Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Humility as a Relational Virtue: Establishing Trust, Empowering Repair, and Building Marital Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Humility as a Relational Virtue: Establishing Trust, Empowering Repair, and Building Marital Well-Being

Article excerpt

Being involved in a satisfying marriage relationship comes with great benefits to both physical and mental health. Happily married couples tend to experience less physical and psychological distress, possess stronger immune system, and are more health-conscious (Gottman & Silver, 2015). When compared with married couples, singles are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other types of psychological distress (Coombs, 1991; Simon, 2002). Evidence showed that marital satisfaction is associated with better overall quality of life (Bookwala, 2011; Proulx, Helms, & Buehler, 2007; Holt-Lunstad, Birmingham, & Jones, 2008; Le Poire, 2005; Rostami, Ghazinour, Nygren, Nojumi, & Richter, 2013). On the flip side, being stuck in a distressed marriage increases the chance of getting sick by 35 percent and decreases life expectancy for four to eight years (Gottman & Silver, 2015). Due to marital satisfaction's relationship to well-being, many studies have examined the predictors of marital satisfaction, such as individual attachment styles, work environment, or partner's mental health (Raga-ei, Nay-yeri, & Sedaghati, 2007; Feeney & Noller, 1990; Givertz, Woszidlo, Segrin, & Knutson, 2013; van Steenbergen, Kluwer, & Karney, 2014; & Segrin, 2013). Trust is often identified in the marriage literature as an important factor that contributes to a happy marriage (Gottman & Silver, 2012; Larzelere & Huston, 1980; Rempel, Holmes, & Zanna, 1985; Simpson, 2007; Murray et al., 2011; Campbell, Simpson, Boldry, & Rubin, 2010). However, it is less clear how trust is developed in marriage relationships. Here we examine the role that dispositional humility may play in marital trust.

Development of Trust through Relational Repair

Trust is defined as the belief that one's partner has the best interest of one in mind when one's partner makes choices pertaining to their relationship (Gottman, 2011). Gottman described initial trust formation in marriage as a process of character discernment. Partners begin obtaining knowledge of each other's priorities and values through their day to day interactions. Once sufficient information is gathered, they make a character judgment on each other's trustworthiness. Once a partner is deemed trustworthy, this established trust will self-perpetuate, leading to greater marital satisfaction. If the partner is experienced as insensitive or unresponsive to one's priorities, needs, or values, trust will be eroded as the partner is viewed as less and less trustworthy. Eventually, eroding trust leads to a state of negative sentiment override, where negative emotions cloud all relational interactions. Thus, the development and deterioration of trust can be seen as self-perpetuating processes once character discernment has been made.

A partner's insensitivity or unresponsiveness is experienced as misattunement, a failure to perceive and responds to a partner's needs or desires. All relationships experience episodes of misattunement. According to Gottman (2011), trustworthiness can develop if the couple can engage in a process of successful relational repairs after experiences of misattunement. For example, a wife may come home after a long day at work and say to the husband, "I am worn out," which implies "I need you to get the dinner ready and tidy up the house." If the husband replies, "well, I told you to draw some boundaries at work. Now, you are suffering as a result," he has failed to attune to his wife's needs and respond effectively, and the wife will likely have felt emotionally abandoned. However, if the husband is able to acknowledge his own failure in responding appropriately to his wife's needs and take the steps to resolve the lingering hurt or relational rupture between him and his wife, the message may be communicated that he has her best interest in mind, which may in turn facilitate trust. Thus, their marriage is less likely to fall into a state of negative sentiment override (Gottman, 2011). …

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