Think about the ten most important people in your life, and then ask yourself: "Do I get what I want and need from my interactions with them? And am I investing enough time and effort to make sure my bond lasts?" Answering these questions is a starting point for freshening up a relationship—and believe me, just about every relationship could use a tweak. Luckily, it's in your power to break a bad pattern, even one that seems entrenched. Try these simple techniques to transform your dealings with your partner, coworkers, and friends.
The Issue: The Thrill is...Going.
The Redo: Change the Vibe.
At the beginning of our marriage, my wife, Robin, and I got into the habit of griping about the day's frustrations as soon as we got home from work. After a while, though, I realized that if you discuss only problems with your partner, there's a good chance you'll develop a problem relationship. I'd read that the initial moments of an interaction can set the tone for the rest of the encounter. That's why Robin and I have instituted the First Four Minutes Rule, which prohibits us from complaining until we've spent a few moments together. Even if our house was on fire, we'd probably let 240 seconds elapse before allowing ourselves to mention it. I suggest you take the same approach with your partner. Before you say anything else, tell a funny story, or talk about how much you missed each other. Your first words don't have to be romantic or earth-shattering—just positive.
The Issue: You Aren't Getting Along with A Coworker or Boss.
The Redo: Reassert Your Rights.
Interpersonal conflict often arises when one of two parties doesn't feel valued, appreciated, or respected. If that's your situation, it's your responsibility to teach the other person to treat you better. Start by being up-front about your needs. Back in graduate school, I had a professor who was condescending, missed appointments, and assigned ridiculous last-minute projects, all the while telling me I'd never succeed. One day I decided to share how I felt: I wanted her to appreciate that my time was as valuable as hers, and that I was taking her class to learn, not for her to browbeat me. I promised to represent our program well, but in exchange, I needed her to treat me with respect—and ultimately, she did.
The Issue: A Friendship Feels Like an Obligation, Not a Pleasure.
The Redo: Make Sure You Truly Connect.
Maybe you have a pal who expects to talk or text with you daily, and you just don't have the time or energy to do so. The next time you meet in person, make an effort to show you're concentrating on her. Sustained direct eye contact fosters a level of intimacy that's lacking in so many interactions today, especially between friends. We hang out together but apart—all of us peering at our smartphones and glancing only occasionally at one another. Think about it: When you don't look someone in the eye, you're telling her she's not worthy of your full attention. The more focused you are on your friend when you're together, the less likely it is that she'll demand more of your time when you aren't. You'll get the space you want, without sacrificing the closeness every friendship needs.
Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's daily talk show is entering its 12th season. He has written seven best-selling books; his latest is Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World (Bird Street).
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