Relationship Brain Surgery

Want better relationships? Try relationship brain surgery.

Hey friend. I’m glad you’re here.

We just returned from San Antonio, where last week we had my mother-in-law’s funeral. Patty McDonald was an amazing lady, and she was my friend before I even knew I was going to fall in love with her daughter. Patty, I know you’re in heaven and you’ve got much better things to do than listen to my podcast. But if you’re listening, please know how much I love you and how much better you made my life. I love you mom.

Listen, when you lose someone, you naturally spend some time thinking of their life and the history of your relationship. Since we lost Patty last week, I’ve been remembering all the time we spent together and all the things I loved about her. But I’ve also had some regrets. Opportunities I missed, moments I could have made her smile or helped her more. Things I left on the field.

Our relationships have arguably the biggest impact on the quality and course of our lives compared to any other aspect. Think about it: we choose a lot about where we live, what we do, how we spend our time, how we earn our living, how we dress, how we worship, pretty much everything based on the relationships we’re in.

And since our relationships are so important in us being able to have a happy, healthy, productive, and successful life, it’s crucial that we learn to have the best relationships we can have, right?

Look, nothing important in life is always easy. And one of the things I get the most email about goes something like, “Please pray for my marriage.” Relationships that are worthwhile take some work. They take time. They take energy.

But most of all, nearly everything our instincts and gut and the culture we live in tell us to strive for in relationships is based on what we think will make US happy. And I’m here to tell you that the secret to successful relationships is something entirely different.

And that’s what we’re after today.

Hey, you can’t change your life until you change your mind. And sometimes changing how we think about things is hard. But you can do it; it’s not brain surgery (except that it sort of is).

You can have happy, thriving, meaningful relationships in every aspect of your life. Relationship brain surgery can turn struggles into successes and improve every relationship in your life.

Are you ready to stop leaving big relationship wins on the field? To be able to look back when you lose someone and know that you made the most of your time with them?

Then it’s time to change your mind about relationships.

It’s time for some relationship brain surgery.

It’s time to start today.


Welcome to You Start Today, the Dr. Lee Warren weekly podcast to help you change your mind to accomplish real changes in your life. If you’re ready to become healthier, feel better, and be happier in your mind, body, spirit, work and relationships, keep coming back for my best prescriptions every week. And every day, start today.

I’m Dr. Lee Warren, a brain surgeon slash writer who knows that life is harder than brain surgery. I’ve been on the ropes, but I’ve learned the secrets of not just surviving the war of life, but how to thrive. You can too, but you have to start today. And I know you can do it: it’s not brain surgery (except that it sort of is).

This is Episode 068: Relationship Brain Surgery. You can get the show notes and more on my website at

Listen: you can’t change your life until you change your mind. Sometimes you need a brain surgeon to help you do that. Let’s go.

This should be a pretty short podcast, because there’s really only one point to be made if we’re talking about how to improve any relationship.

Like most things in life, I could talk for hours, you could see a therapist for months, we could go to support groups for years and ask the questions about how to improve our marriages, our friendships, our work relationships, our relationships with our kids, and we could spend countless dollars buying self-help books to try to figure this out.

And at the end of all of that, if we still approached the relationship issue with the mindset of, “How do I get what I want out of my relationships?”, we will never be happy.

That sounds pretty harsh, because you might say, “But Doc, aren’t we SUPPOSED to want to be happy? Aren’t you always saying you want us to become healthier, feel better, and be happier?”

And I would say, “Absolutely.”

Then what gives?

Here it is, and it’s so simple it seems cheesy. If you want better relationships, there’s only one thing you have to do:

Treat people like you would want them to treat you, and you’ll be happy.

“Wait,” you say, “That sounds familiar.”

You got me.

I didn’t come up with that; Jesus did two thousand years ago.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

That’s in Matthew 7:12. It’s such good advice that it’s famous as “The Golden Rule.”

Like I said, that’s all I’ve got. You want better relationships? Follow the Golden Rule. Start today. See you next week. START MUSIC. STOP MUSIC.

I’m just kidding. But really, if all of us did that at every turn in every relationship, can’t you see that it would be a lot better?

Would we have land wars or identity theft or infidelity or emotional abuse if everyone just followed the Golden Rule?


In a perfect world, we’d all just follow the Golden Rule and we’d have perfect relationships.

But we live in a fallen world. A diseased world. And like the diseases that affect our bodies, there’s one disease that destroys our relationships.

I call it relationship CANCER.

Relationship cancer comes in six main types:


Anger (Unforgiveness)



(Lack of) Empathy

(Being un)Reliable

In any relationship, COMPARISONs destroy closeness. They breed jealousy and envy, create strife. You can’t be close to someone if you’re always trying to compete with them, wishing you were promoted first, made more money, or self-conscious about your performance relative to theirs.

You need to change your mind about this aspect of relationship cancer, and apply some golden rule medicine to it, some brain surgery:

If you approach every relationship with the perspective of wishing the best for the other person, pulling for their success, doing what you can to help them, it will naturally lead to them doing the same for you. Of course, there will be people who will exploit this and take advantage of you. But I promise, if you avoid comparisons and genuinely do what you can to promote other people’s success, YOU’LL be happier, and your relationships will improve.

Anger and unforgiveness are malignant cancers that will infiltrate your heart and ruin your relationships. If you’re harboring something and holding on to it, it will fester like a boil, grow like a tumor, and ultimately kill the relationship or at least limit and hamper it from being what it could be. The question to ask yourself if you’re holding on to anger is this: if the other person was angry with you, would you want them to forgive you?

The brain surgery needed when there is unforgiveness is all about changing your mind to the other person’s point of view. We all make mistakes, we all screw up, we all offend each other. But it’s so easy to only look at relationships only from our perspective. Anger is a type of relationship cancer that’s so easy to cure, if you just change your mind.

Negativity is possibly the most deadly form of relationship cancer, because it actually hurts YOUR BRAIN. When you look at the other person in your relationship with a negative eye, it colors and clouds your thoughts and soon you can’t see anything good about them, even when they try to make it better.

Have you ever done this? You have some sort of conflict with the other person, and then you get in the car, and during the entire drive you rehearse all the things you want to say to them the next time you have a chance? “I’m gonna say, and tell her what I really think, and you’re not going to get another chance to treat me that way, no sir, I’m not going to take that any more from you, and boy you’re gonna regret ever overlooking me, and I’ll tell you what mister…” Honestly, have you?

When you do this, you’re creating a toxic stew of harfmul neurochemicals in your brain, and it literally makes you depressed and less likely to hear or see anything good in any part of your day. That’s truth, friend.

It’s a neuroscience fact that when you think negatively, your brain expects everything to be bad. Including your relationships. If you expect your husband to let you down, you anticipate your wife not thinking you’re attractive, then even when they’re trying to make it better you’ll miss their attempts and only see their shortcomings.

Here’s the brain surgery: change your viewpoint. Start talking to yourself more positively ABOUT the other person in the relationship you’re thinking about. Instead of using the drive time to plan all the snappy things you’ll say to them, maybe use it instead to pray for wisdom or think of one nice thing you could say to try to change the course of the way things have been going.

Maybe you could greet them with a smile and say, “Hey, things have been tense between us lately. I just want you to know that I’d like it to be better. And I hope you have a great day today.”

Would that shake things up? If it’s your spouse, what if you said, “Honey, things have felt hard lately. I’m sorry for my part of that and I value our relationship more than I value winning this argument. Can you forgive me?”

That, my friend, would re-orient your mindset in a critical way, in that it would make you realize that you have the POWER to change the relationship, but it HAS TO START WITH YOU.

Criticism is another symptom of relationship cancer, and it’s linked to negativity. If you’re constantly pointing out the faults, mistakes, and issues the other person has, then THEY don’t feel valued or loved, and they’ll almost certainly reciprocate by doing the same to you. This is a harmful and repetitive cycle that will kill intimacy and destroy your relationship over time.

No one likes to constantly be told they’re wrong, have all their mistakes rubbed in their face all the time, or be “teased” endlessly about their appearance, their behavior, or especially about things they can’t control.

DADS- listen carefully here, because a lot of men think they’re making their kids “tougher” by giving them a hard time all the time. But what you’re really doing is making your kid (or your wife) self-conscious. You’re hurting their self-esteem and their sense of value.

You want better relationships? Become a complimenter, a noticer of the good, a person who points out how special someone is. Use your humor to lift spirits, not to crush them.

You can’t change your life until you change your mind. And giving positive energy to your relationships not only helps the other person, but it fills your brain with helpful chemicals that make YOU feel better too. I promise.

Another thing that kills relationships is a lack of Empathy. Think about it: when you’re having a hard time with something, doesn’t it feel better when someone else comes along and seems to “get it?” To understand and try to see what’s hurting you from your point of view? Not to feel sorry for you, but to be in it with you.

That’s empathy. And in a relationship, trying to see the situation from the other person’s eyes is super important.

I have a hard time with this. Lisa has been so patient with me over the years, because I’m bent towards immediately trying to “FIX IT,” or dispense advice or to tell her, “Don’t feel that way,” because I want her to be happy. I don’t want her to hurt.

But usually, what she really needs is for me to say something to validate her feelings, to “get it,” to say, “Gosh honey, I’m so sorry. I understand why that hurts.”

But I’m usually too much of a moron to get that right. I stumble right into, “You shouldn’t let that hurt you,” or some other idiotic thing and before I know it I’ve missed a chance to show my wife empathy and instead I’ve hurt her more.

Because what smart people usually need is not someone telling them how to solve their problem.

They just need a friend to understand.

They need empathy. Not sympathy, not feeling sorry for them or fixing it for them.

Just empathy. A lack of it is cancerous in your relationships.

The last type of relationship cancer is being unreliable. If you can’t be counted on to show up, be kind, be loving, be helpful, just BE THERE at all, then how can you have a decent relationship at all? You can’t. Being reliable shows someone that they are a priority to you.

It shows that they’re valuable. That they can trust you.

If you want deep and meaningful relationships, then be a person who keeps your word. Who does what you say you’ll do. Be reliable.

I know that you want the other people in your world to be reliable to you, right?

Being unreliable destroys relationships. The brain surgery you need is to see it from the other point of view.

We have to remember that every relationship involves at least TWO people, us and them. And if we approached every problem with the notion that it MIGHT BE POSSIBLE that WE could be part of the issue, wouldn’t it be easier to sort out our troubles?

There’s a bible verse about the type of person who always thinks the other person is wrong: Proverbs 30:12 says, “There is a kind of man who is without fault in his own estimation, but has not been scrubbed clean of his own sordidness.”

This verse is one of the secrets to relationship success: remembering that it takes two to tango, that there are always at least two people in every relationship, and that BOTH parties always bring positives and negatives, both parties bring issues and points of views, and both parties are liable to struggle with imperfections. Yes, my friend, even you.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but there’s only one person you can really change, really control, really manage if you want to have better relationships: you.

Now that we’ve covered the types of CANCERs that can destroy relationships, let’s talk about the cures.

The cure to relationship cancer is LOVE.

Look out for the other person’s best interest.

Open up you mind to the possibility that you could be part of the problem, and that you ARE part of the solution.

Verbalize your feelings, but do it positively.

Expect the best from your partner, and give them your best Effort

Here’s a neuroscience secret that will supercharge your relationships: for every negative encounter or thought you have about another person or relationship, it takes about FIVE positive encounters or thoughts to overcome it.

Think about that. If you spend your drive to work telling yourself all the things you’re mad about or all the things you plan to blast someone with or that you don’t like about the other person, it will take you five times as much positive thinking to undo those harmful synapses.

And even though it’s taken us two thousand years to figure out this science, the Bible said it all along. You want to improve your relationship with God? Then use the 5:1 brain surgery shortcut, or what I call the Ascription prescription. The Bible says in two places that we should ASCRIBE to the Lord the good qualities He already has. That’s not to make them true. It’s to remind us of who he is. Listen:

Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name

Psalm 96:7 Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength

Well guess what? That works in any relationship. I spend a lot of time every day reminding myself who Lisa is, and what she means to me.

Here’s an example:

Lisa is beautiful. She’s kind. She’s smarter than other women and a lot smarter than I am. She’s graceful. She loves the Lord. She loves me. She’s resourceful and forgiving and wherever she is is where the grass is greener. When we have hard times, it’s still better to be with her than anywhere else or with anyone else in the world. When we suffer loss, there’s no one better that her to go through it with than her, and she has proven that over and over to me, even when we lost a child.

You get what I’m doing? I’m telling myself who she is. I’m ascribing to her the qualities that make me love her, make me grateful for her and to her.

I’m reminding myself how blessed I am.

I’m taking the ascription prescription.

It works, my friend.

You want better relationships?

Avoid the CANCERs we know destroy them (Comparision, Anger/Unforgivenenss, Negativity, Criticism, lack of Empathy, and being unreliable).

Follow the Golden Rule

And use the Ascription prescription

You can have meaningful, powerful relationships in all areas of your life, but it takes some work. It takes you changing your mind.

I takes some brain surgery.

And you have to start today.

If you have a question or a comment, email me via

Remember: Life isn’t brain surgery; it’s harder. It’s a war. But even though life is hard, God is faithful. You can have the life you were created to have, but you have to start today.

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I’m Dr. Lee Warren and you’ve been listening to YST. Be sure to subscribe via iTunes so you automatically get new episodes. I’m trying to get to 30,000 downloads a month, so you subscribing and sharing the show with your friends will really help. Thanks!

You can get the show notes to this episode and links to the books and other resources I mentioned at

I can’t wait to talk to you next week, but you start today.

We’re gonna roll out with our theme music, Podington Bear’s Blue Highway, which you can download for free at

Have a great week my friend, and don’t forget to start today!

Theme Music is Blue Highway by Podington Bear, license courtesy of Creative Commons.


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