What No One Ever Thinks of When It Comes to ‘Happy Marriage’

You've got a lot to gain — and a great deal more to lose — if you don't have this key quality

People are more committed to their partner, and more satisfied with their relationship, when they perceive their partner as humble. That’s according to a new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

Possessing humility isn’t enough to win your partner’s heart, though. It must be perceptible by your partner. The researchers noted that partners who were forgiving and grateful were more likely than others to perceive their partner as humble. In addition, gratitude was correlated with greater relationship satisfaction. It appears that partners who haven’t cultivated traits of humility, forgiveness and gratitude will have a more difficult time keeping romance alive.

We were like soldiers of opposing armies guarding our individual hills.

Humility is the key, though. Forgiveness and gratitude need a substantial dose of humility to thrive. Insufficient humility between partners often leads to gridlock, making it impossible to solve problems in their relationship. Without humility, neither partner can summon the resources needed to find satisfactory solutions to their relationship problems.

My wife and I suffered from a deficiency of humility early in our marriage. Any insinuation by my wife of wrongdoing on my part put me on defense. I held my ground. My wife was good at holding her ground, too. She said, I wasn’t spending enough time with her. I wasn’t opening up to her. I said, she was asking too much. Her expectations weren’t realistic. We were like soldiers of opposing armies guarding our individual hills. The gap between us was filled with misunderstandings of each other’s motives.

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I see now that she was trying to draw us closer together. I was afraid she was trying to take away my independence. As months and years passed, I continued protecting my interests, and the gap between us grew deeper. The romantic feelings we once had for each other were gone. My wife finally insisted we get marriage counseling. If I refused, she was out.

I reluctantly agreed to see a counselor with her, hoping the counselor would be wise enough to see our problems were her fault.

We began taking a 90-minute drive once every two weeks from our home near Astoria on the Oregon Coast to Portland, Oregon. It was there we found a clinical psychologist whose training, experience and reputation satisfied my criteria for a qualified marriage counselor.

He was adept and tactful at pointing out my need for humility, as well as hers, and how our stubbornness had contributed to our relationship problems. With his help, and our efforts to approach each other with more humility, we learned how to communicate our wishes to each more effectively, and resolve conflict.

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In time, our romantic feelings for each other were rekindled. I can attribute that in part to a commitment to practicing humility in our relationship. There are still times when I slip up, and let a bit of arrogance stir things up. But my wife is good at reminding me that defensiveness isn’t attractive.

Through our counseling and 25 years of experience since then, I’ve found the following tips to be among the most effective in bringing humility into a relationship, and reviving romance:

1.) Admit when you’re wrong, without excuses.

2.) Accept correction and feedback with gratitude.

3.) Don’t criticize your partner, or others.

4.) Forgive when you’re wronged.

5.) Sincerely apologize when you’ve wronged others.

Practicing humility in a relationship reveals that you have a realistic perception of yourself, and respect your partner enough to not pretend you’re better than she is.

Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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