We are all aware that having positive relationships help us feel more alive and more emotionally satisfied with life in general. Our energy level is higher, our outlook on life is better, and we laugh more because we tend to see the positive side of things. But what happens when our relationships are a struggle; when they appear to be more work than fun, or maybe even something we view with trepidation? It is easy to connect that the stress we feel from our relationships will affect our mood and our overall outlook on life, but what we often don’t realize is that the struggles we have in our relationships will also affect our physical health.
When one or more of our relationships is a struggle we typically feel many different emotions. We can feel stressed, sad, depressed, hopeless, angry, as well as many other feelings. Often we don’t feel just one of these emotions, but several at the same time. The tendency is to dismiss these feelings and say to oneself, Get over it. He or she will never change. I just need to accept that and move on. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can do just that—get over it and move on. But do we really?
We say we do, but in reality we frequently allow unhealthy relationships to remain unhealthy, and instead, choose to not make the necessary changes so it can be better for both parties. And thus, our emotions get stored in our body, and we carry them with us day after day. Our body works hard to create equilibrium, to find an outlet or way to dispel those feelings we’ve now internalized. However, this takes a toll on our physical body, and our body begins to react. We start to experience aches and pains, headaches, sleeplessness, weight gain or loss, lethargy, depression, difficulty concentrating, and the list goes on. When we allow this to happen we not only create psychological difficulties, but we also create physiological problems.
Whether your relationships include a partner or spouse, family members (including in-laws), or friends, taking the time to invest in them can change not only how you emotionally feel, but also how you physically feel. These suggestions or “food for thought” concepts about relationships can help you rethink how to create that healthy relationship:
- Relationships take work – Relationships do not happen automatically. Every one of them takes time to grow, develop and strengthen. Although this is true for all of your relationships, different relationships require different kinds and different amounts of work. The closer and more personal the relationship the more work it requires because the stakes are higher as is the reward.
- Allow people the space to be different and to make mistakes – Even though it is helpful to have some common ground in a relationship, it is just as important to understand that everyone does not have to think or behave the same. When someone does something that is different from you or they make a mistake try not to judge him or her for it. We all do things that others may find odd, strange, or even ridiculous. We all make mistakes. You can disagree with or dislike a behavior without passing judgment on the person.
- Communication is critical – A willingness to talk to the people you are in relationship with is necessary for a healthy relationship. It is easy to talk with them when things are going well, but it is more important to do so when things are not. No one likes to confront another person. And talking with a loved one about a problem or issue you are having with them is not about confronting; it is about learning and understanding the whys of someone’s behavior. It is about gaining clarity concerning another person’s action by looking at it from their perspective.
- Be generous – Relationships are about give and take. Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and this was never truer than in the case of relationships. No one gains if one or the other person in the relationship upsets the give and take symmetry. However, when each person is willing to give more than they take it creates an embodiment of balance and harmony. This then, creates an environment of mutual respect, love, and support.
Relationships are not only about a social network or even a support system.
Relationships, in particular healthy relationships, provide us with an element of overall health—both emotional and physical. So take the time to evaluate your current relationships and invest in them by making these relationships stronger, healthier, and more positive. To your health!
Deanna Brann, Ph.D. has over 30 years of experience in the mental health field as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in communication skills, family and interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution. After running her own private practice for more than 20 years, she spent time later in her career providing business consultation to other private practice professionals in the health care and legal fields. As both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, her own personal experiences led her to research the subject. Her first book, Reluctantly Related, began the discussion of examining and bettering the MIL/DIL relationship and is followed by her newest book, Reluctantly Related Revisited. Brann holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Psychobiological Anthropology.