01/08/2008 02:50 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Three Secrets for Interpersonal-Relationship Perfection

If you're anything like me, chances are 90% of the resolutions you made as the ball dropped and you finished your nth kir royale have since been sent scuttling back to the heap of "things I'd like to do/be/practice next year." And we're only at January 8, people.

I am clinging desperately to my remaining 10%, anyway. They are things essential to my life, happiness, and success. Though going to the gym four times a week and weaning myself off non-organic are on my list (and everyone else's), the most vital changes I'm making this year -- and the ones that I'm most committed to maintaining -- have to do with interpersonal relations.

While physical and mental health are incredibly important, emotional health is perhaps the most essential to your overall long-term happiness. In the past, I caught myself relying on other people to secure this happiness for me, whether that is through affirmation or attention or even through conflict. This is not healthy, nor is it effective. Thus, in 2008, I've vowed to rely on myself for happiness, starting by changing how I interact with other people. I'm going to be transparent about my needs, ask for what I desire, focus on how to improve my actions rather than those of others over whom I have no control, and attend to other people so that our shared relationship prospers.

Sound easy? It's not going to be, at first. It's going to require exchanging old, comfortable habits for new ones that require you to be explicit, to pay attention to others, and to be open to all sorts of self-discovery. But once you see the vastly superior results observing the following three secrets gets you, you'll wonder why it took you so long in the first place.

Three Secrets for 2008 Interpersonal-Relationship Perfection:

Secret #1: Give people the information to win. This means you have to stop making people do the guesswork and start actively voicing your problems...and solutions. Not only does this eliminate the possibility that your bad mood will either a) go overlooked or b) be mis-attributed to some completely irrelevant circumstance, it also helps the person on the other end understand you better. If you can bring yourself to say outright: "Look, this is what makes me tick, this is what sets me off, this is what I expect, this is what I don't expect," the resulting interaction will be better because you'll have laid out the tools and made success that much more likely. Hopefully, the other person will reciprocate accordingly, giving you the information you need to succeed in understanding them. Best of all, this will help the relationship grow constructively, in a manner that allows both parties to have exactly what they need with no time lost sulking when we feel unrecognized or blaming others for this oversight.

Secret #2: Stop fixating on things you cannot change. Even after you lay out exactly what it is you need from an interaction in Secret #1, there are certain things people will not be able to give you. Maybe it's not who they are, not how they function, not what they're comfortable with -- to some degree, you have to allow them the freedom to be this way and not want to change. Hopefully, these habits will not get in the way of your overall happiness. If they do, you will need to find a compromise so that you can both be happy -- or stop socializing with this person. That said, make it your goal not to try to change other people: you can only control your own behavior, so it is up to you to make sure that the way you respond to a situation is in the best way possible for your own ultimate happiness.

Secret #3: Give people what they need, not what you need. Once you've laid your cards on the table and taken responsibility for your own actions and reactions, what remains is learning about the other person. It is very easy to assume that everyone is like you, with the same desires and idiosyncrasies. But what makes you happy might very well be hell on earth for other people. Take a few moments to figure out how you can alter your behavior from how you would like people to respond to you to what the person you're dealing with needs (I know, a little confusing since we're supposed to treat others as we'd like to be treated). While this process of learning about other people takes time and energy, expending this effort will make the relationship that much more mutually beneficial.