If you want to have good relationships with other people, it helps to have a good relationship with yourself first. That might sound a little corny, but I’ve got some science to back it up.

Recently, researchers from City University of New York and University of California, Berkeley published a study looking at how people’s self-esteem influences their behavior in romantic relationships. The researchers were especially interested in whether people with high versus low self-esteem expressed affection differently.

The researchers found that, indeed, people with different levels of self-esteem differed in several ways as far as how they expressed affection.

First, it turned out that people with higher self-esteem tended to express affection more while people with lower self-esteem were more conservative in how often they expressed romantic affection.

Moreover, people’s level of self-esteem influenced how they felt when expressing affection. People with lower self-esteem had fewer positive emotions, thoughts and bodily reactions when expressing affection. In other words, it appears that people with lower self-esteem may not find expressing affection as rewarding.

So what’s going on here?

One possibility is that people with lower self-esteem may underestimate how much their partners value expressions of affection. As it turned out, people with lower self-esteem gave lower ratings of how much they thought their partners would benefit from these expressions of affection. But in reality, the partners of people with low self-esteem got boosts in positive emotions from expressions of affection that were just as big as the boosts in positive emotions experienced by partners of people with higher self-esteem.

Ultimately, then, it looks like self-esteem influences how often people express romantic affection, with lower self-esteem leading people to express less romantic affection and to enjoy expressing romantic affection less. However, part of the problem may be that people with lower self-esteem simply don’t realize how important expressions of romantic affection are to their partners, and how much their partners gain from these expressions of affection.

Image: Flickr/Mo Riza