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Ann Weber, Ph.D.

Sitting at her computer in the evening, Susan checks her e-mail, answers some questions from a colleague and finds an unfamiliar name in the inbox. A stranger writes, "I read your comment in the collectors' group message board and wanted to make contact. We seem to share a lot of the same interests and I could use your advice about something." Flattered to be sought out, Susan writes a helpful response--which leads to a steady, personal correspondence.
They have never met in person: is this a "real" friendship?


Marc's mother calls to remind him of the family get-together planned for the end of the month. "I don't think I can make it after all," Marc warns her, feeling guiltier with each word. "I have a lot of work to do and can't afford to travel just now." In reality, Marc wants to avoid seeing his younger brother. They have not spoken since their stupid argument over the holidays -- and Marc doesn't want to be the first to break the ice.
Should he hold his ground -- or give in to feel better and to restore family harmony?


Anya confides to her girlfriends that she's been thinking about getting back with an old flame who moved back to town. He was not very good to her in the past, but he swears he has changed. "Plus," she adds hopefully, "the chemistry's still there."
Should Anya give him a second chance?


These three vignettes about very different kinds of relationships reveal a shared truth: Relationships are important to us, they matter. Whether it's a new friendship or an old dispute, dealing with those close to us requires energy and resources. Casual exchanges about common interests can develop and blossom into deep and lasting friendships. Bonds and breaks between family members create strong feelings and shape our lives. Romantic fantasies can give us hope and endurance, but may become part of a pattern of bad choices.

Socially and personally, we care about others and what they think of us. We make investments and sacrifices to win love. We want to be well understood and held dear by significant others in our lives. Our social successes and failures have a major impact on how we see ourselves and how we feel. For good or ill, our interactions with others shape and make up our very lives.

For decades, the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research has published annual surveys of Americans' quality of life. What makes us happy? For a long time, the consistent response to this question on the survey reflected concerns over material well-being: wealth, income and social status determined respondents' contentment. But starting in the early 1980s, a different pattern emerged. Quality of life is now primarily viewed as a product of the quality of one's relationships: marital status, family stability and closeness to others.

Relationship Skills Don't Come Naturally...But They Can Be Learned

"People who need people are the luckiest people in the world," or so the song goes.

Lucky or not, recognizing the need for people -- or a particular person -- in your life is certainly the first step to having that need fulfilled -- but it is only a first step. What exactly do you do to satisfy that need? Luck might help -- but skills are a better bet. To rephrase the proverb, sometimes opportunity knocks, but other times, you have to go out and drag it in off the street! Don't wait to get "lucky" -- instead, use your skills at forming closeness with others.

Unfortunately, relationship skills don't come naturally. As much as we need relationships in our lives, we are not automatically good at initiating or keeping relationships with others. For some of us, our first instinct may be to push those we most want to be close to away. Others may press for closeness too early or so much that their possessive or suffocating desire drives their loved one away.

Our first close relationships aren't even a matter of choice: born into a family, you must learn to adapt to those individuals and they to you. You can pick your friends, goes the saying, but you can't pick your family. This is actually a relief: family members may not choose each other, but they don't (usually) reject each other, either. Relationships of choice, such as friendship and marriage, require that we make our needs known, apply our skills and take some risks.

How good are you at relating? Intellectual ability is assessed with an I.Q. (intelligence quotient) test. Social skills matter as much as intelligence in our lives, perhaps more. And like any set of skills, relationship skills can be learned and sharpened. This course is designed to help that.

If we could measure your Relating Quotient, what would it reveal? Consider just a few social skills as a start: rate your ability to undertake each of the following on a five-point scale from "very difficult for me" (1) to "very easy for me" (5):

1. making conversation with strangers in a social situation like a party

  1     2    3    4    5

2. expressing my interest in someone I find attractive

  1     2    3    4    5

3. kindly but honestly turning down someone I do not find attractive.

  1     2    3    4    5

4. revealing personal information about myself to someone when appropriate.

  1     2    3    4    5

5. listening attentively to someone talking about himself or herself

  1     2    3    4    5

(hitting submit will calculate your score, and take you to the next page... and your results!)

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