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Top Brain-Based Habits to Elevate Your Relationships

Relationships are crucial to having a healthy and caring life with those who you value the most. Enhancing interpersonal skill has proven effective in reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. It can also improve both business success and marital satisfaction. 

In world-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Daniel G. Amen’s latest book, Feel Better Fast and Make It Last, he introduces techniques from research in the field of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). The acronym RELATING, as outlined below, will help you remember the essential relationship habits that will help you live a more fulfilling life with your loved ones.

  • R is for Responsibility. Responsibility is not about blame. It is about your ability to respond to whatever situation you are in. What can you do today to make your relationships better? You win more in relationships when you ask yourself this question and stay away from blaming others.
  • E is for Empathy. Developing empathy involves a number of important skills, including mirroring, treating others in a way you would like to be treated, and being able to get outside of yourself.
  • L is for Listening (and clear communication). Poor communication is at the core of many relationship problems. Jumping to conclusions, trying to read minds, and needing to be right are only a few traits that doom communication. Too often in relationships we have expectations and certain hopes and fears that we never explicitly communicate to our partners or colleagues. Clear communication is essential if relationships are to be mutually satisfying.
  • A is for Assertiveness. Assertiveness involves standing up for one’s rights without infringing upon those of others, whereas aggression involves the use of verbal and nonverbal noxious stimuli to maintain rights.

  • T is for Time. Relationships require actual, physical time. In this era of commuting, traffic, two-working-parent households, email, the Internet, television, and video games, we have seriously diminished the time we have with the people in our lives. Being present in the moment with your spouse, friend, or colleague can help make the other person feel appreciated and secure.
  • I is for Inquiring. Ask yourself what thoughts are repeatedly going through your mind, and then consider how accurate they might be. Often, when we tell ourselves little lies about other people, it puts unnecessary wedges between us and them. Relationships require accurate thinking in order to thrive. Whenever you feel sad, mad, or nervous in relationships, check out your thoughts. If there are automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) or lies, stomp them out.
  • N is for Noticing what you like, a lot more than what you don’t like. This is one of the secrets to having great relationships. Paying attention to what you like encourages more of that behavior.
  • G is for Grace (and Forgiveness). One of the most famous prayers in history commands us to forgive others if we ourselves want to be forgiven. Forgiveness is powerful medicine. Holding on to grudges, past slights, and hurts, even if they are small, increases stress hormones that negatively impact our moods, immunity, and overall health.

Additionally, Dr. Amen discusses in more detail the strategies that can be utilized to enhance one’s ability to connect and communicate efficiently:

  • Ask yourself if you are taking Responsibility in your relationships: “How can I respond in a positive, helpful way?”
  • Practice empathy. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • In conversations, listen and practice good communication skills.
  • Be assertive. Say what you mean and stick up for what you believe is right in a calm, clear, and kind way.
  • Spend time together. Remember that actual, physical time with others is critical to healthy relationships.
  • Inquire into the negative thoughts that make you suffer in a relationship and decide if they’re objectively true.
  • Notice what you like in the behavior of those around you more than you notice (and complain about) what you don’t like.
  • Give the altruistic gift of grace and forgiveness whenever you can.

Dr. Amen spent most of his career studying the brain’s response to stimuli, as well as the brain’s intimate connection to our relationships — with our self and others. Our lives — and our brains — can benefit by making our strongest relationships in life count the most.

Top Brain-Based Habits to Elevate Your Relationships

Emily Waters

Emily Waters earned her Master's degree in industrial psychology with an emphasis in human relations. She possesses keen insight into the field of applied psychology, organizational development, motivation, and stress, the latter of which is ubiquitous in the workplace environment and in one’s personal life. One of her academic passions is the understanding of human nature and illness as it pertains to the mind and body. Prior to obtaining her degree, she worked in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. Presently, she teaches a variety of psychology courses both in public and private universities.

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APA Reference
Waters, E. (2018). Top Brain-Based Habits to Elevate Your Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Nov 2018 (Originally: 30 Nov 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Nov 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.