The Two Virtues That Will Save Any Relationship

A man in his low 40’s showed up to my office with strong masculine presence and an air of firm confidence.  Eric seemed anxious and agitated when he started talking about his wife, from whom he had recently separated, per her request.  “She says that I don’t respect or appreciate her, and that I am emotionally abusive to her. That’s crazy!” He pulled out a letter from his pocket that was written by his wife two years prior.  In it, she expressed why she was unhappy in her marriage and pleaded for change. As my new client opened the crumbled piece of paper, I caught a glimpse of crossed out sentences and handwritten comments on the side margins.  He soon started pointing out the things she was wrong about—determined to prove how delusional she was for feeling the way she did. He also reassured me that the things that were not entirely off, he had already changed, so they were no longer valid.

After Eric was done with the long list of complaints towards his wife, he exclaimed vulnerably, “I love her and will do anything to save our marriage.” 

Ignoring the great paradox between ‘My wife sucks’ and ‘I love my wife,’ I wondered out loud: Anything?

He affirmed and then carried on ranting about how unreasonable her decision to separate was.  ‘I’ll do anything’ for Eric meant he would do whatever it took to make his wife realize that she’s crazy to let him go and is wrong in judging him as a less than perfect husband and father. Anything meant whatever I told him to do to get HER to change and think like him.

After listening patiently and lovingly to his catharsis, I broke it to Eric: 

You have the key to your marriage in your hands and you refuse to use it. 

Your wife had the courage and thoughtfulness to write down what she was feeling in a piece of paper, so you didn’t have to play any mind reading games. She gave you all the answers, along with the opportunity to change what’s not serving your relationship.

Instead, you’ve wasted it by judging her and defending yourself.  You have failed to validate her feelings and recognize that, whether you meant it or not, you hurt her.  You crushed her heart, Eric. You betrayed her trust.  

You were too proud to see her pain and desperate cry for help because you were self-absorbed and worried about being right.  Your arrogance blinded you and your lack of compassion enabled her to harden her heart.

She rightfully doesn’t feel safe with you and that’s why she left.  You don’t have to do “anything” to get her back, Eric. You just have to address what’s laid out in that 2-year-old letter.

Eric’s agitated state turned into stillness and his air of confidence was soon defeated.  Everything he had been sure about for years was being questioned by the very same person he hired to back him up.  However, in that moment, Eric experienced his first expression of the virtue that would transform his relationship: humility.

When we view life from a place of arrogance or self-centeredness, we are incapable of seeing the other through the lens of love and mercy. 

We ask ourselves, what’s in it for me, and judge.  How dare she?  Who does she think she is?

However, when you take off the blindfold of self-absorption, the lens of humility remains.  As information travels through that filter, you start thinking, “I wonder why she feels that way… She must be so hurt to say these things…”  Compassion flows out of you and tries to empathize with the person hurting. You listen selflessly and validate the person’s feelings, whether you agree or not.  You seek to understand, rather than to be understood. You see life from her standpoint—not yours.

Eric suddenly realized that his wife’s written words were not an attack, but rather a plea for help. He understood that she felt hurt by some of his behaviors and was begging him to change them for the well-being of their marriage. This is when Eric began practicing the second virtue that must be present in all fulfilling relationships: Accountability.

We are responsible for our own lives, including our relationships. 

When we ask ourselves, “How have I contributed to being where I’m at in my relationship?” we become accountable. We realize that sometimes the other person’s undesired behavior is a direct response to our own actions. Other times, our responsibility lies simply on allowing the behavior to take place. We have more power than we care to admit when it comes to the way people treat us.

Eric’s entitlement had conveyed the message of unappreciation to his wife. His self-consciousness had contributed to him taking everything personal and rejecting his wife’s petitions instead of assuming them with humility. He felt inadequate and attacked by her complaints and she felt invalidated and neglected by his defensiveness. This created a self-perpetuated cycle of dysfunctional interactions during which they triggered each other constantly.

Both Eric and his wife were right about the things the other was doing wrong.  Where they failed was in recognizing how they contributed to each other’s flaws.

Understanding that accountability equals power, Eric stopped blaming his wife and started assuming responsibility for how his actions influenced her. 

He began to act in ways that inspired love and respect. At the beginning she didn’t receive it well. She couldn’t understand the intention behind this change and interpreted it as manipulation. She was skeptical and cautious, but Eric persevered. 

He put his pride aside and addressed her with a humble heart. He validated her feelings, assumed responsibility for his partake in their interactions, and chose to honor her—even when she didn’t deserve it.  

Eric had a daily plan on how to win his wife’s heart back. His new ways eventually earned her love and trust.

Eric now has a beautiful and fulfilling relationship with his wife, but even if his marriage wouldn’t have prevailed, he would have succeeded. By practicing humility and accountability, he became a better version of the man that walked into our first session.

Humility purifies your heart from the main enemy of love: pride.

It makes you more empathetic and sensible. Humility also leads to accountability. When you assume responsibility for your life experiences and relationships, you become empowered. If you had something to do with your situation, then you have the power to change it. Accountability transforms a victim into a victor.

Transform your relationships, while becoming a better version of yourself. Be humble and accountable.

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