If your self-esteem has been ruined during a relationship, it can take a long time to build it back up.
But it’s possible!
Different people need different approaches, so we’ve listed our top 10 tips on growing your self-confidence to be happier in your marriage, or alone…
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves—our confidence and self-determined worthiness.
High self-esteem relates to feeling good in your skin, valuing your skills and qualities, and feeling comfortable and confident.
At the other end of the spectrum, low self-esteem is linked to low self-worth, a sense of inadequacy, and a lack of confidence in what you have to offer, personally, professionally, or romantically.
How can you tell if your self-esteem has been destroyed?
If your self-esteem has been destroyed, you may start feeling less confident in your appearance, for example, or in what you bring to the table at work. You might question whether your friends like you or what value you add to your relationship.
These are signs that you might be experiencing low self-esteem—and here are a few ways it could manifest in your marriage.
He puts you down in private.
While it’s normal for you and your partner to disagree at times, regardless of how much you care about each other, you may have noticed that your partner has been going out of his way to be contrary or difficult recently.
He might have become dismissive of your opinions, talk down to you, or even gaslight you into thinking you’re the one in the wrong when he clearly is. He might be critical of the way you do things, disagree with everything you say, insult you, or be verbally abusive.
These are all horrible behaviors to be on the receiving end of and will hugely impact how you feel about yourself.
He embarrasses you in public.
One of the worst ways someone can destroy your self-esteem in a relationship is by belittling you in front of other people. Your husband might make jokes at your expense or criticize you in front of your friends and family.
He might make comments about your appearance that are derogatory or pick apart a habit you have.
Of course, everyone is capable of doing this by accident—jokes can go too far, and not everyone can sense their partner’s discomfort in the moment. But, if it’s happened multiple times, it’s likely to affect your feelings of self-worth and confidence.
Your partner might not mean to impact your self-esteem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Equally, he might be doing it on purpose to “knock you down a peg.” The proactive intention is almost worse than the actions or words communicated in front of others and will also severely damage your self-confidence.
He ignores how you feel.
One of the best feelings in a relationship is being seen, recognized, and appreciated just as you are. It makes sense that one of the worst feelings is being dismissed or ignored.
If you feel your partner neglects you or isn’t meeting your emotional needs, your self-worth will inevitably suffer. You’ll likely feel as though he doesn’t understand you or doesn’t care about your feelings.
It can hugely invalidate your feelings and make you feel insignificant or even gaslighted—you might start to wonder if you’re making too big a deal of things or if you’re the one who’s causing the issues in your marriage.
How to rebuild your self-esteem:
1. Start making your own decisions.
If it feels like your husband is always calling the shots and making decisions, you likely don’t feel confident in your own abilities. Making decisions forms a large part of our autonomy and self-esteem, which is highly important to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Your husband might be the one who always decides what you eat, when you go away on holiday and where, and how your weekends are structured, for example.
This sort of thing destroys your self-esteem in two ways: one, it removes your choice-making ability and makes you feel redundant or unimportant; two, it means that you’re often stuck doing things you don’t want to be doing or wouldn’t have proactively chosen for yourself.
While it can sometimes feel minor or unimportant, the impact of having all your decisions made for you can spiral out of control.
The key is to start small and slowly introduce more of your ideas into the decision-making process. It’s frustrating that you may need to manage this process to avoid your husband feeling bad, but this might be the only way to get the desired result—to feel empowered again.
Rather than reacting negatively when your husband calls all the shots, react positively when he accepts your ideas. It will make him more receptive to your suggestions—if he gets praise for “letting” you make decisions, he’ll associate it with positivity and be more receptive to it.
2. Build your self-esteem and self-love.
If your self-esteem has shattered from your marriage or relationship, you’ll probably have noticed it affecting every area of your life.
You might be pulling back from some friendships, becoming less ambitious at work, or neglecting self-care and self-love. It is natural and understandable, but you deserve attention and affection—if you can’t get that from your partner, you can get it from yourself.
You might have gotten used to only doing things with your husband, which meant compromising and not having as much time to do the things you love. Equally, you might have lost interest in your hobbies because your partner made you feel unvalued and undeserving of your interests and enjoyment.
Your husband may have made you feel negative about your appearance, but how do you feel about it? Is there anything you can do to give yourself a boost so you feel more confident?
That might mean buying a new outfit that makes you feel amazing or getting a deep-conditioning treatment for your hair—anything that involves thoughtful care and investment in yourself.
You might decide to strengthen your connection with your body and rebuild some confidence by working out and getting stronger and healthier, for example.
Schedule some self-care time once a week, or fortnightly depending on your routine. Set regular time aside to do whatever makes you feel good—sit with a coffee and a good book, binge your favorite show, or have a glass of wine in the bath.
Things like these are “treats,” and they’re a great way of showing up for yourself and nourishing your soul, however that looks for you.
Prioritizing your wellbeing is crucial to reestablishing your self-esteem. This looks different for everyone and could involve working out more often, eating healthier (low self-esteem is linked to high alcohol consumption and eating disorders), or getting more sleep.
By working on yourself and your health, you’ll start to feel better in general and you’re likely to notice a boost in your mood thanks to better blood flow and increased endorphins.
Another huge part of working on your self-esteem includes validating your feelings. When you’re with a partner who affects your confidence, you start to feel like you need to be small or that you must be quiet. You don’t feel comfortable voicing your opinions or asking for what you need, and you can get into the habit of dismissing your feelings.
A great way to validate your feelings is by journaling and getting all your thoughts down or by talking to friends and family that you can trust. You can also look at further support like counselling or group therapy to boost your self-esteem and reconnect with yourself.
3. Develop an assertive attitude.
It sounds obvious, but becoming more assertive is a great way to improve your self-esteem. There are so many ways to work on your assertion levels and you’ll start to feel more confident quickly.
Small things make a big difference! Body language is a great one to start with—you might not even notice you’re doing it, but you could appear closed off depending on how you’re holding your arms or standing.
Being assertive means not being afraid of taking up space. It might be worth watching some videos on developing confident body language or public speaking, for example, and practicing with loved ones you trust.
The way you speak also plays a huge role in how confident you come across. Things like speaking with a rise in your voice at the end as though you’re asking a question will make people question you. This will make some people, including your husband, dismiss what you say or make decisions for you.
If all else fails, fake it till you make it!
4. Establish boundaries.
Part of working on your self-esteem involves learning what makes you feel good and benefits you. You might have become used to being emotionally bulldozed by your husband and feeling as though you have no say in what happens.
Being selfish might sound negative, but it’s a good way to boost your life and level things up. By doing things that make you feel happy and fulfilled, you’re confirming your commitment to yourself.
If you’re currently in a marriage that’s impacting your self-esteem, you might need actionable tasks now. Talking to your partner may make a bigger difference than you think.
Depending on your relationship, you might be able to establish some boundaries. Use open language rather than placing blame on your husband, and suggest ways to improve your conversation that you can both work on.
This might include setting boundaries or coming up with code words, for example, that are a polite, mutual way of letting each other know you’re crossing a line. This is a great tool as it’s a simple way of communicating without emotion.
Rather than you both going off on a tangent about how upset you feel, a code word can shut things down before they get too heated or personal.
Establishing boundaries is also a way of asserting yourself, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Some people worry that setting boundaries is a sign of weakness or shows a level of incapability, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It shows that you respect yourself, which will make you feel great, and it shows your husband that you care about the relationship enough to work on it and improve it.
The knock-on effect this has may be subtle, but your husband is likely to notice the shift in how assertive you are and be pleased that you’re also committed to working on your mutual communication and happiness.
5. Self-development and forward-thinking.
It’s easy to get bogged down and stuck in the moment when you’re in an unfulfilling marriage. You might struggle to look ahead because you’re too busy just making it through each day. If your husband has impacted your self-esteem, he’s likely to have made you very miserable in the meantime.
A great way to combat this is by working on self-development and focusing on your growth.
Commit to a hobby or regular activity you do on your own or with friends (not with your husband!). It could be a book club, walking group, or free activity like learning a new language. Whatever it is, it’s for you—it’s for you to enjoy, for you to learn from, and for you to stick with.
This commitment will strengthen your connection with yourself and remind you of what you like doing and who you are underneath the layers of anxiety that have built up during your marriage.
Self-development is a self-esteem boost—you’re taking the time (and money, potentially) to invest in yourself, which is a great feeling! You’re proving that you are worth that investment and you deserve it.
Developing a regular hobby also helps you think about the future so you can start to feel positive and enjoy the passing of time more.
When things aren’t great in your relationship, it’s often hard to see more than a day ahead. But with a hobby, you’ll start planning your life around that thing rather than hiding away. You give yourself something to look forward to.
6. Try to limit negativity.
When your self-esteem is low, it’s easy to get into a cycle of negativity. You see things through a different lens and can quickly form patterns in your mind and adjust your behavior accordingly.
If your husband makes you feel unimportant, you’ll probably hold back and go into your shell more around him. You might be worried you’ll be rejected or dismissed, so you’re less likely to put yourself out there.
As such, you give your husband even fewer opportunities to engage with you or validate your feelings—and so the cycle continues. That’s not to say you’re to blame, it’s just something to be aware of and consider.
It’s not possible to completely avoid negativity, of course, but there are ways you can limit your exposure.
If you have any toxic friendships, consider ending them. It might sound brutal, but when you become accustomed to putting up with unhealthy, disrespectful behavior in your friendships, it becomes all too easy to accept that same behavior in your relationship. As such, your self-esteem drops even further.
Even things like the content you consume will impact your mindset and how you react. Picture the scene—you’ve spent the day comparing yourself to people online, reading negative news stories, and scrolling through messages from a friend who never respects your boundaries.
How will you then react if something happens with your husband that upsets you? Probably much more intensely than if you had been having a positive day or been feeling more confident and assertive.
If you can shift your overall mindset or your base mood level, you’re more likely to feel able to speak up about how you feel or push for what you need more.
7. Work on being kind to yourself.
If you’re struggling with your self-esteem, you might be feeling frustrated with yourself for being “weak,” not standing up for yourself, or allowing your husband to impact your confidence levels so much. This is understandable, but it’s important to avoid dwelling on these feelings.
Rather than criticizing your reactions, work on more positive self-talk. There are so many things about you that hold so much more value than how you feel about your partner! It might feel hard to believe at times, but there are ways to start thinking more positively about yourself.
Our brains are pretty simple, despite what you may think. They like patterns and they establish ways of thinking pretty quickly. For example, when action A happens and action B follows, our brains pick up on that thought path and remember it. After a few times, your brain will automatically associate action A with action B, without you realizing or needing to put any active effort into it.
Our neural pathways establish patterns quickly, which can be negative (for example, when our husband wants to talk, we think it’s something bad because it nearly always is, so we get defensive or upset straightaway), but we can essentially manipulate these thought patterns.
By connecting “events” or actions with positive thoughts and feelings, we can create new neural pathways and basically “rewire” our brains. It’s easier than it sounds, too! A great way to start is by journaling. Just before you go to bed, write a list of 10 positive things that happened during your day.
It can be in a notepad or on your phone, but make sure you write them down. It can be something as simple as enjoying a cup of tea or seeing some nice flowers on a walk.
Then add 2 things that you liked about yourself that day—again, it could be that someone complimented your hair or that you got your to-do list done.
By listing out positive events and nice things about yourself, you’ll start to shift your mindset to an overall more positive, self-appreciative one. There will be days where it feels hard, if not impossible, but the routine is important and the consistency will pay off!
The kinder you can be to yourself, the more your confidence will grow. You might find that writing down every compliment you get is a great boost, as you can read the list back whenever you’re feeling low.
You might want to record a voice memo for yourself when you’re having a good day so that you have something comforting to listen to when you’re feeling down; something to remind you that it’s not all bad.
Speaking to loved ones can also help as they’ll be able to give you a huge list of things about you that they think are amazing!
By being gentle and affectionate with yourself, you’re reminding your brain that it’s okay to feel loved and special and that it’s something you can build—it’s like a muscle, essentially, and it needs to be used often to grow strong.
8. Avoid comparisons.
This is a tough one, especially given the access we have to other people through social media and TV, but it’s such a healthy step to take to improve your self-esteem.
You might have been in a marriage where your husband chipped away at your confidence levels by comparing you to other people. He might have spoken negatively about your appearance, been very open about other women he found attractive, or even gone as far as to criticize you for not looking more like other people.
Having someone talk badly about you can hugely impact how you feel about yourself, and it can get you into a negative spiral of comparison.
You might find yourself scrolling through social media and wishing you looked more like the women you see on there that you know your husband would find attractive. Or you may have started wishing you were in a different career or had new hobbies.
Either way, the more you compare yourself and your life to others, the less satisfied you’ll be and the more you’ll question your worth.
It’s hard to pull away from, but even small things like unfollowing people who make you feel bad about yourself on social media will help! Start small and keep going.
9. Seek professional help.
Another approach to consider is therapy. You might find that there’s been too much damage for you to work on by yourself. This is nothing to be ashamed of.
Therapy is a really useful resource that allows you to heal and rebuild your self-esteem. You can also learn practical tools that will help you in real-life situations.
Getting an objective opinion will validate how you feel. You might have dismissed your feelings over the years, and a therapist will be able to empathize and validate your experiences. This will help you build your confidence so you can move forward more positively.
If therapy isn’t accessible, you might consider online resources, group sessions, or complementary counselling. Even something like journaling or listening to self-help or self-development podcasts from industry experts can have a huge impact!
10. Know when to walk away.
Of course, part of working on something is knowing when to call it a day. Some relationships just take too much out of us, and they no longer become healthy or safe to be in.
If you’re feeling stuck or like there’s no way forward with your husband, it might be time to consider moving on.
This isn’t a decision to take lightly, so you should speak to loved ones you trust and evaluate your options carefully over time. You might have tried everything to make the marriage work, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it not being right for you.
A healthy, loving relationship is all about mutuality—mutual respect, honesty, and enjoyment. You need to consider what you’re gaining from being with your husband and weigh it against what you’re giving. It’s never too late to start again if it means you get back your personality, your confidence, and your love of life and happiness.
Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive, and not every suggestion will work for everyone. You know your relationship better than anyone else, and you know what’s realistic or accessible for you based on where you are right now.
Remember that you have immense value and deserve to receive love and affection from your partner, even if you’ve forgotten how that feels. Listen to your gut, listen to your heart, and do what brings you back to your true self.