Have you ever met an unhappy person that had wonderful relationships? I see a direct correlation between happiness and relationship health. Confirm this with your own experience. Think of the times you have been most miserable. What was going on in your key relationships?

On a micro level, if a conversation with my wife ends with a conflict that is unresolved, no matter how much I try to distract myself or convince myself I’m right and she’s wrong, my day is off until we resolve the issue.

On a macro level, if I am alone for extended periods or spending a lot of time with people with whom I have difficulty connecting, my energy drops and I feel isolated and unmotivated.

The Core Need That Drives Us

Humans share a core need for connection. We are happy when that need is met and grumpy, flat or sad when it’s not. Most of what we do everyday is motivated by our need to connect with (and avoid being rejected by) others. It’s no wonder we feel more satisfied when we have meaningful relationships in our lives.

Meeting our need for connection is not a numbers game. Spending a lot of time with someone and having many friends are not indicators of happiness. Quality connection (where there is trust, emotional safety and mutual vulnerability) makes for relationships that yield happiness.

You know that maintaining a meaningful relationship is not always easy. A trusting, vulnerable and intimate relationship means there may be conflict when you express your truth, feelings and wants. Meaningful and fulfilling relationships are able to withstand conflict and, in fact, thrive on it because of a mutual commitment to creating and restoring a heart-level connection.

Your Three Most Important Relationships

If you want to know how happy you are, look to your core relationships as a barometer. Below are your three most vulnerable relationships as well as three questions that will help you assess the health of those relationships.

Life partner/spouse/significant other/main squeeze What’s missing in this relationship? What are you tolerating or rationalizing about your relationship? What conflict remains below the surface or unresolved?

Parents/surrogate parents — Of particular importance is the dominant parent relationship (i.e., the one where there is the most emotional juice, positive or negative). Are there secrets, truths or other “withholds” that need to be spoken? What judgments, blame or resentment are you holding onto that prevents you from taking responsibility for your life and having more joyful relationships with your parents (and your children and others)? If your parents are alive, what will you regret not knowing or expressing after they are gone?

Friends — These are your relationships with people outside work and family that you can confide in; they can be individuals or couples. What’s more important: harmony and socializing, or a heart-level connection? Are you willing to risk being vulnerable? Is it time to end an unsatisfying relationship to make room for a new one?

Three Steps to Happiness

If you want to be happier and more fulfilled, take a fearless look at your barometric pressure reading and take these three steps.

Step One: Pick the weakest of the three relationship categories.

Step Two: Create a vision or intention for what you want that relationship to be. Perhaps you want more passion or intimacy in your marriage or you want more compassion in your relationship with one of your parents or more truth in your relationship with friends.

Step Three: Commit to taking the risk of expressing to another one vulnerable truth or unmet need you have in this relationship. Maybe the need is for connection, trust, respect, affirmation, or being heard. One request to meet a core need that is missing in an important relationship can change everything. Of course, this is risky. Everything worth having involves risk and you will always pay a price for avoiding risk. Note: You can do this metaphorically in cases where people are not living or are unavailable to speak to.

What risk are you avoiding by not expressing your truth to another? For most, it’s rejection or disconnection. Yet by avoiding vulnerability, you remain disconnected. The risk you are avoiding is happening anyway so why not take it? You just may realize your vision. If you do, enjoy watching your barometric pressure and your happiness rise.

I’d love to hear some of your stories and what you have discovered to be the keys to creating and maintaining meaningful relationships in your lives.