This is my favorite area to apply life hacks — in part because we too often think that relationships are left to chance. Trouble is, that doesn’t give you much say in the matter. In love, as in life, we’re looking to “close the deal”—whether it’s marriage, or just getting them to say yes to dinner. Whatever the goal, there’s a market in which we operate, and it’s far more than merely chance that determines the eventual outcome.
And relationships matter because they are the single biggest indicator of long-term, sustainable health and happiness. (In fact, research suggests that not having close social ties is the equivalent of smoking or obesity in terms of its negative impact on health.) But just like with startups, there’s no “safe” path. Relationships are hard, and they’re risky.
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A few ways you can hack relationships and harness the power of partnerships to fuel happiness and success:
Don’t go it alone. No startup operates in isolation. And neither do you. You construct your life in concert with others. Friends and clients may turn into business partners. Acquaintances may become gateways to new potential collaborations or introductions. And friends of friends become spouses and life partners. But before you can meaningfully connect and explore the possibilities of these relationships, you need to buy into the fact that partnerships—even when imperfect—make you stronger and life better. More often than not, our output—and our happiness—wanes when we isolate. And remember: living a networked life means committing to both in-person relationships as well as mindful, technology-assisted interactions.
Beef up your soft skills. We most often use the term “soft skills” in relationship to emotional intelligence, or EQ. These skills are the social graces and interpersonal skills that are less easily defined or quantified than hard skills, but which often factor as key differentiators. Relationships, like career paths, don’t fit into a perfect mold. They aren’t always predictable and “safety” is largely an illusion. Risk abounds. Planning is for naught. And failure—to varying degrees—is imminent along the way. You can, however, redefine “success” and rewrite your own rules of engagement, but not just through ticking boxes and downloading apps. Pay attention to the little things. Be bold. Be truly present. And feel the difference.
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Become a relationship MVP Come to terms with how you want to conduct your relationship startups. Too often we think in extremes: destiny or practicality. So rethink that strategy to make room for both. What are your non-negotiables? Aside from those, throw out the checklist and check back in with your gut reaction. This isn’t an attempt to oversimplify a complex question, but reverting back to the basics of how you feel and what you need is the simplest way to keep moving forward. Consider it your relationship MVP, or “minimum viable product”: sometimes you need to strip away the noise to understand the core value proposition. And that makes committing to a choice that much easier — and more satisfying.
This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some relationship hacks that actually are worth learning?