Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 1: Overview

This is the first of a 4 part series of posts dealing with the topic of relationships.

We all have relationships with others.  Some are healthy, others not so much.

The reality, however, is that we don’t think much about or really understand what relationships are.

My goal in this post is to offer some perspective on relationships.  This information should be useful if you are trying to build a relationship with someone, improve a relationship that isn’t working, or, perhaps, survive a relationship that exists and impacts you but which you can’t really change.

The four parts in this series are:

  • Part 1:  Overview
  • Part 2: Assume “Doing the best they can”
  • Part 3: Understand their Model
  • Part 4: Look at their skill sets and summary

Part 1:  Overview

Your view of relationships.

If I ask you to tell me about your “relationships”, what comes to mind?

Do you think about specific people:

  • spouse,
  • a co-worker,
  • friends,
  • teammates on your sports teams,
  • a teacher,
  • your in-laws

Are there specific individuals you don’t think about:

  • the “clerk” behind the counter at the store, the airport, the office, or on the tech support call
  • the cop who might pull you over
  • your doctor, mechanic, or gardener
  • the neighbor with the noisy dogs
  • the in-law you don’t particularly like
  • your boss or subordinate at work

I’m suggesting that all of the above are “relationships”.  And, it is in your best interest to adjust your thinking to this point of view.

A Working Definition:

An interpersonal relationship can be understood as a “significant” connection or association which exists between you and another person.

What does this mean?

The term significant refers to any connection which:

  • has some value or importance to you or influences you (as you define it) in some ways
  •  could have a negative impact on your “life” because you failed to recognize the connection as “significant”

Examples of “significant” others include:

  • your spouse
  • your girl/boy friend
  • your parents or siblings
  • your boss
  • your co-workers
  • your landlord
  • the policeman who pulls you over
  • the clerk who is processing your “materials” at the airport, the store, the courthouse, the DMV, the Social Security Office, on the phone (tech person)
  • professionals (doctors, nurses, accountants)

The term excludes any interaction in which you and the other person are mere “placeholders” and have no meaningful “value” to each other in the situation.

Examples of “place holders” could include:

  • standing in line with other people at the grocery store
  • saying “good morning” or “How are you?” as a passing greeting

The term relationship only refers to a connection between you and the other person.

The term does not:

  • imply any positive or negative qualities inherent in the relationship
  • tell you anything about the individuals in the relationship
  • include any reference to other elements which may define a specific connection

Relationship Rules:

There are many different so-called Rules about relationships.

The one you may be most familiar with is the Golden Rule which states:

Do unto others as you would like them to do unto others.

Or, Stephen Covey’s “rule”:

Seek first to be understand and then to be understood.

Or, maybe, what I call the Platinum Rule which states:

Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.

While each of these rules has both advantages and disadvantages, I am suggesting that there is a Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) which has several important advantages over these other rules and which can be applied to all of your relationships.

The Basic Relationship Rule (BRR)

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

  • Everyone: Every participant in the relationship including you and the other person.
  • Always: The assumption is that, if the action is personally meaningful, each person will default to an action that will be maximally productive in the situation.
  • Best: The best they can do in the moment. Not the best possible.
  • Psychological State: any obvious indicator of strong emotions such as sadness, anxiety or anger
  • Model: Their personal perception of the current event.
  • Skill sets: The behaviors they can use to deal with the situation.

The advantages of the BRR are that it:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person
  • applies equally to both the other person and you

Judging, validating, and/or condoning…

The basic relationship rule is intended to help you avoid judging the actions of another participant in the relationship so that you can validate and understand the behavior you are observing.

It does not require that you condone or accept the other person’s behavior as appropriate.

  • judging: labeling the behavior in such a way that eliminates further understanding and can exacerbate any problems which might exist in the relationship. Judging the behavior of another person in a relationship can effectively end any further constructive interactions.
  • validate: accept as their best, at the moment, NOT the best possible.
  • understand: gain some insight into the behavior you are observing.
  • condone, accept and appropriate: imply a set of standards that can, if necessary, be applied later to the behavior

Validating  helps you maintain the relationship, if this is your choice, while you devise a plan to intervene and facilitate any changes which might improve the relationship.

Validating also allows you to continue to accept the other person while you might not accept their behavior.

Understanding can provide some direction in choosing an intervention.

I will explain this in more detail below.

The Role of Emotions in Relationships

As I have written in other posts and in my two Amazon best-selling books, I view emotions as tools which provide you with important information about how you perceive your surroundings and which can be both mastered and strategically deployed.

Emotions are important in the context of relationships because they are:

  • a source of information about how you perceive what is going on between you
  • the filter through which you are interpreting the other person’s actions
  • a window into how they perceive what is going on.  tells you where you need to focus your attention to improve the relationship

So, you now have an overview of both how I will define relationships going forward and a familiarity with relationship rules including the Basic Relationship Rule which I will discuss in detail.

Part 2 will be published in two weeks and will cover the idea that we need to assume that others are doing their best.



ANNOUNCEMENT: Updated Website Gives You Easier Access to ALL of My Informative Posts

As I am writing this, there are over 150 posts dealing with emotions on my blog.

But,to be honest, it hasn’t been easy to access all of this information.

So, I decided to do something about that.

In this post, I am announcing that I have updated my website to make it easier for you to directly access the specific information about emotions that you want.

How you choose to access my site is now completely up to you.

I have made two main changes.


The first is the inclusion of a Blog tab which takes you to the CURRENT posts.


The second is the inclusion of the Index to All Posts tab.  This is for PAST posts and gives you a drop-down menu which lists the five topic categories into which my posts can be divided.

The categories are:

  • Anger,
  • Mastering Emotions as Tools,
  • Other Emotions,
  • Relationships and Emotions,
  • Words and Emotions and
  • Uncategorized. (These are posts that do not address a topic specifically related to any content category.  This post is an example.)

When you click on the category you want, you gain access to any post in that category. You may have  to scroll down a bit as there are lots of posts in each category. Clicking on the title you want takes you directly to the post.


Oh, and I should add that I have included a Contact Me tab if you have a question or want to suggest a topic you would like me to cover.

Please note:

  • I do not collect, sell, or monetize email addresses.
  • You will never receive an “offer” from me in your email.

In two weeks, I will begin a 4-part series of posts entitled:

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. 

All the best,


Ed Daube, Ph.D., The Emotions Doctor