If you’re wondering how to improve your relationship then you’re in the right place.

Everyone deserves a healthy relationship, but they usually don’t happen by accident. they’re nurtured over time with each individual consciously participating in the betterment of the union. But what factors play a significant role in determining the quality of a relationship? To start with, let’s talk about behaviors.

Unfortunately not all of us know how to practice healthy behaviors in interpersonal relationships. This lack of knowledge leaves us vulnerable to develop unhealthy relationships without even consciously realizing it.

The good news is that healthy behavior can be learned and practiced at any age, in any relationship, whether with a friend, partner or family member. You don’t have to have a complete makeover of your life to improve your relationship. Taking even the smallest step towards empowering oneself in a relationship can have a huge impact on creating a healthier dynamic. Here are four simple ways that we can start practicing healthy behavior in our relationships today.

Make your own decisions

Allowing other people to make decisions for us can, over time with consistency, erode our sense of self and self-expression. It usually starts off slow, with a concession: perhaps giving the other person the freedom to choose the movie you’ll watch. It’s followed by a string of other concessions (allowing the partner to choose where to go for a date, the food to eat, the car to buy and so on) until we’re no longer even asked anymore. These are innocent examples, but they show how consistently giving someone else control over all decisions has the potential to set powerful expectations and create pressure to be accepting and submissive.

Want to improve your relationship? Then each concession should be counterbalanced over time by our partners, so that we don’t risk losing our own will.  And if you’re a female reading this, as Alex says in episode 7 of the Unleash Love podcast, real men don’t want submissive women.

In healthy relationships, one person is not supposed to make all the decisions. Even if it has been that way in the past. We always have the ability and the right to change it. Watch out for any resistance in the form of guilt or punishment for speaking up and having agency. This is a sign of an unhealthful relationship. We should never feel bad about asserting our opinion in a genuine and honest way.

Know when to say “no”

It is not easy to say “no” to someone you care about, especially if you tend to avoid conflict and if you’re agreeable. These behaviors are driven by the need to seek approval and keep the peace. People-pleasers often find themselves in uncomfortable situations to maintain their “good-girl” or “good-boy” image and avoid unpleasant labels such as “rude” or “selfish.”

Consistently underestimating your own needs in order to satisfy the needs of others has harmful effects on your personal well-being and your relationships. Negative feelings of resentment, powerlessness, anger, and frustration bubble on the surface of relationships. Over time, people-pleasing can also make you a target for more dangerous manipulations. 

For all the people-pleasers out there: it’s okay and it’s healthy to say “no.” Saying no isn’t going to make us a bad person. What this means is that we respect ourselves enough to meet our own needs, boundaries, and priorities.

Want to improve your relationship? Give yourself time to process what someone else is asking of you. This removes urgency where you might feel pressured to answer “yes” on the spot. It also gives you time to understand and reconcile with your own needs.

When you’re ready to respond with a “no,” it’s helpful to practice beforehand in case you get nervous or tongue-tied. For example, practice saying things like “unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me” or, “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I won’t be able to,” or saying “no, I’m unavailable.” A simple “no” can be sufficient, so try to resist the temptation to over-explain or tack “I’m sorry” at the beginning or end of your response. It’s a force of habit for many of us, but really, why do you have to apologize for taking care of your own needs? Hint: You’re not supposed to!

Express yourself when you are upset

When you get upset in a relationship don’t let the “small” things go unnoticed. When you do that, it’s a similar danger to what we described when giving up your agency to someone else. A big reason people don’t talk up when the little stuff upsets them is because it’s seen as insignificant.However if we’re not careful we can let them mount up until they’re big challenges that cannot be ignored.

We have the right to feel whatever kind of feeling comes up. There is not only one emotional response when it comes to dealing with a particular situation. Whatever negative emotion we feel is a valid signal to us that something needs to change.

Want to improve your relationship? When these negative emotions arise it is an opportunity to discuss needs and boundaries with the other person. Try to explain your emotions rather than blaming the other person so that they don’t feel attacked. Regularly addressing small issues helps to foster a practice of openness and communication within a relationship. This can give you the confidence and framework to address larger issues in the future.

Imperfections are normal

Everyone has insecurities; flaws they wish they could magically make disappear or make mistakes. It’s part of being a human. Anyone that wants to manipulate others will find their greatest weaknesses and use them against them. While our initial thought may be to hide our imperfections from the world, the best thing we can do is to proudly own them. Exposing our flaws makes them less significant and brings our power back from anyone who has the intentions of hurting, manipulating, or controlling us.

Being able to laugh at our own imperfections also communicates to others that we accept ourselves as we are, and that we would appreciate the same from them. Vulnerability can be scary because it goes against aging cultural norms, but a healthy partner, friend, or family member that has broken free from these old paradigms will accept and love the person that loves themselves.

All relationships—even those that are already healthy—require active work to be healthy and stay that way. The beauty of these four strategies is that we can immediately incorporate them into our existing relationships. However we shouldn’t be fooled by their simplicity. Changing our behavior can be tough, and we’re likely to find even the smallest steps challenging. Know that lasting change is not going to happen overnight. So be kind to yourself as you learn. With practice, we can become even more empowered and better-equipped to maintain healthy relationships with others.

Check out “The Empowered Women’s Guide to Dating” for more information about how to get more out of yourself and your relationship: