When Ed married Mona, he adored her red hair and freckles. Ten years later, he still admired them. One evening, as he gazed upon her beauty, he said, "Honey, I just love your red hair and your freckles."

"No you don’t!" she snapped.

Ed was shocked and hurt. I do mean it. Why would she say that?

What could have erupted into a fiery argument turned into aheartfelt discussion, which helped Ed understand the reason for Mona’ssharp reply – poor self-image.

When Mona was in elementary school, some children made fun of her.When a classmate said, "It would be better to be dead than be red inthe head," Mona was convinced that her hair and freckles made herhideous. The result? More than 20 years later, she was unable toreceive Ed’s affection.

In marriage, a poor self-image is not just a private burden, but it can also harm the health of your most intimate relationship.

Counting the costs

Personal esteem problems impact a marriage in several ways:

  • Low self-esteem can prevent us from being open and vulnerable. Mona may have worn hats to hide her hair or makeup to cover herfreckles. That’s how a poor self-image works – it can make us concealwhat we think is most unpleasant about ourselves. Remember how Adam andEve covered up with leaves after they sinned? Just like us, theyconcealed what they felt was unacceptable.

    We don’t just hidewhat we consider to be physical flaws. We can conceal anything wedislike – our hurts, fears, insecurities, weaknesses. One womanrecently confessed she is afraid to let her husband see her "uglymoods" because she’s afraid she won’t be accepted.
  • A poor self-image can prevent us from receiving constructive criticism. Marriageis like a mirror – you reflect your spouse’s weaknesses, and he or shereflects yours. This can be painful, even more so if you suffer from apoor self-image.

    One woman’s ex-husband was unable to acceptconstructive criticism during their 10-year marriage. Abuse by hisfather caused him to hate many things about himself. As a result, hefelt threatened whenever his wife brought up any problems in theirmarriage. He ranted, blamed her and ignored her suggestions. Thehusband or wife who is unable to admit flaws because of a negativeself-image will have difficulty feeling safe during marital conflicts.
  • A poor self-image can also lead to perfectionism. Pushingourselves to be perfect is a kind of "leaf" – a way to cover up what wehate about ourselves. Perfectionism can make us, as well as the peoplearound us, miserable. A friend told me one reason he got divorced wasthat he expected too much from his wife. "I thought I had to beperfect, so I thought she had to be perfect, too," he explained. Headmits that a poor self-image and the inability to accept his flawscontributed to the demise of his marriage.

Steps to healing

If low self-esteem is hurting your marriage, you can tackle theproblem by pondering the following questions and discussing youranswers with your spouse:

  • When someone corrects me, am I devastated?
  • Do I feel that I fall short of my own and others’ expectations?
  • Are there any mistakes I make that I have difficulty admitting?
  • Do I feel I have to prove myself worthy to be loved?
  • Do I sometimes feel I disappoint my spouse in ways that are unforgivable?
  • Do I feel inferior to other people?

As you explore these questions with your spouse, remember thathealing takes time. A poor self-image that has developed over alifetime won’t disappear overnight. Search the Bible for insights abouthow God sees you, and remind yourself often of your new identity inChrist. If a low self-image persists, you may need to seek the help ofa qualified counsellor.

Giving grace

Because marriage exposes so many personal flaws, husbands and wiveshave an opportunity to embrace one another with the same grace that hasbeen given to us in Christ. This is what Ed did for Mona. Instead ofassuming she was cruel, he tried to understand how she felt. The resultwas deeper intimacy.

God can use what is difficult and even painful to restore intimacy.When couples allow their weaknesses to show and receive one anotherwith grace and compassion, God can use it for good.


© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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