Have you ever regretted what movie you and your partner went to see? Have you ever been at odds with your spouse over the paint color in your bedroom? Does Thanksgiving dinner at your in-laws make you rethink your holiday plans? If so, you may be the victim of low self-esteem. In a 2018 study, researchers Francesca Righetti and Mariko Visserman sought to find a link between low self-esteem and regret felt after sacrificing personal preferences for one’s relationship. The study was comprised of 130 couples in the Netherlands of various stages in their relationships, gathered through social media, internet forums, and personal approach. To begin, the researchers administered several questionnaires to evaluate the participants’ self-esteem and life satisfaction. For the next 8 days, when prompted by a smartphone signal, the participants were instructed to answer specified questions about how they were feeling regarding past and present sacrifices made during their relationship. They were also asked to keep a daily diary. After 1 year, the researchers conducted a follow-up assessment.
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Although the study intended to show the impact of low self-esteem on amount of regret following a sacrifice of personal preference, there were a few surprising results. For one, it turns out that the most important factor in feeling regret was perception of a partner’s support following the sacrifice (whether founded on truth or not). As the study confirmed, low self-esteem led to individuals feeling less supported by their partner after making sacrificing. Furthermore, it was those who felt less supported that, in turn, were more likely to have regret for their sacrifice.
Interestingly, one might expect self-esteem to be an indicator of the amount of sacrifices that are made in a relationship. That is, perhaps having low self-esteem would cause an individual to shy away from sacrificing too often for fear of being “let down”. However, the study actually showed no link between self-esteem and amount of sacrifices made for one’s partner. Although number of sacrifices was evenly distributed among all levels of self-esteem, there was a much higher proportion of regrets among those with lower self-esteem.
Another consequence of self-esteem that was studied was general life satisfaction and well-being. Previous research had revealed those with low self-esteem are more likely to display anxiety, depression, and most other negative emotions. As it turns out, the current study more than confirms those findings. According to Righetti and Visserman, regret for past sacrifices made was also shown to have a negative impact on life satisfaction, mood and stress. Low self-esteem, according to the study, was not directly linked to life dissatisfaction. It was only when mediated by feelings of regret for sacrifices made, where the connection is made.
It is necessary to keep in mind the limitations in the study. For one, the generalizability of the study may be slightly called into question, considering the participants were only from the Netherlands and mostly consisted of non-married students. Older couples who have been together longer and shared more life experiences together may react differently than the majority of those within the study.
Another issue with the study is the lack of control regarding the claims of regretful feelings. Furthermore, there was no measure on how soon after a sacrifice was made did any feelings of regret surface. Considering these limitations is certainly important when examining and applying the results. Still, this study can be very helpful for couples seeking to improve their relationships. Understanding how much of a role perception of support impacts amount of regret may lead partners to more considerately assure each other of their appreciation for sacrifices made. Additionally, individuals with lower self-esteem could focus on ways to accurately gauge their partner’s support, with proper perception. Furthermore, couples that have figured out how to mitigate regret after sacrifice might actually be able to improve their life satisfaction, both individually and relationally. So, the next time you plan on purchasing new furniture or a new car with your significant other perhaps you should consider if it is worth the sacrifice.