This post is Part 9 in a 12-part blog series on humility and growth. (If you missed the first post, you can find it here.)
Relationships are hard. I mentioned this to my wife as we were talking through some tough things the other day. We have a good relationship, but even good relationships can be difficult sometimes. We are two different people with different cultural and family backgrounds. Sometimes it’s tough to get on the same page. Sometimes we get frustrated with one other.
Sometimes there are things about me that make relationships difficult. I bring baggage from my past and my family upbringing along with me as I engage in new relationships. I’ve been hurt in relationships in the past, and some of that stuff is still with me today. Sometimes I can let myself get in the way of what I really want—which is to have positive, mutually beneficial relationships with my family, friends, and co-workers.
What about you? How are you doing in your relationships? Do you feel satisfied with the connections you have with your friends and family? Or are you struggling? Maybe you are feeling lonely, like you don’t have as much connection as you want or need. Or maybe you have plenty of connections, but your relationships are struggling. Maybe you have trouble communicating effectively, or working through conflict in a healthy way.
Research on Humility in Relationships
The link between humility and positive relationships is the most consistent finding we see in the research on humility. (If you want a good resource that summarizes all the current research on humility, check out my Handbook of Humility.) Across several studies, humility has been linked to positive relationship functioning. Humility helps people develop closer relationships, increase commitment in their relationships, and repair relationships after hurts or offenses. Because of this, humility is linked to higher levels of relationship satisfaction and forgiveness. In other words, the science is clear about the benefits of humility to relationship functioning.
But let’s get a bit more concrete. How can humility help us make positive changes in our relationships?
Humility and Close Relationships
- Take responsibility for your part of the problem. In most relationships, conflict happens and partners blame each other for the issue or problem. We all have a tendency to blame one another for the problems in relationships, rather than taking responsibility for our part. The reality is that just about every relationship problem is mutual. Even for problems that seem like they are 100% someone else’s fault, there is usually a part of the problem that I can own. For example, if someone is being selfish and taking advantage of me, my part of the problem might be my inability to set boundaries or stand up for myself. In every relationship problem, it is essential for each person to humbly assess their part of the problem.
- The weakness finder. Every person has relational strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect relationally. It’s important to humbly take stock of your limitations and weaknesses when it comes to relationships. These are the issues that must be addressed if you hope to grow, change, and improve your relationships.
- Get a coach. Sometimes things get so difficult in relationships, it’s tough to work out the issues on your own. You might struggle to communicate in a way that is helpful or invites your partner to join you. You might lose your temper or fly off the handle. In times like these, it can be helpful to consult a therapist or relationship coach to help you work these issues out. An unbiased third-party can help you direct the conversation and interactions, giving you tips and pointers for where the next key areas of growth are for your relationship.
- Feedback, feedback, feedback. Obtaining accurate feedback on your relationship is essential. There was a research study that was conducted several years ago on assessment and feedback for couples. At the beginning, each couple completed a detailed assessment and were given comprehensive feedback on their relationship strengths and weaknesses (before they started therapy). The researchers found that about 25% of the improvement over the course of therapy was the result of the assessment and feedback. You can’t change when you don’t have accurate information.
- Work at the edges of your ability. To improve your relationships, you need to continually be working. A lot of times people get into a rut where they take their partner or family for granted, and then they get surprised when their relationships deteriorate over time. Instead, make it a priority to constantly be looking for areas of growth, and stay in that space.
Discussion: What is one thing you would like to change or improve about your close relationships? How could you use these humility principles to help you reach your relationship goals?