One Surprising Secret to a Successful Relationship
New research shows that humility is more of an aphrodisiac than you may think
In my counseling office, I have the privilege of watching individuals move through different stages of life, which gives me an inside view of what many people really think and feel about romance (among many other things). I listen and provide feedback as clients make the decision, perhaps, to start dating, to try being more open to new relationships, or to sift through possible partners in the search for intimacy and commitment. I hear about how the process gets bungled as well as how couples succeed in finding each other.
It’s such a private thing, but it’s becoming less so. The rise of Internet dating means a person can consider and reject more than a hundred potential mates per day, clicking “delete,” blocking suitors, and even swiping a finger to the left (on Tinder) to discard the obvious bad fit.
I find there’s a prevailing notion that confidence is an attractive quality in a mate. Consider a client I’ll call Ethan, who is ruled by his ego. He swivels his iPad in my direction, clicks, and shows me his online dating profile. I see a photo of him wearing expensive sunglasses with the wide grin of a jackal behind the wheel of his Ferrari, with the top down. He looks pretty proud of himself.
The description that goes with his profile comes across as puffed-up and arrogant. He asks me, “I thought women liked successful, confident men, so why isn’t anyone sending me any smiley faces?” Ethan and I had plenty to discuss, and we started by talking about the effect an enormous ego can have on one’s attractiveness, for better and—more often than not—for worse.
Same with a client I’ll call Helen. She reports that she can’t understand why the man she was seeing broke off their relationship. They started as email friends and then began making the two-hour commute to date each other on the weekends. She thought it was going well, but in their last conversation, her boyfriend admitted that he had stopped feeling interested in her because she “seemed prideful.” They had disagreed about something and she had stood her ground, would not acknowledge his position, and staunchly refused to apologize or accept their differences. He told her that although he didn’t need her to agree with him 100% of the time, he would have appreciated a little humility. She felt hurt when he abruptly broke things off and ruefully called herself “Haughty Helen.” We spent some time in counseling exploring her role in the rapid demise of that relationship.
Such dating debacles don’t surprise me and are supported by science. A recent study reported in the Journal of Positive Psychology revealed the importance of humility when it comes to romance: “Researchers found that prospective dating partners who were more humble were viewed as more attractive candidates for a romantic relationship than those less humble. In long-distance relationships, partners who are viewed as humble tended to recover more quickly after offenses than their less humble counterparts.”
Our world is both shrinking and broadening, so technology allows us to cast our nets wider than ever in a search for love. That maximizes our chances of discovering more people to date and (not unlike group therapy) reflects us back to ourselves, offering a clearer view of what others find attractive and what they don’t.
My colleague Linda McCune often remarks, “There’s a lid for every pot,” and I agree. It’s easier to find the lid for your pot, though, if you’re not blowing every lid off with steam, hot air, and arrogance.
One part of the study particularly fascinated me, as the authors suggested that “humility in a relationship serves the function of encouraging relational repair in ongoing romantic couples.” This confirms what Helen’s experience illustrates. Especially in long-distance relationships, forgiveness is important, and it requires humility on both sides. The lesson for daters: Be confident, but also be humble. It might help you find the right partner, and better yet, it might help you keep him or her. Humble pie might not always taste great, but it’s good for your relationships.
This article first appeared in Rewire Me. To read the original article, click here. Pamela Milam is a therapist and life coach who lives in Dallas and New York. She is the author of Premarital Counseling for Gays and Lesbians and is working on another book that takes a close look at what happens inside the therapy office.