The ONE Way to Improve Any Relationship

One Simple Way to Improve Any Relationship

Healthy relationships are an essential part of a good life. As complex as relationships can be, there’s one simple thing you can do to improve them instantly.

Relationships are based on the dynamic of give and take. We have relationships because they benefit us in some way; otherwise, we’d all do our own thing. A healthy relationship is mutually beneficial, in which both parties feel like they are benefitted more than burdened.

Problems in relationships sprout up when someone’s expectations aren’t being met.

The simple way to improve any relationship is to adjust your expectations: expect to receive less and expect to give more. Giving more will increase your value to the other person, while expecting less will make you far less likely to be disappointed in them. This isn’t done in a vacuum—the greatest benefit will be how the relationship dynamic changes.

What’s your first inclination when a stranger on the street asks you for a favor? I have a heart for the homeless and often buy them meals, but I admit I still feel defensive sometimes when they ask me for money. It’s human nature to question the motives and feel defensive when person gives nothing and wants something. 

I live in Portland, and there was a homeless man here who was “selling jokes” for 25 cents. I noticed that people were much more receptive to him because not only was he not asking for much, but he was giving something in return. He created a more favorable give/take scenario than most homeless people do. I bought a joke and regretted it because it was dirty, but that’s beside the point.

Generosity Is Contagious

In Portland, we have hundreds of food carts which offer inexpensive and quickly-made food. They all have tip jars, and I’ve noticed that I feel more compelled to tip if I see that others have tipped. We’re greatly influenced by the actions of those around us, which is why being generous can have a more powerful impact than it may seem. It’s not just anecdotal experience, either. Studies have found that generosity is contagious.

When you are generous to others through words, actions, and support, it will be their natural inclination to want to return the favor to you and/or others without you even asking. At one of the food carts I eat at regularly, the man who runs it regularly makes me free mint tea, and I regularly tip him not because I feel obligated, but because I want to do it. Healthy relationships aren’t fueled by obligation, but by a genuine desire for the other person to prosper.

Imagine two people in a romantic or friend relationship who both decide to give more than they receive to the other. Their admiration, trust, and respect for one another will grow, and the relationship will thrive, because when you give more and expect less, you increase your value and decrease your burden to the other person. When both people do this in a relationship, the impact is tremendous. But even if one person does it, it will usually change the dynamic and encourage the other person to give more as well.

Giving more isn’t just about showering people with gifts—relational needs are more diverse than that. It can also mean spending time with them, complimenting them, calling them just to see how they are (don’t just call when you need a favor!), listening to them with genuine interest, helping them move, and offering your support in other ways. It means actively looking for ways to help them rather than waiting for them to ask.

Run an experiment for a week: give more and expect less in your relationships, and see how it affects them. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised! For more on the importance of setting the right expectations, check out my new book on how to be an imperfectionist.

Stephen Guise is the international bestselling author of “Mini Habits” and “How to Be an Imperfectionist.” His blog, Deep Existence is one of the world’s most popular resources online for focusing and habit-building strategies. If you sign up for updates at Deep Existence, you’ll receive 40 custom desktop focus wallpapers,Stephen’s book on stress-management, 30 subscriber-exclusive articles, and practical life tips every Tuesday morning.

12 Responses to One Simple Way to Improve Any Relationship

  1. Excellent tip! Relationships are very important in persons life and how to get good relationships with others helps a lot. Thanks I´m going to do the exercise of give more and expect less (:

  2. Take Wing says:

    The difficulty might also be in what constitutes feeling loved. In the 5 Languages of Love by Gary Chapman, he outlines that even if we are sharing from our heart in the language we know as showing love, if it doesn’t resonate with the other as “love” then it is virtually wasted. If you are going to give without expectation, get to know their language of love and give them that, then your generosity may actually reveal results.

  3. What you’ve written here is so important Stephen. I talk about this quite a bit with my clients who are having relationship challenges. And, it’s also a really great reminder for me.

    Thanks again,

    Julia Kristina

  4. Your advice can’t be used to improve any relationship. However you didn’t cover only 5% of people so congratulations on a good job. The root of what you describing here is that as a person could be:

    1) a genuine giver (5% of us) who doesn’t care of what she gets in exchange

    2) an average giver (95% of us) who gives and takes similar amount

    3) a taker (unfortunately 5% of us) who takes but never gives

    If you in a relationship with the third type of person, the advice in the article could not improve your relationship. In fact, almost nothing can. This is rarely the case, but worth to mention.

  5. This is a great point, and would make for a nice follow-up article!

  6. Glad you liked it. :-)

  7. Thanks, Julia. I think your clients are in good hands!

  8. You’re assuming that person type #3 can’t change. I don’t believe that’s true. Giving and taking is a choice, and if person type #3 practiced giving more, I believe it would improve their relationship (and their perspective).

  9. Laura Silverstein says:

    Thank you for this article. I really agree with what you are saying about the importance of generosity, but my understanding is that there has been recent research (by Dr. John Gottman) showing that having high expectations of your partner/relationship has been shown to result in greater relationship satisfaction. Of course this includes having high expectations of yourself as well, which I clearly hear you saying. Thanks!

  10. I didn’t assumed that they can’t change. I recognized that they can theoretically change but the reality is that they won’t change. There’re people who won’t change no matter what. They have a choice, but always chose a particular option.

  11. Thank you. Fortunately, there’s edit button.

  12. Sue Ghere Garofalo says:

    Gregor- It sounds like you have been hurt and have given up on love and finding a real, good, loving relationship! How sad for you!! For the rest of us, this article is right on!! My marriage is based on this! My husband and I always try to do things for each other constantly. I don’t know if we are trying to out give each other on a conscious level or if when you find the right person it just comes naturally? All I know is when I’m up I ask him if I can get him anything and he does the same for me. We have split many of the house hold chores and it works much better with no resentment. Every night after a hard day at work he likes his head, legs and arms scratched so when we relax and watch some of our favorite shows I just do it naturally. Now after all these years I don’t even know I’m doing it, it is just one more way I can show him how much I love and adore him. BTY, I tell him that I love and adore him often both verbally and in texts often!! You can never say or hear loving words from the one you love enough!!

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