The Relationship in Your Head

relationship in your head

In my last post, I wrote about strategies to build meaningful relationships. I want to continue this theme today by sharing a way for you to improve your relationships by taking responsibility for the relationship in your head.

Be Proactive

But first I want to say that responsibility means you’re proactive. You’re not waiting for others to be a certain way or even give you what you want. You don’t get caught up in judging, keeping score, or paying attention to what others are doing or not doing. Coming from that place makes you a victim. Although it may feel good to criticize and blame someone else for what’s happening, you lose your sense of self and personal power which does not lead to either happiness or positive relationship outcomes. So don’t go there.

Instead, accept yourself as the source of the quality of your relationship. It’s primarily up to you and not someone else. You do this as you make positive choices and put out kindness that you know will lift and bless others, trusting that what you give will come back to bless you as well.

A Relationship is not a “Thing”

Let me be a little more philosophical for a moment. We too often talk about a relationship as though it were a thing, an entity. It is not. A relationship is actually something that exists in your head as well as the other person’s head. In this sense, it is really two relationships—the relationship in your head and the relationship in the other person’s head. These are not the same. Your perceptions, needs, feelings, and experience are different from the other person’s perceptions, needs, feelings, and experience. Of course, you share experiences but that does not mean that how you feel and interpret these experiences is the same.

For example, my wife and I went to a dance at the local university a few weeks ago. My wife wanted to go because she loves to dance. I was willing to go because the university jazz band was playing and it was only a few days before St. Valentines Day. At one point, during the evening, Judy gave me some instructions about arm placement and moves. My initial (internal) reaction was defensive. But, I quickly let that go and accepted her feedback knowing that her experience of the evening and, more importantly, ourselves as a couple (among all these young college students) was different, even better than mine.

In short, the relationship in her head (two older folks who loved dancing) was not only different but also working better than the relationship in my head. So I changed the relationship in my head. I clarified my desire and even intent to join her in an experience that I knew was important to her. I changed my vision from that of a wife dragging her husband to a dance to a couple having fun, supporting each other and connecting through dance and live, fun music.

Here is the truth. You are 100% responsible for the relationship in your head. Likewise, you are the creator of the relationship in your head. Therefore, if you want to improve your relationship you begin by changing the relationship in your head, by changing how you see your partner as well as your relationship and choosing to come from a different place.

What do you really want? Don’t wait for it to come from the other person. You can create it by putting a more neutral or compassionate spin on behaviors you don’t like. You also create it by deciding what you want and choosing to come from that place yourself.

Own Your “Spin”

Here’s another quick example. Suppose you and a friend or family member have been hypersensitive and defensive with each other lately. You feel tense and irritable around one another. Most of us build our case—we’re in the right and they are wrong. They are at fault that things are not going well and if they’d change their reactions or behavior we could get along just fine.

But what if you took ownership of the “spin” you put on what he or she says or does. What if you looked at them through a lens of empathy and compassion? How could you view their actions in a different way? What if you were to give them the benefit of the doubt and find some positive explanations for why they are behaving as they are? As you do this, you’re in the process of changing the relationship in your head.

Own What You Want

You can also think about what you really want. What do you want this relationship to be like? How about if you go about creating that in your head? What would it look like? What would you say and do? This is taking ownership. This is how we improve our relationships, not by gathering evidence that the other person is wrong and waiting for them to change.

I’m not claiming this is always easy to do, but it puts the responsibility and focus where it needs to be and empowers you to change your relationship. By improving your relationships in this way, you will become a happier person.



  1. Russ Kyncl

    Comedian Taylor Tomlinson jokes that she broke up with her boyfriend because he cheated on her…in her head. It gets a great laugh recognizing this universal truth. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks, Russ. That is funny.

  2. Lynn

    How can I improve a relationship with my 40 year old
    son when he won’t speak to me?

    • Roger Allen

      Hi Lynn,

      It has to be disappointing and disheartening that your son won’t talk to you. So, no doubt you’ll feel a myriad of feelings and need to even do some grieving over the lack of communication and it may be that nothing happens, at least right away, in your relationship.

      However, you can change the relationship in your head by changing the story you tell about him and what his lack of communication means. Because I don’t know the specifics, I cannot tell you what that story could sound like, but it might include such thoughts as, “My son needs space now. I love him and trust him to find his own way including what he needs in his relationship with me. I have so much love in my heart for him and am going to cherish all the memories of the good times we’ve had together.”

      My words may not fit, exactly, with what is going on with your son. But my point is to tell yourself a story that allows you to feel love and peace and goodwill towards yourself as well as him. The way he is thinking about you, today, and the way you’re thinking about him could be very different. And its your story or self talk that will make the difference in the relationship in your head. You can tell yourself a story based on love and goodwill even if that is a different story than the one he is telling himself. Does that make sense?

      My best to you.



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