“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

I first heard this phrase over thirty years ago in connection with changing addictive habits. I was shocked a few years after that when a dear and wise (and very direct friend) said the same words after I complained about yet another failed relationship.

“The face and body may be different,” she said, “but the habits, patterns, and confusion are exactly the same.” It wasn’t some paranormal déjà vu. I was trying to create an intimate relationship out of a physical attraction based on the same old patterns that would work for about eight months, then deteriorate into arguing, jealousy, and unhappiness.

Look around. Do you know people into their second, third, or fourth marriage or live-in who have partners that not only look the same as the previous one, but you can also predict how many months it will last. Parents in your neighborhood who wonder why the boss in their house is a person only three feet tall. Whether it’s a ‘new’ relationship, a repeated argument, or a chronic illness— the next time it starts, do just one thing differently.

The same can also be true of positive moments in relationships. If you come home from a vacation, kiss your child goodnight, or leave a party with a sense of well-being, go back mentally and see what made it feel right. Remember to repeat that. It works.

Stories like “A New Romance at Forty,” “Be Prepared,” and “Leave-Taking” in my new book Seedlings, each contain a seed for that aha moment when a character chooses to do one thing differently in a situation, with positive and different results.