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.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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