At some point, they’ll even grow resentful and might even get angry at you for constantly demanding it. But don’t despair - there’s a solution!

The best thing you can do for your relationship is accept that nothing is certain in life, and that by doing your best and following all these tips, you can up the chances of staying in a healthy, happy relationship, even if you don't know it will last forever. And finally, last but certainly not least…

6. Always talk completely openly to one another.

It’s okay to be bothered with your partner’s actions, but rather than keeping it in in hopes of being “the perfect girlfriend”, one who doesn’t “nag”, you end up being unhappy, lacking self-love, and exploding on your partner sooner or later. This leads to them being angry at you rather than being open to communication and supportive. Tell them what you’re okay with, and what you aren’t. Try to understand their actions and give them the chance to explain them to you. Renegotiate the limits to make the relationship comfortable for the both of you. Ask them about their preferences and openly state your own.

Remember, wanting something different doesn’t mean you aren’t happy with yourself, them, or your relationship right now - it just means you see an opportunity to make it all even better and feel even happier. If you achieve this level of openness, you’ll know what each of you is expecting and admiring in the other, you’ll have fewer arguments, and your relationship will grow stronger.

In conclusion: without self-love, you’ll always feel threatened. No matter how many times they prove their love to you, anytime there’s a new person in their life (or even on their Instagram feed), you’ll see it as the end of your relationship; you’ll feel anxiety kick in and all those proofs will mean nothing anymore.

But if you learn to love and accept yourself and say: “I truly love them and I really, really wish they’d love me forever, but I know that’s unreasonable to ask. I know my worth, I know I have some great qualities, and I’ll even work on having more of them - and if they love me for it, great! But if they don’t, I’ll accept it as a normal part of life and I’ll find someone who does.”, you’ll both be feeling a lot more satisfied and a lot happier - both together and as individuals.

© 2020 by Modern Coupling.