This is the fourteenth post in a seventeen part series on “Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse.” In the posts fourteen through seventeen we will examine four key markers of genuine change and in the process discusses who should be involved in the helping relationships that surround this type of marital restoration work.
How do you know when you are talking to a humble person? You are comfortable talking and they ask good questions. A humble person isn’t worried about getting trapped in his/her words or winning the conversation. If the humble person is wrong, he/she is willing to admit it. Even if his/her “wrongness” is still debatable, the humble person is willing to discuss it.
The foundational character change that needs to occur in the life of a chronically self-centered spouse is to grow in humility. The tell-tale indicator of whether he/she has grown in humility will be whether his/her ability to listen is improving.
When we don’t listen well we are trapped in our own way of thinking about and interpreting life. Bad listeners are by definition self-centered. Consider this description of humility.
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him (p. 128).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
So when you wonder if your spouse is truly changing, you do not need to look for behavioral actions (i.e., being more helpful around the house, being more romantic, spending extra time with the kids, etc…). All of these are good, but they can be done without humility. They can be penance or leverage.
What you should look for first is humility expressed by listening. Can you express fear, hurt, insecurity, differences of opinion, dreams, plans, or thoughts on daily events and these be met with gracious, concerned responses? Gracious concerned responses would include open ended questions, compassion, confession of ways he/she contributed to these experiences if negative, or thoughts on how he/she could expand these experiences if positive.
This gives you an answer to the defensive questions you’ve likely been asked, “What do you want from me? How can I please you?” The largest part of that answer should be simple and clear, “I want you to hear me. I want you to listen with humility and patience so that I feel safe talking with my spouse in my home.” If that request is met with resistance, then there is no reason to make any others at that time.
It is important to realize that if your spouse has been self-centered for an extended period of time, the stability in your ability or willingness trust will be affected. It will likely take some time for you to grow comfortable trusting. This is normal and leads us to the next quality that is evidence of authentic change – patience.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Abusive Relationships” post which address other facets of this subject.