Making Great Relationships

Simple Practices for Solving Conflicts, Building Connection, and Fostering Love

About the Book

“50 simple, powerful ways to improve your relationships at home and at work” (Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone), based on the latest findings in neuroscience, mindfulness, and positive psychology—by the New York Times bestselling author of Neurodharma and Resilient

Relationships are usually the most important part of a person’s life. But they’re often stressful and frustrating, or simply awkward, distant, and lonely. We feel the weight of things unsaid, needs unmet, conflicts unresolved. It’s easy to feel stuck.
But actually, new research shows that you create your relationships every day with the things you do and say, which gives you the ability to start improving them now. You have the power to make all your relationships better just by making simple changes that start inside yourself.
New York Times bestselling author of Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson, PhD, brings his trademark warmth and clarity to Making Great Relationships, a comprehensive guide to fostering healthy, effective, and fulfilling relationships of all kinds: at home and at work, with family and friends, and with people who are challenging. As a psychologist, couples and family counselor, husband, and father, Dr. Hanson has learned what makes relationships go badly and what you can do to make them go better.
Grounded in brain science and clinical psychology, and informed by contemplative wisdom, Making Great Relationships offers fifty fundamental skills, including:
• How to convince yourself that you truly deserve to be treated well
• How to communicate effectively in all kinds of settings
• How to stay centered so that conflict doesn’t rattle you so deeply
• How to see the good in others (even when they make it difficult)
• How to set and maintain healthy boundaries or resize relationships as needed
• How to express your needs so that they are more likely to be fulfilled
With these fifty simple yet powerful practices, you can handle conflicts, repair misunderstandings, get treated better, deepen a romantic partnership, be at peace with others, and give the love that you have in your heart. Making Great Relationships will teach you how to relate better than ever with all the people in your life.
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Praise for Making Great Relationships

“Rick Hanson has the profound ability to cut through the noise and confusion, providing practical, effective strategies and doable wisdom that will immediately make your relationships better.”—Marie Forleo, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything Is Figureoutable

“Written with grace, humor, and kindness, Making Great Relationships is a rare find. The culmination of Rick Hanson’s fifty years of work in mental health . . . this book is a practical guide for our highest selves. Read it, and your life and relationships will be transformed.”—Terrence Real, LICSW, New York Times bestselling author of Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship

“Our relationships are more important than ever, but they can also be full of conflict, strained silences, and missed opportunities. Even if ‘they’ don’t change, he shows you how to step out of no-win struggles, respect your own needs, and feel at peace. A nourishing, useful, and timely book.”—Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone

“Rick Hanson, who has educated us all about the brain, now brings his thoroughness and accessibility to relationships. Anyone reading this book will know they are in the hands of a master, and we encourage you to trust the effectiveness of the many practices the author provides.”—Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., co-authors of Getting the Love You Want and Making Marriage Simple

“The love, spontaneity and vitality of your relationships can continue to evolve in deeply gratifying ways. Rick Hanson—author, psychologist and wise, loving human—offers an amazing guide, filled with potent doable exercises that will bring fresh life to any and all of your relationships.”—Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and Trusting the Gold

“Woven with love and deep concern for humanity, these short entries are packed with simple yet empowering messages that can help our lives, inside and out, flourish and thrive.”—Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., New York Times bestselling author of Interconnected

“Have you ever found yourself wondering how a conversation just went so wrong? Making Great Relationships is a wonderful guide to helping us understand the way to speak up and listen more fully.”—Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Change

“This brilliant new book offers science-based tools to help you thrive in your relationships. In Making Great Relationships, Rick Hanson offers deeply practical instruction on how to befriend yourself, cultivate kindness, and communicate more skillfully.”Nate and Kaley Klemp, authors of The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship  

“Rick Hanson has offered us a treasure of practical wisdom, guidance, and inspiration. His years of hard-won insight shine through these pages like the voice of an old friend or a loving grandparent. I can’t recommend this book enough.”—Oren Jay Sofer, author of Say What You Mean
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Making Great Relationships


Most of our joys and most of our sorrows come from our connections with other people. Just about everyone wants to be in healthy, fulfilling relationships. But how to actually do this, at home and at work, with friends and relatives, with people you like—and perhaps some you don’t? How can you handle conflicts, repair misunderstandings, get treated better, deepen a romantic partnership, be at peace with others, and give the love that you have in your heart?

Many of us feel stuck, even trapped in our relationships. Perhaps with a tricky coworker or a frustrating roommate, a co-parent who won’t do their share, an estranged relative, an overly critical boss, or a spouse who’s drifting away from you. It can seem hopeless.

But here’s the good news: Thousands of scientific studies show that relationships are not given; they are made. This gives us the power to make them better—and I once heard a teaching story that tells us how:

An elder was asked what she had done to become so happy and wise, so loved and respected. She replied: “It’s because I know that there are two wolves in my heart, a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. And I know that everything depends on which one I feed each day.

You may have heard a version of this story yourself. It is so hopeful! Every day, with what you think and say, you can gradually build up a sense of self-worth, compassion, and confidence inside, while also becoming more relaxed, patient, and effective with others.

As a psychologist, husband, and father—and as someone who was shy and awkward as a kid, and struggled as an adult in some relationships—I’ve learned what makes relationships go badly, and what you can do to make them go better. This book will show you fifty simple, yet powerful ways to communicate effectively in all kinds of settings, stand up for yourself, express your deep feelings, stay out of no-win quarrels, say (and get) what you want, resize relationships as needed, forgive others and yourself, take things less personally, feel truly loved—and much more. It’s the distillation of many years of experience, and it holds everything I would want to give to anyone who wants to know how to grow good relationships, and even great ones.

It usually takes a good deal of time to change the world around you. Inner change can happen a lot faster. You can take the steps that are within your own power to heal old wounds, to find support and happiness in your relationships as they are, and to make them even better. These are the fundamentals of any relationship, and you can apply them in any setting. I’ve focused on their essence in short chapters that rapidly cover a lot of ground, and am sometimes blunt and direct, offering real-world lessons drawn from decades as a psychotherapist with couples and families. I’m writing from my own background—as a white, professional, older man—and will unavoidably leave out important perspectives and issues. Please adapt what I say to your own needs and situations.

In parts one and two, we establish the vital foundation of support for yourself and a warm heart for others. Parts three and four lay the groundwork for dealing with conflicts and challenging people. Part five explores effective communication in detail, including what to do when things get intense. Part six expands the scope of our relationships to our communities, to all of life, and to our whole beautiful world.

Each chapter stands on its own as a complete practice. While the chapters build on each other, it’s fine to jump around to what’s most useful to you at the moment. I’ll occasionally mention research findings, and you can easily find references in my books Hardwiring Happiness and Neurodharma, as well as online. If you come across something you’ve heard me say elsewhere, you can explore it more deeply or skip ahead a bit. In the space here, I haven’t been able to address the important topics of finances, sex, childrearing, cyberbullying, workplace harassment, or the ways that our relationships can be burdened by sexism, racism, and other kinds of prejudice. I use mainly gender-neutral language, such as they or them.

Every day gives us chances to learn and heal and grow. We just keep trying. You can relate to some chapters as aspirational, such as “Say What You Want” (chapter 43) or “Take Care of Your Side of the Street” (chapter 24). What’s important is that you keep moving in a positive direction and don’t feel you have to be perfect.

In these pages, you’ll find many specific things you could do inside your mind or outwardly with other people. For simplicity, I state most of them as instructions—and feel free to ignore the ones that don’t work for you. Some will seem easy and obvious, and others will take more effort and be an ongoing exploration. Find what’s good for you, and it’s fine to leave the rest.

You could read this book on your own, or together with another person to improve that relationship. This book is not therapy, or any substitute for professional treatment of physical or mental health conditions. I’ve tried to write it as if I were talking with a friend about a relationship to explore its key issues and offer ideas and tools that would be immediately helpful. I hope that you get a lot out of reading this book, and that whatever you gain will ripple into the world to benefit other people as well.

About the Author

Rick Hanson, PhD
Rick Hanson, PhD, is a psychologist, senior fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times bestselling author. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he has been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and he has taught in meditation centers worldwide. He and his wife live in San Rafael, California, and have two adult children. More by Rick Hanson, PhD
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