Relationships — the loving, caring connections we make with other people — have many benefits for your mental and physical health. When we’re in a good relationship, stress levels are lower, sleep is restful, and we feel happy and fulfilled. This doesn’t mean that you can’t experience ups and downs, but when you are in a healthy, supportive relationship, you can lean on each other to weather the storms.
In a relationship, you’re surrounded by someone who loves and cares for you, which gives you the support and confidence to step out of your comfort zone and pursue your dreams. You may also have a person to encourage the parts of your personality that are more reserved, or a partner to help you overcome anxiety or shyness.
However, not all relationships are created equal. Some are toxic, unhappy, or even harmful. And it’s not just the person you’re in a relationship with; how you deal with conflict and difficult emotions can make an enormous difference to your life.
If you’re in a bad, unhealthy or toxic relationship, it will bleed into everything else that you do. It will consume your energy and cause you to focus on the negative aspects of that relationship. In addition, your body is flooded with stress hormones, which can lead to stomach issues, trouble sleeping, irritability, anger or chest pain.
The first step to improving a dysfunctional relationship is to recognize and honestly acknowledge that the dynamics aren’t working. Then you can take active steps to change the dynamics. If you’re in a dyad, this could mean changing your communication skills and learning to listen more attentively; or it could mean shifting the power dynamic between yourself and your partner. If you’re in a triad, this might mean taking on more responsibilities or stepping up to assert yourself when needed.
Another common dynamic is the passive-aggressive pattern, where one person is more likely to take on a caretaker role and the other is more likely to be angry or stonewalling. Often, these dynamics are caused by undetected or unrecognized issues that arise from childhood or traumas. Changing these dynamics involves being willing to take on the responsibility of being more honest about how you are feeling, and then retraining your behavior so that it is in line with your values and goals.
As we continue to discover how powerful our relationships are, the more we realize that it’s important to nurture them and protect our health. Thankfully, research is pointing to the fact that healthy relationships are more than just a “nice to have,” and can actually improve your health in countless ways. This includes lowering your stress, getting more restful sleep, and promoting mental and physical well-being. In a nutshell, good relationships equal a better life.