We often hear that the key to successful relationships is good communication, trust, or compromise. While those elements are certainly important, I would argue that there is one foundational ingredient that provides the basis for all healthy relationships: humility.

What is humility? It’s not groveling or putting yourself down. True humility means having a modest view of your own importance and value relative to others. A humble person doesn’t think less of themselves, but simply doesn’t think of themselves more than they should.

Humility may seem counterintuitive when it comes to relationships. Shouldn’t we be confident in ourselves and demand respect from our partners, friends and family? The reality is that pride, arrogance and a self-centered attitude damage relationships over time. Humility, on the other hand, helps us build deep and lasting bonds with others.

Here are some of the powerful effects that humility can have in your relationships:

It Strengthens Understanding
When we approach others with humility, we become better listeners. Rather than thinking about what we’re going to say next or how we can top the other person’s story, we give them our full attention and seek to understand their perspective, feelings and needs. This simple act of humble listening can transform a relationship by making your friend, partner or family member feel truly heard and valued.

It Defuses Conflicts
Conflicts and disagreements are inevitable in any close relationship. When pride is involved, those conflicts easily escalate into heated arguments where both people become unwilling to back down or see the other side. Humility, however, helps provide a way out of the conflict. A humble person is able to say “I may be wrong” or “I don’t have this all figured out,” which allows them to truly hear their partner’s viewpoint. From this place of mutual humility, solutions can emerge.

It Invites Growth
An arrogant person believes they have it all figured out and have no more need to grow or change. A humble person, on the other hand, recognizes their flaws and welcomes the opportunity to learn and improve themselves – perhaps from their partner or someone else in their life. By remaining humble, we avoid stagnating and allow our relationships to be catalysts for ongoing personal growth.

It Inspires Service
When we approach relationships with pride and self-centeredness, we constantly ask “What can I get out of this?” A humble mindset flips the focus from myself to asking “How can I serve this other person?” This attitude leads us to perform acts of kindness and generosity toward others without expectation of anything in return. Such acts of humble service strengthen the bonds in a relationship.

It Models Strength
It may seem paradoxical, but true humility is a sign of strength, not weakness. A humble person is secure enough to admit faults, change course when wrong, and put their ego aside to pursue understanding. They have a quiet confidence that doesn’t need to be regularly propped up by boasting or dismissing others. This humble strength can inspire those around them in a relationship.

Ultimately, humility or pride is a choice we make in how we view ourselves in relation to others. When interacting with friends, family, spouses, coworkers and others in our lives, we can choose to be humble or we can choose our own perceived self-importance. The path of humility, though not always easy, will lead to deeper connections and longer-lasting, more fulfilling relationships.

Of course, this begs the question: how can we nurture an attitude of humility? Here are a few suggestions that may help:

Make a habit of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to understand their perspective before defending your own.
When you realize you’ve made a mistake or error, quickly acknowledge it and apologize. Don’t make excuses or shift blame.
When receiving a compliment, resist the temptation to wave it off or respond boastfully. Simple say “Thank you.”
Look for opportunities, big and small, to serve others in your life with no expectation of getting anything in return.
Spend time reflecting on all the ways you have room for improvement, growth and learning. None of us has it all figured out.
Humility may not come naturally, but practicing these actions can help make it a more frequent trait in our lives and relationships. As the adage says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” When we adopt this mindset toward the important people in our lives, we open the door to relationships grounded in understanding, trust, service and respect. And that provides a firm foundation for any relationship to thrive.

Here are 4 questions with scripture references:

  1. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul writes “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” How can applying this teaching help strengthen our relationships?
  2. Jesus provides an example of humility in John 13:3-17 when he washes the disciples’ feet, something usually done by servants. What can we learn from his humble act about how to serve and value others in our relationships?
  3. Proverbs 11:2 states “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” How can having a humble attitude lead to more wisdom and understanding in our interactions with others?
About the Author: Tony Johnson
Tony Johnson is the lead pastor of 2|42 Community Church where he is helping people take next steps with God. Prior to his time at 2|42, Tony served for 15 years in various capacities within the Methodist denomination. He has degrees in broadcasting and marketing from Vincennes University and Ball State University, and he’s also a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. Tony is passionate about helping people discover and embrace their God-given purpose and potential. In his spare time, you can find Tony cheering on the Miami Dolphins or camping and fishing with his family.

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