Living from the Heart

Living from the Heart

Experts share how to get the most out of your relationships.

It’s never been so easy to stay in touch with lots of people in your life. We can thank social media and email for that. But it’s also become too easy to rely solely on these digital relationships - to lose the human connection because you only communicate via keyboard.

So to celebrate the Valentine season of love, we put the focus back on the living, breathing people who are actually in your life (not just on your computer screen). Here are some tips to improve some of those relationships - no clicking required.

Romance Revamp

The biggest issue in relationships today is feeling a lack of closeness and communication, says Patricia Pitta, PhD, ABPP, a clinical and family psychologist in Manhasset, New York. “People are often ambivalent about their relationship, and you have to overcome that,” she says. Her remedy? Create a “gratitude box.”

It’s simple. You and your partner write words of praise and put them in the box whenever the mood strikes you. It could be a quick “thanks for cooking dinner last night,” or a pages-long love letter. Empty the box whenever you need to feel closer - and make it an event. Read the notes to each other. Take some time and enjoy sharing with each other. It’s an easy way to cultivate happiness and to convey the thoughts and emotions that are sometimes forgotten or difficult to say out loud.

Workplace Wrangling

Relationships between bosses and employees can get tense - sometimes downright bitter - when one isn’t meeting the other’s needs. The key in these relationships is to control your emotions and keep respect at the forefront, says Barry Ginsberg, PhD, who runs the Center of Relationship Enhancement in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Of course, this is often easier said than done, especially when a difficult boss or lackluster employee is concerned, but Ginsberg has two suggestions. First, keep your emotions in check by regularly practicing a mindfulness technique (such as breathing exercises). Here’s an easy one: Sit up straight in your chair, eyes closed. Inhale slowly through your nose, and feel your midsection expand as it fills with air. Exhale, gently pressing your hand on your middle to release the full breath. Repeat slowly. If possible, focus on a calming word with each inhalation and exhalation.

Second, like an athlete in distress, don’t hesitate to use a time-out. “If a situation is getting really difficult, say to your boss or employee, ‘I need some time to process this. Can I come back at a certain time to discuss it again?’” Ginsberg says. “Calm down, and get control of yourself and your ideas.” You may save yourself saying something you later regret, and thus, preserve a key relationship.

Neighborly Knack

It’s common to isolate yourself from neighbors, Ginsberg says, for no specific reason. What’s harder - but ultimately more rewarding - is to open your heart and be friendly, especially to people who are essentially strangers.

According to Ginsberg, it can all begin with an act as simple as a knock on the door. “If someone’s new to the neighborhood, or even if you’ve lived somewhere for a while but never connected with your neighbors, make a point to go knock on their door and say hello,” he says. Or if that seems too intrusive, stop them when you see them taking the dog for a walk, bringing in the mail, or working in the yard.

 Ginsberg advises sincerity, and keeping it brief the first time (unless you really hit it off.). “Be straightforward rather than self-conscious - people appreciate it.” Simply tell them you’ve been meaning to say hello and wanted to introduce yourself. At the very least, you’ll create a friendly acquaintance. At best, you’ll make a lifelong friend - someone you can trust, someone nearby to lean on and help when needed, and maybe even someone to share a hot sandwich (and all the juicy neighborhood scuttlebutt) with once in a while at your favorite Panera Bread bakery-cafe.