Humans are naturally social creatures, as such we inherently crave being close to other people. We thrive when we are in a community with validating, healthy relationships where we can connect with others on a deeper level. These relationships are vital to our mental and emotional health and can take many different forms. There are familial relationships, romantic relationships and relationships with colleagues and friends, to name some. No matter the type of relationship, as long as it is a healthy relationship, it will help to meet our basic human needs.
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust
HEALTHY relationship vs UNHEALTHY relationship?
A healthy relationship is a positive connection shared by two people (either romantically or non-romantically) who support, love, encourage and help each other. It is a mutual give and take with no score keeping.
An unhealthy relationship is one where one partner may dominate, manipulate or control the other, sometimes in very subtle ways, other times with violence. In these scenarios one party benefits more from the relationship than the other. An unhealthy relationship is likely to cause stress and unhappiness rather than alleviate it, isolating and breaking down the individual rather than building them up.
When in a healthy relationship people are likely to:
Communicate openly reserving judgment
Respect and trust one another
Listen to each other
Find time for each other
Learn details about the other person’s life
Take part in appropriate activities together while maintaining separate identities
Be honest with one another
Support each other
Have a sense of fairness and equality between them
Enjoy a sense of playfulness and fondness for one another.
The benefits of healthy relationships:
Improved Recovery and Healing – Research has shown that people in close relationships are less likely to develop dementia and are not only less worried about surgeries before hand, but recover faster and have improved chance of survival post surgery when compared to their single counterparts. People who are lonely and do not have strong healthy relationships on the other hand are more likely to have poor health, and are more susceptible to catching common ailments like a cold.
It’s Easier to Adopt Healthy Behaviours – When you have someone around you that eats healthy and exercises regularly, it is far easier to take on the challenge as you have someone to support and encourage you.
Reduced Stress – being in a committed relationship is linked to a lower production of a stress hormone called cortisol, suggesting that people in healthy relationships are less responsive to stress. The emotional and social support is a great buffer against stress and being able to talk about your problems enables you to cope better with them. One study showed that focusing on someone that you are in a healthy relationship with improves recovery after a stressful event, while thinking of someone you have an unhealthy relationship with further increases your stress levels.
You Have a Greater Sense of Purpose – Finding someone who you can be in a loving relationship with can give you a sense of well-being and purpose. Some of the deeper relationships you have (like with your life-partner or child) may feel like they complete different parts of you and can give you the drive to get on with your everyday life. Forming a sense of belonging with other people around a shared mission or identity is a major contributor to our sense of personal meaning and sense of purpose in life.
Improved Life Expectancy – research suggests that having healthy relationships can improve life expectancy. You are less likely to have an early death if you are connected to others – you have a reason to get up everyday and carry on. Studies have shown that a lack of healthy relationships is the equivalent to having high blood pressure, being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
Now I know that not everyone is a social butterfly, in fact you may find it stressful to even think about talking to someone, nevermind opening up to someone to develop a relationship. You may prefer to be alone, enjoying your peace and quiet, which I can respect (and often crave) but I’m not saying that you need to go out and find a hundred friends, a life-partner and have children… What you do need is a healthy relationship with someone who you can connect with and share with. Whether romantic or not, the idea is that you have someone around, who you care about and who cares about you… as Thomas Merton said “No man is an island”.