Take Control of Your Relationships

In general terms, there is a remarkable level of agreement on the three elements, ingredients or measurements of success. Virtually everyone would include personal development and health, career and achievements, and relationships and family, though each of us may define these three things slightly differently. 

Many, for example, would emphasize faith within their personal development, and others would make service and giving prominent among their achievements. But the point is, the majority of people agree that these are the three categories in which we work for success. Like the three sides of a triangle, they are interconnected; each side touches and supports the other two.

Success in only one of the three areas is flat and one-dimensional. We have all seen the shallowness of wealth without health and family. Even success in two of the three dimensions can lack depth, as in the case of someone who seems to have everything going for themselves—but no one to really share it with.

What is interesting is that when you ask people to rank the three areas in order of importance, a majority of people would probably order them like this:

  1. Relationships and family
  2. Personal development and health
  3. Career and achievements

Yet, when most people are asked to list the three in order of how much time and mental energy they are spending on each one, the list often flips:

  1. Career and achievements
  2. Personal development and health
  3. Relationships and family

So is there a disconnect between what we believe and what we actually do? Is there a dichotomy between importance and effort, between priority and application? Do we shortchange the most important of the three in favor of the least?

To verify or clarify which of the three is most important, ask yourself some additional questions:

  • How long can each last? (Achievements are always temporary; relationships can last forever.)
  • How hard is it to regain if it is lost? (Stalled careers are easier to fix than broken marriages or families.)
  • What is our window of time for each? (Our children live with us for only about one-fourth of our lives.)

C.S. Lewis called homemaking the “ultimate career” and said, “All other careers exist for one purpose only—and that is to support the ultimate career.” It is so easy to get that backwards and begin thinking of the family as something that supports (or sometimes gets in the way of) the career instead.

I believe there are two prime explanations for why we put so much more effort into achievements than relationships. One is recognition. There is simply not as much accolade and acknowledgment for our relationships as for our achievements. Having a great marriage, a great kid or being a loyal friend might get us a compliment now and then, but in terms of real, broad recognition, they can’t hold a candle to running a company or getting a big promotion.

The second factor is even more basic, and more important. We just don’t know as much about how to build great relationships and strong marriages and families as we know about how to do well in our companies or positions. We don’t have MBAs for parenting. Our goals are more specific in our careers and finances than they are in our families and marriages.

The first step to rectifying the situation is to recognize it. Make a conscious commitment to prioritizing relationships and family. Remind yourself that career supports family and not the other way around. Set simple goals each week for your most important relationships. Find blocks of time when you shut off not only the phone and computer but the whole achievement part of your brain so you can focus on the people you love.

The second step is to improve your relationship and life-balancing skills. Make it the most important part of your personal growth and development. Seek out relationship training. You can prioritize people over things without jeopardizing success in your career.

When you do this, you will be on your way to achieving three-dimensional success—the only true success.

This article was published in August 2009 and has been updated. Photo by

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Richard Eyre is a New York Times No. 1 best-selling author, former director of the White House Conference on Children and Parents, former candidate for governor, founder of three companies, a frequent guest on shows like Oprah, Today and The Early Show, and a ranked senior tennis player… all of which mean nothing, he says, when compared to his relationships with his wife, Linda, and their nine children.

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