Why Healthy Relationships Are So Important
Published July 2021
As humans, the relationships we form with other people are vital to our mental and emotional well-being and even our survival.
Humans have an inherent desire to be close to other people — to connect and build relationships. While a man talking to a volleyball while stranded on an island (Remember the movie?) isn't necessarily "healthy," his compulsion for company is. That's because healthy relationships, whether romantic, friendships or familial, can help make life healthier.
"Social support is a very important part of being a human, and therefore when social relationships break down or are damaged, it can have a big impact on our mental health and well-being," says Northwestern Medicine Psychologist Sheehan D. Fisher, PhD, who is a relationship expert.
And it shouldn't come down to just one relationship.
"It's important to not focus on trying to get everything you need from one relationship," says Dr. Fisher. "Instead, focus on having a network of social support with a variety of different types of relationships — from romantic, to friendship to associate — to hold up your well-being and quality of life."
A positive relationship can be shared between any two people who support, encourage and help each other practically as well as emotionally. According to Dr. Fisher, the most important part of a healthy relationship is healthy communication.
Here are Dr. Fisher's tips for healthy communication in a relationship:
- Remember that you're not speaking to yourself. Try to understand where the other person is coming from and how they understand the world when communicating with them.
- Be willing to hear something that doesn't fall within what you've predetermined to be true.
- Listen without preparing your rebuttal or response.
In no particular order, people in healthy relationships tend to:
- Listen to each other and communicate without judgement. This includes communicating effectively about sex and intimacy for people in romantic relationships, to ensure that both parties are satisfied within their sexuality.
- Trust and respect each other.
- Consistently make time for each other.
- Remember details about each other's lives.
- Engage in healthy activities together.
- Work collaboratively as a team rather than as two self-serving individuals.
- Be disciplined. It's easy to let your hair down and show your worst side around people you are close with, which is why the phrase "You always hurt the ones you love" rings true to many. People in healthy relationships have the discipline to not treat their counterpart poorly just because they are close.
- Be healthy and whole on their own instead of searching for their identity or healing in another person.
- Avoid focusing on what they want to get from the other person but instead focus on how the relationship can be mutually beneficial.
And while you don't have to be romantically involved to enjoy the benefits of a healthy relationship, there is research on the positive effects a healthy romantic relationship can have on your health. Here are five benefits of healthy relationships. Some are specific to romantic relationships, while others aren't.
1. Less stress
Being in a committed relationship is linked to less production of cortisol, a stress hormone. This suggests that paired people are less responsive to psychological stress, and that the social and emotional support that comes with having a partner can be a great buffer against stress. There's even evidence to suggest that couples who cohabitate are happier than those that don't.
"Knowing someone loves and supports you when you're going throughout your day, even if the person is not physically present, is a mental health booster," says Dr. Fisher.
2. Better healing
Whether it's having someone there to remind you to take your medicine or having a partner to help take your mind off the pain, research suggests long-term partners who have undergone heart surgery are three times more likely to survive the first three months after surgery than single patients. Long-term partners also reported feeling more confident about their ability to handle post-surgery pain and were less worried about the surgery in general. A little emotional support can go a long way toward helping a person recover from a procedure or illness.
3. Healthier behaviors
Healthy relationships set the perfect tone for an overall healthy lifestyle. If your spouse, friends or other loved ones encourage eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, etc., you're likely to follow in their footsteps. It's a lot easier to take on healthy behaviors when you surround yourself with people who are doing the same.
4. Greater sense of purpose
Many people strive to feel like they're doing something good for someone else and improving the world in some way. Being in a loving relationship, no matter what kind, can give a person a sense of well-being and purpose. In fact, it's possible that having a sense of purpose can actually add years to your life.
5. Longer life
Speaking of adding years to your life, research suggests that having social ties can increase longevity.
Everyone is unique and has their own needs and desires when it comes to relationships, handling stress and living a meaningful life. If you're the type of person who enjoys being alone, that's okay too, but attempting to form a few close relationships could contribute noticeable benefits to your mental and physical health.
Sometimes having at least one good friend (or trusted co-worker, therapist or counselor) to help walk you through issues like social anxiety or depression can end up being more than worthwhile. It might be difficult, but it also might be exactly what you need. Even just having one or two strong, healthy relationships in your life can have a positive effect on health.