Make Your Mediocre Relationships Great

By A. Mann

On November 9, 1989, the headline of every major newspaper stated simply and in dramatic fashion, "THE WALL COMES DOWN!" Every television news anchor on every channel broke in with live coverage of one of the most significant events of the twentieth century.

Everyone watched, with eyes glued to the radiant glow of their sets, the mesmerizing images of this historic happening. For when the Berlin Wall was dismantled, stone by stone, all of a sudden things that weren't, were. Those who had for so long been divided were united. And there was great joy and celebration! On this glorious day in 1989, this unwelcome barrier was no more. What a sweet sight to watch the first stone fall!

Far too many are living in relationships with similar walls of shame erected between them and other important people in their lives. These walls come in many shapes and sizes and are built for varied reasons. Some are high and solid and have been built with the pain of betrayal or loss. Some are less imposing, but were carefully constructed to keep others out, thus avoiding the pain and inevitable conflict that comes from the human experience. After all, life is painful and is best experienced by staying out of harms way at all costs, right?

Then there are those walls whose existence actually grieves us. We want desperately to be a part of meaningful and rich relationships but we are met at every turn by barriers that we are not equipped to break through. Things are going great. Life is good. Everyone is healthy, happy and in full agreement. We are running side-by-side with confidence, congenially remarking to each other how wonderful the race is.

Suddenly the unexpected difficulty rears its head. Our expectation of someone goes unmet. Communication breaks down. A promise is broken. A lie is told. Feelings are hurt. Hearts are broken. We honestly want to get over the wall, but try as we might to make it work, we are left utterly drained and ultimately frustrated. Even our closest relationships are steeped in mediocrity because excellence and fulfillment lie on the unreachable other side of the wall.

Many have convinced themselves that deep relationships are merely a pipe dream. They feel like they carry too much baggage to see their way clear to anything beyond the status quo. They would love more than anything to walk a mile in the shoes of those "fortunate" souls on the green side of the fence whose marriages are strong and healthy, whose families are content and delight in each other's company and whose friendships flourish with mutual support.

You say, "If you understood my background you would see why I am just not good at relationships" or "Certain individuals simply seem to have the knack for relating to others in a positive way and I was just not blessed with great people skills" or "The rocks in the road of my relationship with (insert name here) have left it hopelessly beyond repair."

Funny, isn't it, how for every flaw or shortcoming we are unable or unwilling to face, an excuse stands readily available for us to wield against anyone who might dare suggest that we face it head on. But it should not be that way. And it doesn't have to be.

Relationships are hard. A man once said that life would be a piece of cake if it weren't for other people. I wholeheartedly disagree! Life would be miserable without others to share it with. But relationships are still very hard.

So what can we do? Well, to begin we must first realize that we cannot change others. Intellectually we know that, yet we spend a majority of our time trying to manipulate the behavior of others to more closely resemble our own. We try over and over and we fail over and over.

Let me stop here and clearly state that I am certainly not so naïve nor too jaded to acknowledge that there are many in terrible, heart-breaking relationships through no fault of their own. I meet people every day who are hurting and hollow of peace due to some reckless, insensitive soul reeking havoc on their lives. But the reality of what I can and cannot change remains.

The most obvious place to begin working on our relationships is to work on ourselves. Perhaps you have tried all other means and have met head-on, at every turn, with a wall. May I suggest that you back away from the wall and turn to one of the most revealing, and often painful, places you can look - a mirror? You see, the chief question for me is not, "Why have I been put in this difficult situation?" or even, "How can I facilitate change in those around me?"

The only valid and productive question to ask is "How can I enrich the lives of those with whom I come in contact and be for them the loving example that I would like them to ultimately be for me?" That's not pop psychology my friends. In fact that statement flies in the face of so-called 'relationship experts' who are quick to merely pat you on the back and gently convey to you that you are A.O.K. and that the problem plaguing your relationship must lie somewhere outside of you.

Let me pose to you, and to you alone, a challenging question. Are you truly satisfied with the depth and breadth of your relationships? Are you the husband, wife, parent, child, friend, etc. that you really want to be? No? Then I invite you to roll up your sleeves, grab your hammer and let's begin chipping away at those walls. It is the only real way to truly revitalize and revolutionize our tired relationships.

Don't forget to remove the pictures of those "imperfect" others from your mind, who you think may need to read this message more than you. Take that first good look in the mirror and strike your first blow to that pesky wall. What a sweet sight to watch the first stone fall!


Alan Mann is an experienced trial attorney, author and frequent speaker. He is the author of The Real Thing: The Four Essential Components of Authentic Relationships. He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama where he continues to practice law. Contact him or order the book at or his web site at

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