Can it really be so simple? Is there really a Single Most Important key to relationships? Yes and no. Obviously there is no magic spell for fixing relationship problems or keep relationships vibrant and connected over the long term. There is certainly a lot of work involved. But I believe that there is one trait, one mindset you need to have to pull it off, and I contend that all the other requirements start here.
That trait is humility.
People who are humble can admit that they are wrong. They do not see mistakes or imperfections as assaults on their goodness as a person and thus have less trouble considering the possibility that they have been wrong. People who are prideful and arrogant find it much more difficult to own up to a mistake, and thus will escalate a disagreement into an argument, a fight, and then an explosion in an effort to win and not be proven wrong.
People who are humble are able to accept the possibility that others don’t see things the way they do. Those lacking humility see the world the way they see it and then insist that that is the correct way of seeing it. The suggestion that someone else views the same objective facts but reaches a different conclusion implies a lack in themselves, which they will not countenance. Hence, once again, they stick to their guns, often at great cost.
People who are humble wish to listen to others and understand them. If I am not the smartest, best, and rightest, then I can recognize that you might have something of value for me to hear. If I appreciate that you may have an alternative perspective that could be equally valid to mine, then I am willing to listen. An arrogant person believes his opinion is the most correct one, if not the only correct one, and thus doesn’t care to listen to the perspectives of others, because his only objective is to convince others of the rightness of his own position.
If you cannot admit wrong, cannot appreciate the perspectives of others, and aren’t interested in hearing the opinions of others, you are going to have an awfully difficult time building a solid relationship. On the other hand, if you are open to the possibility that you aren’t right all the time, recognize that your partner sees things different from you and put effort into listening to them and understanding where they’re coming from, you are off to a very good start.
In any relationship you’re in, you are 50% of it. Working on you is a very effective way to work on the relationship as a whole. I’d suggest that you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you strive to develop humility. From that starting point you will find it much easier to attack some of the other problems you may be bringing to your relationships – whether it’s selfishness, anger, negativity, criticism, or any number of other ways we create our own problems – it all comes down to humility.