Feeling you aren’t attractive enough to be with your partner can be a very demoralising and isolating experience.
Feeling unattractive can happen for a variety of reasons. You may feel your self-esteem has taken a knock recently - and with it, your sense of how desirable you are as a person. Perhaps it’s something that you’ve begun to feel after going through physical changes; after an injury, following pregnancy or during menopause. Or perhaps it’s something you’ve felt for a long time – you may have grown up believing that you’re unattractive, or have been told this in previous relationships.
What defines attractiveness?
It’s useful to start by thinking about what we mean when we say ‘attractive.’ Does being ‘attractive’ mean fitting into some objective mould of what you’re supposed to look like? Or is it more complicated than that?
While there are certain traits or physical characteristics that are more celebrated and valued in modern society (and unhelpfully reinforced in the media), there is no set criteria for attractiveness. The phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ may be a cliche, but it holds true: what is attractive to one person may not be attractive to someone else - and vice versa.
In truth, we tend to feel more attractive when we enjoy healthy self-esteem. People with high self-esteem tend to feel attractive because they simply feel good about who they are. They feel they are desirable - and literally see themselves as such. Less positive people tend to emphasise what they see as the bad parts of themselves - and therefore tend to see someone less attractive when they look in the mirror.
The tricky thing is that this relationship can be cyclical - so if we begin to feel we are unattractive, so our self-esteem may drop - causing us to believe it even more. If several things are affecting our self-esteem, this can lead to deeper issues of mental health, such as depression and anxiety. Conversely poor mental health can cause low self-esteem.
This causality speaks to how feeling less satisfied in other areas of our life - such as family or work - can affect how attractive we feel. Someone who feels unsuccessful in their career may not feel like they’re attractive because of the effect it has on their self-esteem. They may feel that, because they aren’t accomplishing as much as they want to, they aren’t desirable. Similarly, someone who is struggling to exert control over their finances, or finds themselves emotionally drained by their extended family, may feel this way.
Looking after your appearance and staying healthy are influencers in how attractive you may feel, but it can be easy to overemphasise the physical - and in doing so, you can create an unhealthy and self-fulfilling pattern of thinking.
How does feeling unattractive affect a relationship?
The effects on your relationship can be difficult and sometimes emotionally painful to navigate. This pattern of thinking can create a lot of distance between partners.
When one person feels unattractive, their partner can often find themselves in a position of reassurance. They may try to tell their partner that they do find them attractive, that they shouldn’t worry. But if the first person isn’t easily reassured, they’re likely to reject this support, telling their partner they’re wrong or simply ignoring what’s being said.
This can leave the partner feeling helpless, frustrated and a little rejected themselves. They may not know what to do - and may get tired of constantly trying to offer their support but getting nowhere. In this instance, a negative pattern can develop, with the distance between the couple getting wider and wider over time.
How can you address the situation?
Firstly, try to understand what is contributing to your feelings of unattractiveness.
If this is something you’ve started feeling more recently, you may want think about any developments that could be causing you feel this way. Perhaps you aren’t feeling satisfied in your work. Perhaps you’re experiencing financial pressure and this has left you feeling a little out of control. Maybe there are underlying family issues causing you stress. All of these things can have an impact and can be very damaging to your self-esteem.
Consider whether any practical measures could alleviate your feelings of unattractiveness. At work, think about the areas where you do feel more effective or those you’re more passionate about. Do you and your partner need to talk about money? Do you need to give yourself a little space from your family?
Is there someone you can talk to about what you’re feeling - a trusted friend or family member? Sometimes having the chance to express yourself, even if it is just a quick chat, can make a real difference.
If your feelings of unattractiveness are rooted in a longer term pattern of thinking, or they’ve come about following physical changes, you may find it useful to thinking about whether you need to reframe how you’re assessing your level of ‘attractiveness’. Sometimes, a small effort to focus less on what you see as the ‘negatives’ can have a positive effect.
One practical tip is to keep a diary documenting your levels of confidence. You could keep a little notebook with you or download a free diary app online. Keeping a diary can help you identify the times you feel less confident or aware of your ‘attractiveness’ and conversely, the times you feel better about yourself and less focussed on this. Reading your diary back can help you understand that your perception of your attractiveness - or your perception of how important this is - is as much affected by your own moods as it is based in reality. It can also help you to think about how doing more of what you enjoy can have a really positive effect on your self-esteem - and directly affect how you feel you are perceived by others.
Reconnecting with your partner
The other important step is that you and your partner reconnect and talk about how you’re feeling. The benefits of this are threefold.
Firstly, it will give you a chance to express what you’re going through. You partner may not fully appreciate what you’re feeling - especially if you haven’t told them, or you haven’t sat down together to have a proper mutual conversation.
Secondly, it will give your partner a chance to share their perspective on the situation. You may need to be mindful of breaking out of familiar, negative communication patterns (‘Oh, but I do find you attractive’ ‘I don’t believe you’) and really try to listen to each other. Hearing your partner’s perspective on things will be an important part of talking this issue out.
Thirdly, reconnecting in this way will help your relationship to stay strong and mitigate the risk of any issues causing you to drift apart over time. It’s really important to address any issues in your relationships before the distance between you becomes greater - sometimes, being brave and getting it all out is the best way to do this.
We know it can be hard to be open and honest about this kind of thing - and that it’s so much easier said than done. If you’d like some tips on how to have difficult conversations with your partner without things turning into an argument, you may find this article useful.
How we can help
If you think you might need a little extra help, you may find it useful to speak to a counsellor. Your counsellor won’t judge or try to push you in any direction - they’ll simply help you to try to figure out why it is you’re feeling the way you do, and what you could do to address this.
You can also talk to a counsellor online via our free Live Chat service. This can be a great way of trying counselling out and getting some initial advice.