Are You Humble? Six Ways Your Spouse Can Tell

Written by Dr. Bill Strom

Mac Davis sings, “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” The odd thing is, we may search for the perfect spouse, but if we marry someone who thinks they’re perfect, life together usually isn’t.

Asking people “Are you humble?” can turn weird. If they say “yes”, they seem proud. If they say “no” they’re honest, but probably humble too.

This conundrum can give us the willies in marriage. It seems everyone can spot a braggart, but how can we tell when our spouse is humble? Does humility contribute to marital bliss, or does it just grind on us like the voice of droopy-eared Eeyore?

Ben and Hannah have been married 41 years, and their relationship brims with the warm serenity of two people stably in love. Hannah works at a university connecting students’ parents to campus life, and Ben manages the condominium complex where they live on the west coast.

When asked “What is humility?” Ben answered, “It means that you are willing to put others ahead of yourself. Not building your self up — especially at the expense of others.” Hannah echoed Ben. “I think humility is putting other people first,” she said. “It’s being willing to do things for people without expecting anything in return.”

“This doesn’t mean humility shows itself in hopeless servitude. That’s martyrdom,” Hannah clarified. “I don’t mean that people can push me around. If I see that someone needs help, I help freely. But I’m not a doormat.”

Ben and Hannah shared openly about how they show — and see — humility in their marriage. Their insights reflect the findings of various experts as well. What can we learn from them?

Acknowledging your weaknesses and strengths

Some have the wrong idea that humility is feeling badly about yourself, or pooh-poohing your own accomplishments. But low esteem isn’t humility. Low esteem is feeling like you’re not worth much. If you have ever complimented your spouse for a great meal or a fun date only to hear, “Ah, it’s nothing really. Anyone could do that,” you may have heard false humility or outright self-denigration.

True humility, in contrast, is having an accurate perception of your weaknesses and your strengths, and keeping both in perspective. Humility tempers our urge to puff ourselves up over our gifts or tear ourselves down for our shortcomings. Ben sings bass in a quartet and blesses congregations and crowds. Hannah leads the women’s ministry executive at their church. While Hannah may not be very musical, and Ben not much of a group leader, they don’t dwell on these weaknesses, but eagerly apply their gifts to encourage others. That’s the spirit of humility.

Putting each other first

Six years ago Hannah suffered from cancer and required surgery. At the same time she and Ben were struggling financially because he was underemployed.

“I’ll never forget coming home that day from surgery,” Hannah said, “when finances were pretty tough and so I was going to be off work. Ben had all this pressure of not knowing what was going to happen to me, the financial pressure, the job situation, and I’ll never forget returning home from the hospital. He knew I was coming, so he painted our bedroom this beautiful dark green — like a place of solitude. He didn’t let anybody phone me or bother me. He just took care of me. He put everything else aside. He knew it would make me feel good.”

Ben could have withdrawn from the stress of Hannah’s illness and his poor work situation, but he chose instead to put her needs first.

Ben and Hannah wove similar acts of kindness throughout their marriage during good times as well. They enjoyed initiating “little things” such as running the other’s bath water, taking out the garbage, opening a car door, or making a meal. Humility might lead to showy displays like painted bedrooms, but more often it’s woven into expressions that subtly say, “You count.”

Accepting advice from each other

When was the last time you asked for directions when you got lost? Husbands have an especially hard time asking for help because they think it indicates personal weakness — namely ignorance. They don’t want to look stupid. Unfortunately, to not ask advice from others signals another personal weakness — namely pride.

Pride, long considered one of the seven deadly sins, is the antithesis of humility. Strangely, proud people believe they’re sinless, not sinful. They also feel more gifted than others, and deserving of unearned honor. Some accomplish great things in their work life or church life, and attribute their success to their own doing, not to God or help from others. Not surprisingly, proud individuals rarely accept advice from others. Why should they, if they own their world and the world owes them?

While Ben was not chronically proud, he still fought Hannah’s advice regarding his employment. Ben wanted badly to earn a living in cabinet making, and poured energy into the business. But the business struggled. And Hannah was forced back to work. And they fought over it. But Ben was obstinate. Eventually Hannah just had to let it go.

Hannah’s friends told her she had to turn Ben and the situation over to God. God had, and would, meet their needs, they noted. “So I just freed Ben up to do it,” Hannah recalled. “I just said, ‘Okay go for it and let’s see what comes of it,’ and that was hard for me, but probably best. I should have done it six years ago. I quit fighting it and let him do what he felt was right for us.”

Hannah could have kept fighting, and haranguing Ben with advice, but Ben probably would have dug in his heels only deeper. It seems that Hannah’s humble blessing of her husband’s dream made the difference.

Admitting when you’re wrong

Humble people also know when they’ve hurt their spouse, and admit it. They take responsibility for their actions, especially in conflict situations.

Vincent Jeffries, who studies humility, says, “Without humility it is very difficult for individuals to admit failure and the need to change, which can make conflict management difficult.”

Hannah lacked this kind of role model in her father. Her dad was a BMAC — a big man at church. He swaggered a lot, talked big, and sought to control others. “My dad was a dreamer,” Hannah said, “he was always going to be the mayor or the big shot and he always said he was going to run the church. My dad was a fighter. When he got on a committee, he fought. He was always stepping on people, Christian people.”

Hannah’s father represents the braggart we spot easily. We’re not surprised when such people deny their wrongdoing or minimize the hurt they’ve caused. Such people are put easily on the defensive. “You shouldn’t feel that way. I didn’t mean to hurt you!” they might scold.

Humble spouses own their wrong, and the hurt it has caused, even if it’s unintentional. A husband may mindlessly forget an important anniversary, but that doesn’t excuse the hurt, and a wise man owns up to it. A wife might accidentally leak something to a girlfriend that her husband wished kept confidential. A humble wife confesses the slip.

Some people think if they weren’t intentionally mean or forgetful, they shouldn’t have to admit fault. Such thinking would allow us to go through life with reckless abandon leaving many in our wake. If you accidentally stepped on the toe of the First Lady, would you shrug it off and say “I didn’t mean to, so get over it!”

Offering and accepting forgiveness

When there’s hurt in a marriage two things should happen. The offender needs to admit it and apologize, and the person offended needs to offer forgiveness. When we don’t offer forgiveness, the hurt turns to anger, resentment, and possibly rage.

Recently Ben and Hannah were supposed to attend the funeral of a man from their church. Ben was in charge of the social calendar and told Hannah they would drive to the church after her doctor’s appointment. At noon Hannah got a call from Ben. He’d messed up. The funeral was at 11:00. They missed it.

“He felt really bad,” Hannah said, “because it was someone we knew quite well. I probably could have said, ‘Oh how could you be so stupid?’ That would have been the arrogant way. But I empathized with him and then when I got home, we just kind of hugged each other and said there is nothing we could do.”

Hannah’s response reflects the wisdom of Christian marriage counselor Everret Worthington. He suggests that the process of forgiveness begins with empathy, and ends with public show of commitment. First we empathize with those who hurt us (acknowledging that we too could have done the same thing, and have!). Then we forgive them in our heart for the wrongdoing. But ultimately our changed heart needs to be shown through some act of commitment — such as forgiving the person with words, or performing a small act of love toward them, or, in Ben and Heather’s case, holding hands when they pray. “Holding hands kills conflict,” Ben said, “and assuming you pray at least twice a day means you can’t be mad any longer than twelve hours!”

Not gloating or criticizing when you’re right

Few of us like a know-it-all, and fewer like a know-it-all who’s right. Fox Broadcasting’s character Gregory House, MD makes great medical drama, but none of us wish for similar arrogance in our spouse. Rather than gloat like House, a sign of humility is to use a “one-down” statement. Compare “Hey, there’s the restaurant. I’m glad we made it” with “Well, would you look at that! I told you it was on Hunter Drive!”

Ben reflected on times when he’s right, but chooses not to gloat. “Sometimes,” Ben said, “when we’re going somewhere in the car I’ll say it’s this way, and she’ll say it’s that way. If I turn out to be right, then I have to play that down, I should play it down, otherwise I’m demeaning her. If I am wrong, I would hope that she would not lord it over me.”

Ben makes a good point. How do we wish to be treated when we’ve made a mistake? We don’t like being belittled. We want respect even when we’re wrong.

A study with 70 married couples indicated that the more spouses thought their partner was humble, the more satisfied they were with their marriage. No surprise!

Ben and Hannah seemed satisfied in their marriage. They affirmed that showing humility is more action than talk. We show it in little things. Are you showing humble signs? Which can you check as true?

  • I am able to see my personal abilities and inabilities in balanced perspective
  • I often put my spouse first through small acts of service
  • I welcome advice from my spouse on many topics and problems
  • I admit when I am wrong
  • I accept apologies from my spouse and offer forgiveness freely
  • I respond graciously when I’m right and my spouse is wrong
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11 Responses to “Are You Humble? Six Ways Your Spouse Can Tell”

  • Michael Jantzen M. Jantzen says:

    Hello A. S. Mathew,

    I’m glad you liked the article. I definitely agree that pride is a big issue for people. We put our hopes into material or superficial things and think it will make us happy and prestigious. So what do you think is the remedy? How do people become meek? You can’t just take some self-help course and kazzzamm–you’re humble. Something has to change in people’s hearts. How is that possible?

  • A. S. Mathew says:

    Great article with all the pertaining points related to humility. The greatest problem faced with the society today is the the masses of arrogant people at home-work place etc. People can get arrogant for their looks-money-social status-education-height-strength- influence and for a lot of reasons without realizing that all these things can be vanished in a matter of seconds. The greatness of a person depends upon his or her meekness. Having meek friends and life-partner is the greatest blessings of life.

  • Sharon Sharon says:

    good article but it is hard to be humble but i keep ask God to keep me humble for a soft heart to others to reply softly to them

  • Tamitra says:

    I really found the video on the respectful wife very helpful. Thank You for sharing! Tamitra

  • Sharon Sharon says:

    thank you for this article good article

  • Jer Jer says:

    Melissa,

    I very much understand how you feel, I have a very strong personality and I have in the past overwhelmed or what I now call Bulldoze people who’re not able to keep up with my personality. Sadly my marriage suffered and my wife left me instead of working with me on it. I learned a lot about myself during that time and I looked a lot of Christian marriage videos to see what they said about marriage and our roles in them.

    Let me start with prayer.

    Heavenly Father I ask that you soften Melissa’s heart and show her you gave her a new heart when she accepted you as her savior (I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Eze 36:26). I ask that you show her the power in your humility and that in showing love in all we do we act in your will and serve you. Amen

    Most people think that having a soft heart is weakness; it takes incredible patience and strength to do the right thing when someone is wronging you. A marriage is Gods way of showing the relationship of the Holy Trinity here on earth, it’s a light for others to see. The marriage is made to glorify God, as is our creation. God gives us roles in a marriage for a reason; unfortunately our society has distorted what those roles mean. Here is an awesome video (best I have found) about the role and relationship between a man and his wife:

    http://marshill.com/media/real-marriage/friend-with-benefits

    http://marshill.com/media/real-marriage/men-and-marriage

    http://marshill.com/media/real-marriage/the-respectful-wife

    I recommend to everyone about to be married to enter some kind of pre-marriage counseling from their church, and if their church doesn’t have any program; I recommend doing research and watching videos such as the ones I posted above.

    Please let us know how things are going and please let me know if I can answer any questions! God bless you

    Jer

  • Melissa says:

    Sadly I am unable to reply positively to any of the “Are you showing humble signs?” This was really great stuff… please keep me in your prayers… I have a hard task ahead on working on becoming humbled… esp as am thinking of marriage soon.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    These are some excellent steps to follow Tasha aren’t they? If we put them into practice in our marriages they would all be stronger!

  • Tasha says:

    Good advice thanks

  • Bernard Bernard says:

    Yes, this is probably one way to keep a long lasting relationship. At least, it helps. I need a lot of help from everyone on that and mostly God.

  • Hope says:

    This is one write i?? won’t forget in a hurry. i?? see my shortcomings clearly now.
    God bless you

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