Better relationships for 2017

Are you looking to raise the quality of your relationships for the new year? Is improving your family relationships one of your new years resolutions?

Many people today feel overwhelmed with job duties, family responsibilities, getting to and from events, appointments, and activities with children and family, and so on. There hardly seems time to cultivate relationships.

Wishing to improve relationships when we are hassled, tired, and sleep deprived is not enough to make it happen. It takes a real determination to change.

But the good news is that tiny changes in this relationship realm can make a huge difference in your results.

For example, even if you are tired, hungry, still thinking about work, and hoping to catch something funny on TV tonight, it only takes a few seconds to smile at your spouse or child and signal an opening for them to speak. Then all you need to do is listen, without judging, solving problems, or advising them.

This can actually change your whole interaction with that person, your whole evening, and even your whole relationship.

They may not respond the way you hope the first time, but by the second or third, the whole atmosphere of your relationship can change, just because you had the foresight to get out of your own head for a few seconds to smile and listen.

But what if your teen or young adult doesn’t even care if you smile? They may not even give eye contact to you to notice your new facial expressions.

I have heard this question dozens of times in my family counseling practice. It is so tempting at this point, and you see it every day on a family sit-com, to pounce on them and insist they look at you. Of course this is an invitation to disaster.

Instead, allow the good energy of that space and time you are affording them to have its effect. They will inevitably feel it. It is a natural force between people. They may resist it, not believe it is genuine, and want to ignore it because of past resentments and so on.

But if you persist, things will change. It never fails. Just when you feel ready to give up, things will shift. You will get a smile, or just a nod, or a “Hey,” or a “Yoh.”

The key to family relationships is the too often ignored virtue of patience. Again don’t pounce, just smile back and say “Hey” and go about your business, until one of these times, they start to give you the space you need to open up a chat.

What if your spouse or child is just too absorbed on their smart phones, with other people or other news of people? They seem glued to their screen. That’s the new question of the day in family relationships.

But the nature of good relationships doesn’t change. The same strategies apply. Since you don’t have their eyeballs, they won’t see your smile, but they will hear your voice. Say something like, “Hey, when you can take a break I’d love to catch up.”

Again at first, they may initially think you have gone bonkers, but subliminally they can’t resist the message, the safe approach, the offer of comfortable space to interact.

These tips apply also to relatives, friends, and business associates. An open, accepting and interested attitude goes a long way to keeping relationships smooth and comfortable or moving them in that direction when conflicts arise.

There are very few cases when you need to rush to a response. Take your time to speak. You actually command more attention when they see that you are seriously thinking about the ideas they have presented.

Today folks crave connection and human interaction just as they always have. If they can get it at home, they will. If they can’t they will rely more and more on the social networks. Trust that face to face is still the quickest, most satisfying form of human relationship, and don’t give up.

In my book The Seven Secrets of Successful Parents (, the First Secret is, “I will never give up on my child.” That goes for all the relationships you care about. Any improvement in a relationship can start with you, with tiny, patient steps which open a safe space for the two of you to enjoy life together.

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