Sam Holstein

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Want Better Relationships? Learn How to Become a Better Person Every Day

ooner or later, we all realize that good relationships are what bring happiness in life. You want better relationships in your life. Noble goal.

Anyone who’s tried to better their relationships, though, knows how herculean a task it is.

You’ve probably tried all the usual solutions. The relationship and communication skills books, the YouTube videos about charisma, individual counseling, couples counseling, coaching, you name it. You may have even expanded into the “art of persuasion,” pick-up artistry, and cognitive psychology. If you really applied yourself, you learned a ton about the human condition and can explain “I feel” language to a five-year-old.

But the relationships in your life still suck.

How is it that you’ve spent hundreds or thousands of hours in your life striving to understand empathy and communication, only to still be struggling all these years later?

What is it you’re missing?

For years, I struggled with this. I bought and read every relationship book in the self-help section, watched all the right YouTube videos, bought online courses, and even tried couples counseling — with two different partners. I learned a few neat tricks, but nothing produced the long-term change in my relationships I was looking for.

My relationships only began to improve when I stopped focusing on my relationship & communication skills and started focusing on my growth as an individual.

Communication skills are all about negotiating boundaries and emotional needs with another person. The goal is to peacefully come to an agreement that meets both people’s needs, whether you’re negotiating a business contract or dinner arrangements with your spouse.

This process necessarily starts with assuming your wants and needs are fixed. First, you identify your wants and needs, then you use your shiny new communication skills to negotiate.

But you know what? Sometimes, what we think we need is a load of crap.

Let’s use a stereotypical example. A husband says he “needs” time alone to watch the NFL game because that’s how he decompresses from his stressful work week. His wife says she wants him to spend part of Sunday with her because she doesn’t see him often thanks to said job.

A communication-focused couples counselor might help each partner state their desire in a respectful way and teach them a negotiation process that allows them to arrive at an arrangement that works for both of them, i.e. he watches his game alone, then they go on a date together.

That’s fine. It’s certainly better than arguing cats and dogs. But imagine this alternate scenario:

The husband attends individual therapy and digs into the root of why he feels so defensive about watching religiously watching the NFL game alone every weekend. He realizes he does this because he feels alone and focusing on NFL distracts him from these painful feelings. He goes home and tells his wife about how he’s been struggling at work and feels isolated. He is so enriched by the love and support of his wife that he no longer wants to watch the game alone; he invites his wife to join him. Some weeks, they even invite friends over and make it a party.

The moral of this story: You get more out of life when you focus on your own growth and development as a person.

If you’re less than thrilled with the relationships in your life, and you’ve practiced all these communication skills only to find they did diddly squat, chances are you need more than a brief lesson on assertive communication scripts.

What you need, though, I can’t tell you. I don’t know you. I don’t know the pain you carry around in your heart, those dark beliefs you have about the world that you refuse to say out loud, the ones that make themselves known when you’re a little too drunk for polite company. It’s up to you to get courageous about your psychological health and honestly face what you carry around inside.

You don’t need me to tell you what to do, though. If you’re honest with yourself — if you stop blaming others for your problems and take total responsibility for how your life turned out — you already know what you need to do.

And no, I don’t mean “dump that toxic partner” or “move across the country” or some flashy change that ultimately means nothing. We all know people who make dramatic changes only for them to repeat all their old problems in new places.

I mean quit drinking. Quit smoking. Admit that it isn’t normal to spend most of your day angry or sad. Admit that yelling at other drivers on the road and getting pissed off about what the US President does changes nothing about your life. Admit that hiding in your room and hating yourself doesn’t change anything either.

Stop getting caught up in emotional stories about your life — angry, sad, bitter, depressed, whatever — and start doing concrete things to make it better.