I’ve been told that I need to be more humble in my relationships and I’m trying to be open to this counsel. I’m having a tough time embracing this because I feel like people will try to walk all over me. Even in my marriage when my wife says I’ve done something to hurt her, she wants me to listen to her without disagreeing with her version of events. I hate that I can’t ever share my take on things without being told that I need to be humble. Aren’t there always two sides to every story? If humility is the same as accepting all blame and not being able to share my perspective, then I don’t know if I can do it. What’s your definition of being humble?
You’re right that a one-sided relationship is no relationship at all. If you feel like you need to just close your mouth and go alone with everything in the relationship, it’s time to figure out if this is a personal reaction to not knowing how to communicate with your spouse or if there are dynamics in the relationship that need to change. Let’s sort through both possibilities.
Before you begin blaming others, it’s wise to look at how you show up in relationships. Your wife might be telling you that something you’re doing is getting in the way of having a fulfilling relationship. If you immediately dismiss what she’s saying as her way to gain power, you’ll miss her invitation for closeness. Of course, I know nothing about your marriage. However, in my experience, most feedback and criticism in marriage are attempts to create closeness.
It’s likely she’s trying to tell you what’s making it difficult for her to feel seen and heard. And, when we don’t feel seen or heard in our marriages, we retreat. The fact that she’s asking you for something is a good sign that you’re important to her. If you didn’t matter to her, she wouldn’t be trying to close the gap between the two of you.
If you view your marriage as nothing more than a power play between two people, it will be impossible to feel close to each other. You may have been socialized to look for weakness in others while never showing your own weakness. Since you’re getting this feedback from others, it’s a good opportunity to examine your rules and beliefs about relationships. Do you allow yourself to be wrong? Do you correct others? Do you listen without interrupting? Do you stay curious and show interest in other people’s perspectives? What feels threatening to you if your wife sees things differently? If you had formative experiences that taught you that others want to hurt or dominate you, are you open to learning a better way?
Being humble doesn’t mean that you can’t have an opinion. Being humble means that you’re open to learning. You don’t believe you have the only and final answer. You’re not threatened by a different viewpoint. You recognize that others will even experience and interpret the same events in completely unique ways. Humility is making space for other people’s ideas and perspectives.
Possessing personal convictions isn’t the problem. It’s believing that it’s your job to challenge other people’s experiences and beliefs when they bump up against your deeply held beliefs. If you believe that life is about winning and losing, then every conversation with others will feel like you’re going to war. If this is the case, I invite you to try something new. Next time you’re in conversation with someone, allow yourself to be surprised by what they’re saying. You might even say to yourself or to them, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” You can move along letting someone share their experience without being challenged.
If you feel you need to share your perspective, then you can share it with the understanding that this is only your experience. For example, you can say something like, “I have a different take on that, may I share?” However, I can’t think of very many situations where always sharing a contrary opinion is going to create more closeness. This doesn’t mean you can’t share what you believe. It means that you’re not going to seize the opportunity to contend every time someone shares their thoughts. You’re making room for other perspectives, and you have a willingness to be influenced by others.
Again, timing is everything. If you’re only sharing your thoughts to contradict what she’s saying, then this isn’t really sharing your thoughts. It’s defensiveness. If you aren’t willing to be vulnerable and take the risk to bring up your thoughts and concerns first, then honor her efforts by listening and making room for her concerns. Think about them and work to see her point. Then, if you have more to say about it, give it some time and revisit it with her.
It’s also important to look at the dynamics in your relationship. Does your wife have difficulty with this same dynamic? Does she struggle to make room for your perspective when you share it? If so, ask her if you can both do better in your communication with each other. See if you can both work to make room for each other’s perspective. Let her know how important it is for you to understand her and be understood by her.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.