To fully give and receive love in healthy relationships, you need three key ingredients:
Humility is the soul - Curiosity is the mind - Empathy is the heart of who you are as a human.
So, let’s start with humility first and discuss why it’s essential to healthy love in our adult life.
Humility In Relationships
We often misunderstand the world we exist in our daily lives. I know I did. I have realized that humility is at the root of all growth, learning, and kindness as an adult. If you look at any 12-step literature, it defines humility as "a clear recognition of what and who we are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be."
So, the first two essential questions:
How do you learn humility?
How does humility benefit you in your adult relationships?
Learning humility was very challenging for me because I had created a false sense of self. In truth, I can look back and realize that I didn't know who I was. I had been so used to pretending and playing a role of people-pleasing, talking sh#t about things I knew nothing about, and embellishing about my life and successes to the point that nothing felt real. Not even me - I didn't feel real!
I was suspicious of everything. Do you know that feeling? I think on some level, we all might. I was trying to keep up with a world that, for the most part, didn't know that I existed.
My growth into learning humility was a process when I entered recovery decades ago. I was forced into learning about humility. How? My employer recommended that I do something about my problem with alcohol, or else. Luckily, I did choose to embrace the help and evolve along the way.
It was new for me to ask for help and embrace the possibility of change because I was used to pretending that I had it all together. In reality, I was indeed suffering. And so were my relationships around me.
I often think adults have a challenging time discovering and embracing humility because there's a big myth that humility means weakness and passivity. This is simply not true. The definition of a person who displays humility is someone who acts "stable, steady, calm, patient, open-minded, nonjudgmental, temperate and realistic."
I've discovered that people I love and care about who show humility let their life and work speak for themselves. They deal with suffering from grace, honesty, and dignity, and they remind themselves — and the ones they love that life is fragile and therefore valuable.
Humility as a daily practice quells ignorance and cultivates grace. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those you love.
Curiosity In Relationships
Without curiosity, you are not able to engage successfully in healthy and loving relationships. Curiosity drives an insatiable quest for knowledge, culture, experience, beauty, art, and my favorite—relational connection.
Curiosity is the foundation upon which we can build a life filled with stories, memories, accomplishments, and healthy relationships.
People who exhibit curiosity can become whatever they want to become, as long as they are present and have an open mind. Curious people listen to absorb (not argue). They listen to be changed (not to one-up) by what someone else is saying. This is a crucial ingredient in any healthy relationship, especially a romantic relationship.
In my couples therapy work, one of the therapy goals is to help partners remain curious about themselves, their marriage, or their relationship and continue to be curious about each other. I want all of us to stay curious, routinely examining our worlds through fresh eyes and using our eyes, hearts, and ears to discover new landscapes in the world and each other.
Empathy In Relationships
This trait is the miracle of humanity. I wish I could bottle this up and give it away. It is the simplest, sweetest attribute anyone can possess and most worth cultivating for social success.
Empathy means you put yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagine what life must be like for them.
Empathy brings you closer to your partner and loved ones.
Empathy is essential to a healthy and loving relationship with your partner.
When you empathize with your partner, they feel understood and less alone inside - we can all use feeling a little less alone in this vast world.
Genuinely empathic people truly care and remind us it’s ok to sit in silence and not invade our loved one’s boundaries.
This unique ability to understand the world through another's eyes and cut to the heart of what others are feeling and experiencing is indeed miraculous. Empathy breeds compassion, connection, and love. Empathy is a vital precursor for a kind and loving form of honesty.
You may have noticed that the three are closely related. This is no accident. If we think about it, when we stack humility, curiosity, and empathy on top of each other, we can easily see how they amplify each other.
Remember to stay present, open up your soul, mind, and heart to yourself and your loved ones, and lead your life through the essential ingredients of humility, curiosity, and empathy. Your relationships will be deeper and more fulfilling for you and those you love.
If you're struggling with humility, curiosity, and empathy in your relationship, we are here to help. Check out our virtual and in-person Imago Relationships Workshops and Imago Relationships Therapy.
Connect. Transform. Thrive.
This blog was written by Paula M. Smith, M.Div., M.A. MFT.
Paula M. Smith, M.Div., MA, MFT is an Advanced Imago Clinician, Imago Workshop Presenter, Consultant, and Ph.D. Candidate (Fall 2020). She is also co-Founder of Imago Relationships-Providence with her spouse Yael Bat-Shimon a Certified Imago Therapist with whom she offers LGBTQ “Getting the Love You Want” Couples Weekend Workshops. As partners in an interracial marriage, Yael and Paula draw from their own relationship journey towards embracing, honoring, advocating, and celebrating each other’s differences and they help couples do the same.
Paula specializes in helping ALL couples create safe, healing, egalitarian, love-filled partnerships in deeply perceptive, precise, and appropriately playful ways.
For 15 years, Paula has worked exclusively with couples. Over the past 6 years, she has developed a specialization in 2 and 3 Day Private Intensives for couples in crisis, engaged couples, and couples struggling with the aftermath of an affair. The Couple Private Intensives are exclusive, profound, and life-changing. Paula is passionate about intensives because they allow couples to explore relational issues that cannot be discussed fully in shorter sessions. She dives deep with partners over a span of days for exploration, understanding, healing, and fun. Paula opens couples’ eyes to previously unseen and unfolding possibilities in their connection.
Paula has a passion and excitement for life and living. Having experienced the miracle of healing and recovery herself, her life’s work is rooted in a deep belief in the transformative power of relationships. She been active in 12-step spiritual communities for 33 years and has offered workshops for Couples in Recovery. She has also taught courses on topics related to Race, Racism, and Healing at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Medical School, and Rhode Island College.
Paula is a member of the RI Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, Association of Pastoral Counselors, Imago Relationship International, Antioch Alumni Association, and Harvard Alumni Association, and a co-author of the article “Marriage & Family Therapy Training Programs and Their Integration of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities,” published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy and “Post Katrina Theology," published in Harvard Divinity Magazine.