Is Humility Good for Your Relationship?

By Jeanette van der Lee | May 9, 2017 | 0 comments

A new study suggests that people are more satisfied with their relationships when their partners are more humble.

In Western culture, we’re encouraged to be vocal about our individual successes and accomplishments. We present our ideal self on social media, at job interviews, and on first dates. But is all this self-promotion good for our long-term relationships?

Recent research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests it might not be. A group of researchers found that people are more committed to and satisfied with their romantic relationship when they perceive their partner as being more humble.

The researchers recruited 349 participants to fill out several online questionnaires measuring how committed they are to their relationship, how satisfied they are with their relationship, and their partner’s humility. Over half of the respondents also reported how forgiving they are towards their partner and how grateful they are in their relationship overall.

The results suggested that people who think their partner is more humble are more satisfied with their relationship. Why? This was partly the case because people with more humble partners are more committed to their relationship with that person, and more committed partners are also more satisfied partners.

Humble partners may be better able to negotiate conflict, the researchers speculate. “Conflicts in intimate relationships [may] tend to find more expeditious resolutions when individuals are able to humbly acknowledge their respective shortcomings, as it allows for relationship repair after offense, deeper understanding, and improved emotional bond,” write the authors. “In this way, conflicts serve to bring partners closer together, rather than further apart.”

But is humility in the eye of the beholder? Our own thoughts and character traits might influence how we see our partners, which is why the researchers also asked about forgiveness and gratitude. More forgiving, grateful people were indeed more likely to perceive their partner as humble, but only gratitude led to greater relationship satisfaction in turn—yet another way that gratitude might be good for romantic relationships.

To unpack humility further, the questionnaire asked about three different elements: how humble other people perceive the partners to be, how much the partners think that they are better than others, and how well they know themselves, including their strengths and weaknesses (called “accurate self-view”). Of these, partners’ accurate self-views seemed to have the strongest link to participants’ relationship commitment and satisfaction.

In other words, if you want to improve your relationship, know thyself. This advice dates back to ancient times, but it is still as relevant as ever. Besides taking the GGSC’s quizzes, some ways to increase your self-knowledge include meditating and actively soliciting feedback from colleagues or friends.

It’s important to keep in mind that these results are just correlational: We can’t say with certainty whether humility causes partners to have more commitment to a relationship and greater relationship satisfaction. More research is needed to study whether this is true.

While the jury is still out, other research suggests that more humble people do tend to be rated as more attractive, have better self-control, and experience fewer negative effects from stressful life events—so cultivating your humility is probably still a good idea.

And if the current study’s findings hold up in future research, say coauthors Everett Worthington of Virginia Commonwealth University and Carissa Dwiwardani of Regent University, “This might encourage partners to be less entrenched in defending their point of view during disagreements, more likely to say, ‘Help me learn from you,’ and to experience personal growth together in their relationship.”

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About The Author

Jeanette van der Lee is a graduate student in social and organizational psychology at Leiden University in The Netherlands and a research assistant at the GGSC.


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