Skip to main content

Cart

Research: How Your Self-Compassion Actually Helps Your Partner Too

By April 22, 2024Blog
Self-Compassion and Your Partner and Romantic Relationship

Self-Compassion Matters

Mistakes are a normal part of life and sometimes they can lead to the best changes that could have happened for us, our goals, our happiness and our life purpose. But riding the turbulent waves when you first make that mistake can be challenging.

So how do you stay emotionally balanced in the face of mistakes you may be making, or challenges you may be facing in your day-to-day life and in your romantic relationship? With a foundation that consists of self-compassion, amongst other things.

And, wonderfully, the positive effects of self-compassion don’t just end with you – and there are numerous, which we’ll come to – but in fact, that self-compassion you give yourself, actually affects your partner and enhances your romantic relationship, too.

 

What Self-Compassion Means

Self-compassion can be defined as ‘being kind to oneself when confronting personal inadequacies or situational difficulties, framing the imperfection of life in terms of common humanity, and being mindful of negative emotions so that one neither suppresses nor ruminates on them.’ [1]

In an earlier paper, the same researcher, Neff (2003), defined self-compassion as consisting of three crucial components and as they help you to gauge when you are and are not engaging in self-compassion, I’m including those three main components for you here:

  1. ‘self-kindness—being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical,’
  2. ‘common humanity—perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating, and’
  3. ‘mindfulness—holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them.’ [2]

So keywords there are (i) self-kindness, (ii) humanity and (iii) mindfulness.

More on these later when we look at how to implement self-compassion into your own life.

 

Self-Compassion And Your Mental Health

Self-compassion and its approximate opposite, self-criticism, have been repeatedly linked to good and poor mental health outcomes, respectively.

For example, self-compassion in young people aged 14-24 years has been found to prevent and treat mood disorders such as anxiety and depression [3].

Self-criticism has been linked to low self-esteem, depressive symptoms and eating disorders [4], and poor mental health such as self-harm, anxiety, depression, and more [5].

Self-compassion has been linked to wellbeing – psychological, cognitive and affective wellbeing – in a review of 79 studies consisting of 16,416 participants in total [6].

And in a literature review of 14 studies looking at the relationship between self-compassion and mental illness, researchers uncovered higher levels of compassion were associated with lower levels of mental health symptoms, noting that the findings support the idea that self-compassion is important for wellbeing and resilience to stress [7].

That state of being kind towards yourself immediately limits the potential for unhealthy mental states such as anxiety and depression symptoms like worry and hopelessness.

Instead, through self-compassion, you are able to experience inner physiological calm, and emotions such as optimism and excitement, as you engage in thoughts of how you’ve learnt something valuable rather than ruminating on any losses, how you needed to make that mistake to prevent a larger issue from derailing your happiness or life, or how that mistake has forced you to acknowledge something important that you had thus far been suppressing, such as the grief you’ve been distracting yourself from.

So self-compassion, directly and indirectly, helps create inner calm and a solution-finding outlook, both of which are integral to your happiness, health, and achieving your all important goals.

 

Self-Compassion And Your Romantic Partner

So we know that self-compassion is impactful on you personally, your mental health and well-being. But what about your romantic relationship? How does your self-compassion affect your relationship and your beloved?

In a new study, researchers set out to understand how two forms of self-compassion – general self-compassion and relationship-specific self-compassion – impact not only the person engaging in self-compassion, but also their romantic partner [8].

Their main study involved 209 couples (418 participants) with an average age of 29.02 years for men (ranging between 18 and 69 years), and an average age of 27.10 years for women (ranging between 17 and 65 years). The couples had on average been together for 5.25 years; and 79.4% were not married (152 couples), 16.7% were married (35 couples) and 3.8% were engaged (eight couples).

 

Some key findings

1. Results demonstrate that when a person engages in self-compassion, they experience relationship satisfaction and that this is the case for both men and women.

2. They also found that men reported higher self-compassion than women as well as higher relationship-specific self-compassion than women. Given the incidence for mood disorders is, in general, higher amongst women, this is perhaps unsurprising.

3. Fortunately, though, men and women were similar in relationship-specific self-compassion.

4. In addition to overall relationship satisfaction, researchers also looked at specific facets of relationship satisfaction as were assessed through the Relationship Quality Questionnaire they administered. The 6 facets of relationship satisfaction that they assessed were:

  • Fascination – admiration for and attraction to the partner.
  • Engagement – commitment to and investment in the relationship.
  • Sexuality – sexual fulfilment in the relationship.
  • Future – assessing the duration and potential of the relationship.
  • Mistrust – lacking trust in the partner.
  • Constraint – experiencing restrictions in the relationship.

Looking specifically at these subcategories, men reported more ‘fascination’ with their partner and higher ‘constraints’ due to the relationship than women did. On the other hand, women expressed higher ‘engagement’ than the men did.

5. Furthermore, there were similar total relationship satisfaction rates reported between couples suggesting that their experience of relationship satisfaction is strongly interdependent. Great news for the couples who work together as a team, always aiming to maintain a happy, healthy relationship with more highs than lows (which, by the way, you all should be :-)).

6. General self-compassion was robustly linked to total relationship satisfaction as well as to five of the six facets of relationship satisfaction. The researchers state how ‘highly self-compassionate individuals report investing more into their relationship and experiencing higher sexual fulfillment, evaluate their relationship as enduring and as having potential, report less mistrust, and less often report feeling constrained.’

7. And the effect of relationship-specific self-compassion transcends the individual engaging in self-compassion: men experience more total relationship satisfaction when their female romantic partner engages in more relationship-specific self-compassion.

That’s incredible.

So to give you the main takeaway: being self-compassionate actually helps both men and women to themselves feel more satisfied within their romantic relationship, and furthermore, when women engage in relationship-specific self-compassion, both they and their male partner experience relationship satisfaction. Clearly, self-compassion is always a good thing, and higher female relationship-specific self-compassion helps both partners.

 

Self-Compassion Has Ripple Effects

In reality, even general self-compassion does impact your partner in ways not tested by this particular study we’ve just explored. Because nothing happens in isolation. If you’re more forgiving of your own mistakes, talk kindly to yourself instead of criticising yourself, it will show up in your emotions, your body language, and the way you behave.

For example, in another earlier study looking at the effects of self-compassion on one’s romantic partner, researchers found that partners experience high self-compassion as their partners being significantly more affectionate, warm and considerate, and low self-compassion as their being more detached and self-critical, ruminating on negative emotions about themselves [9].

So your partner is very much impacted by your self-compassion, or lack thereof, because of your ensuing behaviours.

 

How To Increase Self-Compassion

Engaging in self-compassion is all about how you treat yourself; it’s a form of self-care.

Going back to those aforementioned keywords – self-kindness, humanity and mindfulness – remember these keys for a self-compassionate life:

  1. Be kind to yourself in your thoughts, spoken words and actions.
  2. Remember you are human and humans face challenges and make mistakes, and both can be great for your future anyway.
  3. Be mindful of how you are interacting with the thoughts and emotions you’re entertaining and experiencing, in order to create a balanced view of whatever is in front of you.

The running theme through all three is your thoughts.

 

Thoughts direct your life

Your thoughts steer your life. Positive thoughts result in positive emotions that lead to positive, goal-serving behaviours that create positive changes in your life whilst negative thoughts lead to negative emotions that result in you engaging in negative, goal-sabotaging behaviours that sabotage your happiness and your life.

Importantly, when you think and talk to yourself in self-compassionate ways when facing a personal inadequacy or difficult situation, your body relaxes (physiologically and physically), and your mind relaxes, and that is the state in which you can think, plan and execute well, a plan for addressing whatever the specific inadequacy or situation has brought you face-to-face with.

For example, thoughts like, ‘I’m grateful this happened because…’, can help you to embrace those moments where you might otherwise be annoyed or angry at yourself, with a sense of intrigue, awe and gratitude instead.

 

Humans make mistakes and face challenges

Mistakes and challenges are a natural part of personal growth and they are an opportunity for you to learn something important, all whilst journeying towards your goals, happiness and life purpose. So embrace the lows so that they may shape the highs. Be a student of your life instead of a victim.

And again, how you use your thoughts is important. Ask yourself questions like:

  • ‘What can I learn from this?’;
  • ‘Why is this issue popping up in my life again and again, what’s it trying to teach me for a happier future?’;
  • ‘How can I ensure I don’t make this type of mistake again?’.

 

Be mindful of your thoughts & emotions

Thoughts aren’t facts, you don’t have to agree with them or cling on to them.

Emotions aren’t who you are, you just need to alter them or process them.

Plus, just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean you need to ruminate (obsess) over it. Rumination is very bad for your mental health and linked to mood disorders. As is worry. And rumination doesn’t allow you to do anything useful with the thought, it just keeps you stuck.

So rather than ruminate, think about your thoughts, what they are telling you, whether you agree with them, whether they are serving or sabotaging you and your goals, and whether you need to release them and/or replace them with better thoughts.

 

Be Self-Compassionate For Yourself And Your Beloved

Remember that self-compassion stems from your thoughts and your thoughts direct your brain and, thus, your life.

Choose thoughts that create self-compassion rather than self-criticism, and they will change everything that follows, including how you feel about yourself, and as highlighted by the research, your level of relationship satisfaction, how your partner experiences you, and the relationship satisfaction they feel too.

Use self-compassion for a happier, healthier you, and to serve you and your partner, and your romantic relationship goals.

 

Reference

1. Neff, K. D., & Beretvas, S. N. (2013). The Role of Self-compassion in Romantic Relationships. Self and Identity, 12(1), 78–98. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2011.639548

2. Neff, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85–101. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860309032

3. Egan, S. J., Rees, C. S., Delalande, J., Greene, D., Fitzallen, G., Brown, S., Webb, M., & Finlay-Jones, A. (2022). A Review of Self-Compassion as an Active Ingredient in the Prevention and Treatment of Anxiety and Depression in Young People. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 49(3), 385–403. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-021-01170-2

4. Starrs, C., Dunkley, D. and Moroz, M. (2015). Self-Criticism, Low Self-Esteem, Depressive Symptoms, and Eating Disorders. 10.1007/978-981-287-087-2_18-1.

5. Sukmawaty, N. I. P. & Retnowati, D. A. (2023). The effect of self-criticism on one’s psychological state: A literature review. World Journal of Advanced Research and Reviews, 20(2):1050-1054 DOI:10.30574/wjarr.2023.20.2.2373

6. Zessin, U., Dickhäuser, O., & Garbade, S. (2015). The Relationship Between Self-Compassion and Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis. Applied Psychology. Health and Well-being, 7(3), 340–364. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12051

7. MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: a meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(6), 545–552. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.06.003

8. Körner, R., Tandler, N., Petersen, L., Schütz, A. (2024). Is caring for oneself relevant to happy relationship functioning? Exploring associations between self‐compassion and romantic relationship satisfaction in actors and partners. Personal Relationships, DOI: 10.1111/pere.12535

9. Neff, K. D. and Beretvas, S. N. (2013). The Role of Self-Compassion in Romantic Relationships. Self and Identity, 12(1): 78–98. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2011.639548