< Back to Newsletter


Individual, Relational, and Physiological Benefits of Mutual Humility in Relationships: An Article Review.

J. Brandon Waits, Ph.D.: Louisiana Tech University 

Corresponding author: Dr. J. Brandon Waits, Louisiana Tech University, bwaits@latech.edu

Van Tongeren and colleagues (2017) recently published findings on potential interactions between romantic partners’ own humility (i.e., actor humility) and ratings of their partners’ humility (i.e., partner humility) on individual well-being, relationship satisfaction, and blood pressure. The authors conceptualized humility from a relational humility perspective that proposes this characteristic can be evaluated by other people as a part of one’s personality (using informant ratings). The relational humility model proposes humility is a personality characteristic in which others rate a person as having an accurate view of himself or herself that is not too high or too low, and also, as more interpersonally-focused than self-focused (distinguished by a lack of superiority over others).

In this study, the Relational Humility Scale (RHS; Davis et al., 2011) was used to measure humility from a relational humility perspective. The instrument measures humility as a character strength that involves three components: viewing oneself accurately, representing oneself modestly, and having an orientation toward others. The RHS is a 16-item informant rating scale that assesses another’s perceptions of one’s humility (in this case, one’s perceptions of his or her partner’s humility) on a 5-point scale (e.g., “He/she has humble character,” “He/she knows him/herself well”). Individual well-being was conceptualized as lower scores on validated self-report measures of stress (Perceived Stress Scale; Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983), anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; Spielberger, Gorsuch, & Lushene, 1970), and depression (Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale; Radloff, 1970).

The authors examined whether there were interactions between actor humility and partner humility on anxiety, stress, and depression among 63 married heterosexual couples expecting their first children, as well as three months after these births (study one). Not only did they find that partners experienced lower stress and depression when both romantic partners were humble, but also they found humble partners who had arrogant partners experienced greater stress and depression after the child was born. Next, they asked 93 married heterosexual couples about their levels of relationship satisfaction and measured partners’ blood pressure levels while they conversed about an area of ongoing disagreement (study two). The researchers found higher levels of relationship satisfaction and marginally significant reductions in blood pressure following an argument only in dyads in which each partner was humble. These results suggest partners who view each other as humble may experience greater individual well-being, higher relationship satisfaction, and reduced blood pressure following a stressful event, while humble partners in humble – arrogant couple pairs may experience negative mental health outcomes.

The findings in both study one and study two provided support for the humility complementarity hypothesis; that is, that humility confers mental, relational, and physiological benefits when both partners are humble. However, it should be noted that the blood pressure findings should be interpreted cautiously as the findings only were marginally significant (p= .096). Still, it will be interesting to see whether the physiological effects linked to relationships with mutually humble partners will be replicated and extended, as well as whether humility is associated with positive benefits on other physiological measures and physical health outcomes.


Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385–396. doi: 10.2307/2136404
Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., Worthington, E. L., Van Tongeren, D. R., Gartner, A. L., Jennings, D.J., & Emmons, R. A. (2011). Relational humility: Conceptualizing and measuring humility as a personality judgment. Journal of Personality Assessment, 93, 225–234. doi: 10.1080/00223891.2011.558871
Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D Scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401. doi: 10.1177/014662167700100306
Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., & Lushene, R. E. (1970). Manual for the state-trait anxiety inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Van Tongeren, D. R., Hook, J. N., Ramos, M. J., Edwards, M., Worthington Jr., E. L., Davis, D.E., Osae-Larbi, J. A. (2017). The complementarity of humility hypothesis: Individual, relational, and physiological effects of mutually humble partners. The Journal of Positive Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2017.1388433