Transforming Destructive Relationships – As Easy As Improv

There’s one view, which says: "People Don’t Change."

and there’s another view, which says: "Anyone Can Change, At Any Time."

So… how do we sort out these conflicting views?

The answer is more interesting than most people think… and it starts with changing yourself.

Changing With Others, Not Against Them

The way it works is that you change yourself – whenever you’re ready – and then all the people swirling around you have an opportunity to roll with your change, or hate on it. It’s kind of like improv.

It’s something like: "I used to put up with X, but now I only hang around Y. I have changed." and by making that change, others are then faced with a new reality, allow and respect your change, or resist it.

In improv, the story is constantly changing, and the the rule of rolling with change is:

"yes-and" (not… "no-but"),

Basically, you agree and add to whatever the other person is offering. So if we take two people building an improv-sketch about meeting at a bus stop, it might look something like this:


John: "I’m a famous rockstar."
Sue: "Yes and your fans are mainly angry white videogamers!"
John: "Yes and thats why my new single is called 0wned Ragequit n00b."
Sue: "Yes and it is big in Japan as well."

This is how you "roll with" somebody. This is how you have a good time. This is how you grow together.

You do that, and the story progresses well and everyone feels awesome and validated with each contribution they make to the relationship.

If it was not using "yes-and" it’d be more like this:

John: "I’m a famous rockstar."

Sue: "No you’re not!"
John: …Um…

See? One person is playing the roll well, saying yes, and building on things.

The other one is pure hater, and the story’s awkward and halting,

This way, actor John does not feel very good about contributing much further, it’s just gonna be greeted with a ‘NO’.

Relationships Are Improv

Building relationships is the same thing as improv. One person declares what’s important to them, and their partner or friends or family can embrace it and encourage it with a "yes-and" attitude, or they can sulk, pout, drift, and resist it.

Personally, I’ve made "yes-and" a habit in every inch of my conversation.

I believe in people.

I love seeing deep value in anything that anyone’s offering.

I’ve been with ‘assholes’, ‘leeches’, ‘theives’, and more, and I’ve been able to encourage them all with not a hint of judgment.

(I’m not special or anything, when I was young I was a cynical judge-er of everyone. I’m not proud of it, but it taught me a lot about both sides of things.)

Transforming relationships isn’t for pussies.

It’s not for the faint-of-heart.

It takes balls, from everyone involved.

As we saw above, if either John or Sue starts saying "no-but" instead of "yes-and" the whole thing crashes, and person A will go find something (or someone) else to do 😉

Want Some Examples?

Check out these situations, you’ve probably experienced something like them.

SCENE: Italian Restuarant
John: "I now only hang-around confident decision-makers and people who feel success-focused who match me in value and pace."
Sue: "Nope, you’re with me, and I`m not much of a decision-maker, and my success-focus is not-even-close-to-your-scale, neither is my pace."
John: "Uh… I guess, so…so, uh yes and I believe you can change right now, in this moment, join me."
Sue: "No way, nuh-uh."
John: "… uh… k…."

Here’s on more:

SCENE: House Party
John: "Alright, it’s time for me to focus on X, and I can only be around people who HELP with X."
Sue: "Doubtful. I know you, you stick around for anything."
John: "Yes I used to, and now I’m leaving. It’s just for a short time, until you can truly help with what I’m doing, or until I’m done X."
Sue: "No, I don’t like this."
John: "Uh, well… yes, and I can see you don’t like it and I want to help."
Sue: "Hmph. Well? Then? So? Help!"
John: "Uh…yes, and… uh…."

In our examples we can see that Sue is basically un-co-operative, and not using "yes-and" in the face of John’s growth.

No matter how generous and "yes-and" focused John is, it’s not enough to carry the relationship.

It Takes Two, Baby

So there you have it…

Relationships are improv, and now you know it.

Suck at improv? Get better. You’ll need it.

If you’re involved with someone who just doesn’t get it, it’s time for you to go, or you’ll stick around in a very awkward, very horrible, relationship, hoping they’ll change.

Express what’s important to you, and then the ball’s in the other person’s court.

They have a chance to show off their co-operation and share some love, or they have a chance to close up, yell-out a "no-but" and show you where they’re at.

Don’t waste time, don’t be scared of the answer, just say your piece, and see how the improv unfolds.

Do everyone a favour, if they can’t improv with you, move on very, very quickly. You can explain why, or you can not, but don’t be dragged through some awkward, halting relationship.

Yes, I know, you want everyone to ryze up with you

I’ve been there.

You’re a star, and you’re blasting off, and you want people in your life to come with you.


That’s their call to make.

"The real is on the rise,
F-ck them other guys,
I even gave ’em a chance to decide —
Now it’s something they know
They know, they know, they know" – Drake

Note: This was part of a 6-part series called "Rocketships Or Cars: The Art Of Friends"

Now… how about you? Ever been in any situations where you keep getting "no’s" (even subtle ones)?


  1. Once again you have articulated something I have not ever put a finger on, the ‘yes and’. Not sure what is going to come out yet on this topic, as I could go on and on.

    I like how you put this, as it’s so simple, and in the direction I need to keep heading. Those halting ‘no’ responses have often thrown me off. I would spend time pushing the person with ‘yes, ands’, hoping they would snap out of it.

    I allow myself to be deflated quickly when I share some of my blasting off, and don’t receive a ‘yes and’. Of course we are responsible for how we feel at all times, but when it’s with a somewhat intimate relationship, with family, lover or a long term friend, I know I can set myself up. I am sensing the need to categorize the people I share what with.

    It makes me think of 50 Cent, saying, ‘you’ll get as far as the m***********s that you talk to for no reason, you’ll be as successful as the m***********s you talk to for no reason’.

    I know I need to think about that with more scrutiny.

    I had a bit of a revelation today. One of those close to me sort of called me out when I announced something they had set up, and didn’t embellish in the fact that it was them who set it up. It rubbed me funny and I wasn’t able to put my finger on it. Whenever I am interacting people they may be able to benefit from, I always mention them and am always trying to ‘hook them up’ with people they could benefit from, nearly like a habit. I also continually offer helpful suggestions about lots of things. (I am already seeing the out of balance component here as I type)

    It suddenly hit me how, from what I observe, that isn’t reciprocated at all, and that is what hit me. Being a long time relationship, I decided against any sort of confrontation, as we have our fragilities, and I sensed it wasn’t the best move for me.

    The funny thing, is some of what I have been up to lately is pretty spectacular, and almost worthy of someone bragging about it. Another revelation came out of this as well. Jason, you know some about some people I have been working with, and the levels of success. I realized, for most of the people I surrounded myself with, that stuff is borderline fantasy, and I realized it when I would mention it, they would ignore me, or basically start picking at what’s wrong with me for having such a sudden drive for success.

    Why not just a ‘yes and’ ? Hahaha.

    So, then with family, I’ve almost been blacklisted for some of my own choices that I chose, and with things like Facebook, I will see them actively interacting, and really never replying to anything of mine that I share. I am at present pondering how I should approach the relationships, as these things have become so clear, and the only time I ever want to look into resistant topics is to get clarity, and leave them behind.

    The whole concept of how ‘massive success is like a fantasy’ to so many people became apparent as well, and I am, as I sometimes mention, realizing that my tolerance for interactions with those types is not good for me, and sometimes it temporarily brings me there, which from the stand point I find myself in now, is similar to an alternate reality.

    Anyways, I was struck with these insights, and felt compelled to head on over to probably the only place I know of to talk about this stuff at this level. (I don’t want to know of any others, I’m perfectly happy here)

    • Wow — amazing comment / insight, Martin. Lemme share back 😀

      Lol, “putting a finger on things” is kinda my speciality 😉 (ladies, take note :P)

      I’ve been there man.

      I’ve had more than one partner I invested SO much time in, always believing it ‘could be a yes’, but they only ever responded half-heartedly – at the time, I didn’t realize half-hearted meant ‘no’, ‘I’m scared’ and ‘fuck you, J (at least for now)’.

      I love how you take full responsibility for the situations, this let’s you boldly take steps to change things.

      The 50 line is EPIC, and came from his grandfather. I’ll give you another:
      “To party is obligated / by suckers that wanna be you
      And never live in the matrix / and never ever related
      to struggle and dedication.” – Kendrick Lamar

      Your friend wants you to applaud, but they never talk you up, eh? Been there.

      Whether you come out and call them on it or not, if that’s the situation, for me, I’d create distance, subtly or obviously, but that is not something to hang around.

      Yeah dude, you are epic. You are truly epic, and I’m thrilled to know you.

      I’ve felt huge distance between me and family, but I know it’s an illusion, they’ll be back one day, and I’ve got nothin’ but love for ‘em. They may have trouble saying or expressing it back, but that’s cool :)

      One question:
      Does it suit you more to ‘talk about’ how you don’t enjoy hanging around these people, or to just hang around them so little … that there’s nothing to talk about?

  2. I love the way you put this stuff, and the passion that emanates through your every letter, every centimeter on this page even.

    Nice quote as well!

    As far as your question, we don’t hang, and there is definitely some space already.

    So that just gave me an insight, which is what I wanted.

    Thinking about this stuff is the only problem that it brings, so, the solution just presented itself. (read the previous sentence if you just read this and wasn’t sure what I meant by the solution – not you Jason, I know you saw that, probably before I did)

    There I was trying to get stuff out there to change for me to feel better. So simple, yet it has a way of ‘sneaking up’.

    As the clarity continues, I know I need my focus to remain here, in this type of vibration, and I need to nearly obsessively send my focus here. That’s just for me, knowing what works best for me.

    I do need some level of human connection to a point, and I get most of that through videos, biographical films etc.

    I suppose my ‘problem’, or resistance starts when I go out and want to blindly share my discoveries.

    This is really gelling, as something I just heard from Abraham crossed my mind, from the video titled Kinesiology.

    ‘All along you’ve got guidance within you saying ‘this is the best way for you right now, this isn’t the best way for you forever more, it’s not the best way for everybody on the planet, this is the best way for you right here right now’, is what you’re guidance is saying. So when you get in sync with your guidance, there’s this tendency to think, oh this works so well for me, I need to tell the world. We say, or not, let their guidance tell them, let their guidance guide them’

    A smidgeon of some ‘hit the nail on the head’ action goin on up in heya :)

    • “As the clarity continues, I know I need my focus to remain here,”

      So you know it’s important to focus on people who ‘get you’.

      “resistance starts when I go out and want to blindly share my discoveries.”

      Does going out and wanting to blindly share your discoveries sound like focus? :)

      Anyway, I can tell you’re getting this stuff :) Awesome, Martin, keep it up :)

  3. Love the improv metaphor. Relationships really are creations. You can’t suddenly stop giving into the relationship and expect things to stay the same.

    I like this especially – ‘do not get dragged through some awkward, halting relationship’ – yup, been there… I’ve soooo been there.

    • “Relationships are creations.” amen to that. And even “relationships are ongoing creations.” :)

      Ooh, I should’ve added a tweet for that eh? :)

  4. Great article! Reminded me of the Improv class I took in college :) I really liked being able to build on what someone else had done and them reciprocating. You’re right, it does make for a positive give-and-take relationship.
    Unfortunately, my two biggest “No-but”ers are my parents – and though I don’t live with them and am a 40-something, they call me up with the “No-but”s.
    So I just hold the phone away from me until it stops making noise, then I quickly say “Uh huh” or “Mmm” and move it away again.
    I’d like to give them the ultimatum of ‘evolve with me or I can’t hang with you anymore’, but that would unleash the equivalent of global-thermonuclear war.
    So I keep on with the phone avoidance and going to my ‘happy place’ – a tumblr blog that only two people in the universe know is mine – and they are “yes-and”ers.

    • Thanks so much, Lara! And that makes sense :)

      And any strategy that works for you, is what I encourage. I will say that in my own life, things didn’t really progress in any satistfying ways until I was able to take a stand and say my piece, and let the chips fall.

      Most success stories have something like this, where they stand up to family or friends or something, and they’re pissed for a year or two, and then they re-unite. :)

  5. Hi Jason,

    I loved this post and how well you connected improv to relationships. This is one of the most powerful things I’m experiencing as I practice improv more. It just makes it so much more clearer why we have great rapport with some people and with others, it all just falls to bits.

    Having some of the conversation skills that improv teaches, really is great to have in one’s communication toolbox.

    Great stuff, my friend. As usual! :-)

    • Yeeeeah! Thanks so much, Hiten! I’m reallly glad you contributed here, because you understand the depth of improv.

      Love what you say about improv clarifying why relationships succeed + fail. It does!

      P.S. I didn’t cover the same ground you did, and I’m surprised you didn’t share your awesome improv article here in the comments. Let me do it for you — if people enjoyed this post on improv-rocking-relationships, you’ll love Hiten’s piece here:

      • Hi Jason,

        You’re most welcome. It is a great post and I love the way you write.

        Thanks also for sharing the link to my post, in your comment! :-)

  6. Jason,

    First of all, I want to thank you for posting this. I have to admit that I was not improving my life. I think everything has a reason and mine started out with my exboyfriend, we had an awkward relationship. He was really insecure and he never trusted me. He didn’t want me to go out with my friends and If I accepted his conditions, it was because I didnt want to be fighting. However, I couldnt hold that situation anymore and I broke up with him.

    After a month, I met a cool guy and our relationship was going through, until I started being jealous of he going out with his friends. I broke up with him and then I asked him for another chance, but he was acting weird and he told me he couldn’t be with me anymore because I was making him unhappy.

    Then, I realized I was acting just like my ex-boyfriend and I decided to change and be happy, not for him, for me. And n that moment, my granny’s words came to my mind “A relationship is like a chess game”. So I decided to play and enjoy what I had and try to put myself in his shoes. In other words, I see life like a coin, sometimes you are the front and sometimes you are the back. It helped me to sort out that I already lived that situation, and I know how it feels when someone that you love doesn’t trust you. So, I followed the “Golden Rule” Do for others what you want for yourself. This positive change has brought me nothing but happiness.

    In conclusion, I totally agree with your post. You have the tool to make up your life being happy and becoming a better person (improv). not just in relationships, in everything you are involved with.

    • Wow, Yvet! Thank you so much for sharing! What a beautiful story, and I know it’ll help everyone here.

      Plus I love it :)

      What’s really cool about this is your self-awareness and ability to see patterns and make adjustments.

      It sounds like it’s carried you far and brought you to a really happy place.

      Congrats, Yvet!

      Welcome aboard, great to have you here, and I hope you find a lot more value by sticking around and getting involved, but wherever you end up – I wish you all kinds of success!

      Improv FTW!

      • I really appreciate your words. Thank you again!


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