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Relationship Advice: His Insecurities Are Affecting Our Relationship

How do I get through to my boyfriend and help him see how great he is?…
 
By Adam Segal
 
Dear Adam,
My boyfriend’s self-esteem has been really low and it’s kind of driving me crazy. Every morning when he’s getting dressed, he asks me if he looks fat. He’s constantly researching plastic surgery options online and trying fad diets until he gets frustrated and gives up. He often makes jokes that I’m cheating on him or looking for a more fit guy – when really I think he is still super-hot and I’m more turned off by his insecurity. We used to have great sex, but now he seems timid to show me his body and avoids being fully naked with me. I tell him all the time that he is handsome, and he dismisses my compliments or assumes I’m lying to him. How do I get through to him and help him see how great he is? –François
 
Dear François,
It is clear that you have a lot of affection for your guy and want to see him suffer less – and that caring is a beautiful thing. Watching someone we love to crap all over themselves is, no doubt, a wrenching experience. Your BF is lucky to have a loving and accepting presence in his life, and your attempts to boost him up are clearly coming from the heart. The only possible pitfall of your compassion is that it can slowly morph into a feeling of responsibility for your partner’s self-esteem – and this wouldn’t be good for either of you.
 
Ultimately, your fella has to recognize that, while you care about his insecurity, you need him to take ownership of how these issues negatively affect him and the relationship you two have built together. Typically, esteem issues are long-standing and come from painful childhood experiences that gradually result in a loud and convincing inner critic. While it likely helps that you express positive feedback, no amount of compliments can eradicate that stubborn critic. You will have to set limits on how much you indulge his self-loathing comments or passive aggressive quips about cheating, and find ways to be more authentic with him about how much his negativity turns you off. Promise him that you will continue to offer support, but that he will have to figure out where his self-hatred comes from and find ways to adapt to living without this judgmental, albeit familiar, invisible friend by his side.
 

 
ADAM SEGAL, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health questions at @relationship@inmagazine.ca.
 

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