Relationships matter. And we’re not just talking about those of the romantic variety. Whether it’s with your partner, your kids, your extended family, your friends or your coworkers, having strong ties to others can make you healthier, stronger and all-around happier.
Strong relationships don’t happen by accident. They take time, regular communication and a willingness to focus on the positive. Love and friendship are more than just feel-good experiences. Over time, meaningful relationships provide tangible benefits.
You need others in your life. Here’s why.
If you’re committed to improving your health and wellbeing, try working on your relationships with other people. Studies suggest that good friendships can boost your immune system. Plus, feeling connected to others may help you live longer.
On the other hand, the health effects of loneliness have been compared to smoking fifteen cigarettes every day. In fact, not socializing much is twice as harmful as being obese. We’re not saying you shouldn’t eat well and exercise, but don’t neglect the social component of being a human. It’s just as important to your health as hitting the gym — and maybe more so.
You probably know that talking things out with a buddy helps you manage stress, but this isn’t a placebo effect. Having a support system made up of loved ones that you trust is vital. People in close relationships typically produce lower quantities of stress hormones. You’re also more likely to recover from the effects of stressful tasks more quickly if you’re thinking about that support system.
On the flip side, people who don’t have a good support system are more likely to deal with depression and weariness. Even introverts need the company of loved ones from time to time.
Sense of Purpose
Focusing your time and attention on the pursuit of wealth, status or power isn’t effective at providing long-lasting satisfaction. Instead, make it your goal to connect with the people around you. When you help others and they help you, it makes you feel needed and valued. And the feeling’s mutual.
Experts have discovered that having a strong circle of loved ones can be just as good for your sense of satisfaction as increasing your income by 50%. Your bank account may not reflect the difference, but you’ll feel rich nonetheless. In other words, look outside yourself for a better sense of purpose.
Practical Tips for Healthy Relationships
This information might not be new to you. You might know that good relationships boost your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Your issue is the how. Maybe you think that only extroverts can win friends and influence people, or you’ve tried forming social bonds that end up breaking with surprising ease.
Fortunately, building healthy connections with others is something that anyone can learn to do. Yep, even naysayers. With practice, you can teach yourself to set aside time for others, speak and listen in ways that work, and choose to look for the good in relationships.
Invest Quality Time
It’s hard to have a relationship with a person you never see or talk to. If you want to strengthen your connections with others, you need to be around them regularly.
Spending time together doesn’t always happen naturally. Busy schedules can make it hard to connect, so you may have to plan quality time in advance.
Make a monthly dinner date with your friends, or set aside a Saturday to go hiking together. Plan a family game night with your kids, take one kid at a time for a parent-child ice cream outing and make sure you schedule regular date nights with your spouse. If you have living parents or grandparents, visit them on a regular basis.
Planning isn’t glamorous, but it’s a necessary step in making sure that you carve out time for the people who matter. It’s too easy to let an evening slip into binge-watching oblivion. Instead, set aside an hour or two when you can for social interaction. Even short, regular lunch breaks spent with your BFF can improve your overall mood.
Take a Trip
Sometimes getting away from your regular surroundings is one of the best things you can do for your relationships. You’ll break out of your routine, have adventures together and make new memories.
Family vacations are great, and they don’t have to be expensive. If you’re low on funds or time, consider a weekend of camping at the nearest state or national park. A getaway with your spouse is another good way to improve household relations.
Travel doesn’t have to be just with your immediate family, though. A trip with friends can help you see a new side of them, and hours spent in the car together provide a great opportunity to talk, laugh and confide in each other. Vacations are supposed to recharge our batteries, so assemble your crew and plan a get-together away from the maddening crowds.
Both the words you say and the way you say them can make a difference in your relationships. So, too, can the way that you listen to others.
People want to be heard, so stop what you’re doing and listen when someone’s trying to engage. Let him share without interruption and wait until he’s finished unloading his thoughts before you jump in with a response. Conversations can sometimes feel one-sided, like the other person is just waiting for you to finish so she can say what she wanted to say. Don’t be that person.
Try this with your coworkers, too. When someone presents a new idea or comes to you with a critique, do your best to hear her out instead of jumping in with your own suggestions or defenses.
At home, you may need to set aside a specific time each week for you and your partner to connect with each other. In the hustle of daily life, real conversations can take a backseat to more pressing problems like homework dilemmas and parenting crises. Find a time that works — perhaps after the kids go down for the night? — and spend that time checking in with your spouse.
Communicating well can be hard. There’s no shame in seeking out help with the process. Sometimes, all it takes to improve your speaking and listening patterns is a mediator, a professional who can offer suggestions in a non-judgmental environment.
Therapy can be effective on your own or with others. If you and your spouse or kids can’t seem to make any headway, a joint counseling session might be a great opportunity to discuss your issues in a safe space. Even if you can’t get others to go with you, attending therapy by yourself will still equip you with valuable relationship skills that you can use outside the therapist’s office.
Look for the Good
If you want your friendships to be strong, then let your actions demonstrate that you value others. It’s easy to hold a grudge. It’s harder to forgive. Choose forgiveness if you want your relationships to flourish. You can’t want what’s best for someone while also harboring feelings of anger and resentment. Forgiveness helps cultivate feelings of love and trust in a relationship.
Prioritizing conflict resolution also requires you to extend apologies as needed. A sincere “I’m sorry” can help break down walls between you and those you’ve hurt. When possible, offer to make restitution as well. Studies suggest that taking this step may increase the other person’s willingness to forgive.
You don’t have to be a doormat. You just have to know when to let bygones be bygones and when to hold your ground (in a caring way). This kind of emotional strength doesn’t happen overnight or by chance. Practice makes perfect. Look for the good in others and you’ll usually find it.
While you should acknowledge kind acts, good ideas and positive choices whenever possible, sometimes you need to be extra intentional about recognizing the things you appreciate about others. Set aside one day a week to reach out to friends with encouraging messages. Shoot off a few quick text messages, drop notes in the mail or dial the phone. Make your words personal and meaningful. Intentional kindness makes a difference in building healthier, happier relationships with all the people in your life.