Effect of Self-Esteem on Relationship Enhancement Processes
Sandra Murray Principal Investigator
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People with high self-esteem generally report more satisfying and stable marital and dating relationships than do people who are troubled by self-doubt. Despite the importance of satisfying relationships for both physical and mental health, little is known about the mechanisms linking self-esteem to relationship well-being. This research is based on the assumption that reflected appraisals - perceptions of a partner's regard for the self - mediate the link between self-esteem and the processes of attachment and relationship-valuing that are critical for relationship well-being and stability. The primary goals of the research are to: (1) demonstrate that people who have low self-esteem react to acute personal and relationship threats by doubting their partners' continued positive regard and by self-protectively finding less value in their relationships; (2) demonstrate that people high in self-esteem compensate for self and relationship threats by increasing the value of their relationships; (3) examine the short- and long-term consequences of these dynamics on relationship well-being and stability; and (4) examine how self-protection motives that interfere with relationship-enhancement processes for people low in self-esteem are activated by working models that stress the contingencies of acceptance and a sense of self that is overly enmeshed in the relationship. A longitudinal daily experiences study with married couples is being conducted. The study provides a day-to-day examination of the links among chronic self-esteem, acute self and relationship threats, reflected appraisals, and relationship-enhancement processes. Two yearly follow-ups examine the long-term effects of these dynamics on marital well-being and stability.