Research has observed that 85% of the world population gets married at least once (Eaves & Robertson-Smith, 2007). Within these statistics, a significant number of people engage in extramarital affairs or abuse their spouse. Considering the various factors that contribute to these inappropriate behaviors—unhappy family lives, addictive behavior, loneliness, the need for excitement, feelings of neglect, and the inability to resist temptation—an underlying foundation for each of these explanations is low self-esteem.
A study was conducted in 1985 which researched the correlation between self-esteem levels and maritally violent men. The study was conducted by Diane Goldstein, a private practicing psychologist in St. Louis, and Alan Rosenbaum, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of the Marital Research Program at Syracuse University. A recent estimate approximates that five to six million children, spouses, and elderly adults are abused in the United States each year (Goldstein & Rosenbaum, 1985), and one-third of marriages are plagued with marital violence (Goldstein & Rosenbaum, 1985). Low self-esteem has long been a factor associated with aggressive behavior in marriage, but this correlation has never before been empirically validated. This study was designed to compare the self-esteem levels of wife abusive men with non-abusive men from both satisfactory and discordant relationships. Goldstein and Rosenbaum hypothesized that the abusive husbands would have lower self-esteem than the non-abusive husbands. Further, it has previously been noted that individuals with low self-esteem may perceive certain situations as threatening to their self-esteem, which will then produce violent activity. Because of this, a second hypothesis was proposed which stated that abusive husbands would be more prone to interpret interactions with their wife as threatening to their self-esteem than their non-abusive counterparts.
The research was performed through questionnaires taken by 20 abusive husbands, 20 satisfactorily married husbands, and 18 martially discordant husbands. To determine levels of satisfaction in the marriage, a self-report test called the Short Marital Adjustment Test was employed. To determine the self-esteem of the subjects, the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale was utilized. To address the hypothesis that abusive husbands perceive their wife’s actions as self-esteem threatening, the Spouse Interaction Test was given, which presented hypothetical scenarios of common conflicts between spouses. The husband then assessed whether he was hurt or insulted by the situations. Each of these three tests used were valid and reliable.
The results of the study concluded that abusive husbands did score lower on their self-esteem than the non-abusive husbands. There was also no difference in self-esteem levels of the two non-abusive groups. Further, the results showed that abusive husbands perceived significantly more situations as self-esteem damaging than did the remaining two comparative groups. The results determined a correlation between wife abuse and low levels of self-esteem.
A second study was conducted in 2007 by Susan H. Eaves and Misty Robertson-Smith, two graduates who received their PhD in Counselor Education at Mississippi State University, which researched the correlation between self-worth and marital infidelity. The purpose of this study was to determine if there is a significant correlation between self-esteem and infidelity. A questionnaire was submitted to 300 participants and 186 people responded. The participants stated whether they had ever had an extramarital affair, which was defined as kissing or being emotionally intimate, with someone other than their spouse. They also completed the Rosenburg Self-Esteem Scale, which measured the participant’s positive or negative self-concept. The results determined that men with lower self-esteem were more likely to cheat than those who had higher self-esteem levels. Of the women who answered the questionnaire, there was no significant difference in self-esteem levels for faithful and unfaithful wives.
General Authorities of the Church have taught the doctrine of self-esteem in conjunction with having an inner knowledge of who you are as a child of God. In the October 1973 General Conference, Harold B. Lee gave a talk entitled “Understanding Who We Are Brings Self-Respect.” He made note that many individuals in the world today lack self-respect, or high self-esteem, and they display their lack of understanding through their dress, manners, and permissiveness. They disregard the virtues of chastity and morality, even though these very principles are our anchors in this tumultuous world. President Lee quoted Sir John Frederick William Herschel and Samuel Smiles concerning their views on self-respect: “Self-respect—that corner-stone of all virtue;” and “Self-respect is the noblest garment with which a man can clothe himself, the most elevating feeling with which the mind can be inspired.” President Lee also quoted a mother who wrote him a note that read, “I love America, I love my husband, I love my children, I love my God, and why is this possible? Because I truly love myself.” He expounded on that statement:
Such are the fruits of self-respect. Conversely, when one does not have that love for himself of which this sister speaks, other consequences can be expected to follow. He ceases to love life. Or if he marries, he has lost his love for his wife and children—no love of home or respect for the country in which he lives, and eventually he has lost his love of God. Rebellion in the land, disorder and the lack of love in the family, children disobedient to parents, loss of contact with God, all because that person has lost all respect for himself.
President Lee explained that we can come to know who we are when we deeply understand the doctrine of the revelation that we are children of God. He mentioned Abraham and his insight that we were intelligences before the world was created. Because we are on the earth at this time, we are considered noble and great. When we realize who we truly are, we will gain lasting and eternal self-respect for ourselves. Having this self-respect will nurture self-esteem and when we think highly of ourselves, we are less likely to be dishonest, immoral, or uncharitable towards others.